Occasionally I get sent for castings for adverts. So far I’ve never had the luck (or maybe skill) of getting the advert. Except for the one in which I was the only person they looked at. In which case I guess I was lucky (you can hear my dulcid tones as the voice of the quizmaster on Subway’s “Challenge an Athlete” quiz on their Facebook page). But, a casting is a casting and, unless you roll the dice, you will never get anything. And, as I do more of these, I am starting to understand more about what they want off me.
On Tuesday I was booked to do three castings, one after another. So, after scrubbing myself up and eating my lunch and taking my top off (I prefer to cycle topless as it keeps me cooler and therefore hopefully less sweaty when I arrive), I plugged in one ear to Stuart Goldsmith’s Comedian’s Comedian podcast, and then jumped astride my sturdy, self powered, steel steed to take me at high speed into central town.
They’ve shut down the Mall in preparation for the Olympics, so I have to take the much more dangerous route past Hyde Park Corner, but I’ve broken my neck, I’ve been hit by a car, hell, I’ve even been under a lorry, I’ll be fine! However, as I was wearing different shoes (to look right for the audition), just as I was trying to push out of the traffic, one of my shoes got caught under the front wheel, nearly causing me to fall. Like a tumbling jockey in the Grand National, I was aware that there was a great deal of carnage coming my way if I didn’t move with speed.
I love cycling, because it keeps me fit without me having to make any effort, I just go about my daily life and my daily life requires a certain amount of travel around London. And the bike also combats that other slightly lazy part of my personality, namely I don’t like to wait around, so rather than drive or take public transport, cycling normally gets me there twice as fast. Cycling is like being able to practice extreme sports here in London. Probably slightly more dangerous than most extreme sports, so I am grateful for my very loud horn in such situations.
I managed to make it to the first casting in one piece, although it was a very humid day, so my desire to be less sweaty was a far away pipe dream, and said pipes could have happily carried my sweat away in salty flow. Being nothing but a dream I had to make do with looking like a man in a sauna who’d run a marathon. Not far off the truth. I put my top on and went in.
There they handed me the script, and I read through it once more, having already done so the night before. Then the lady who’d be filming us came out and advised us that she wanted any accent other than posh. Ah. Given that my accent is somewhat posh, I would have to modify that to the only other accent of mine, west Ulster, Northern Ireland. Which is fine, but…
For those that know me, you know I often perform in a Northern Irish accent, and even have a Northern Irish comedy character that I sometimes use, and in Edinburgh 2011 I spent most of the festival performing in that accent. And for those that doubt, whenever there were Northern Irish in the audience, I wasn’t busted on it even once. In fact, on several occasions people guessed where I was “from”, one person even homing down to within 10 miles of Brookeborough, which I thought was both astounding and slightly freaky (even I didn’t think my accent was that good!)
Although recently I’ve been performing less in that accent, I had actually been practicing for a casting I had later in the day, so I was confident. I was asked to read out the poem, the lady liked, and I was asked to read it again. In the end I must have read it 4 or 5 times, and was in there for a reasonable amount of time, always a nice indication (the guy before me was in there for mere seconds). However, I think she saw something that she liked, but I got the impression that I was not delivering quite up to the mark, there was something extra, me pushing the performance further, that she was looking for. In the end, I think she liked what she saw, she’d just wanted more. So, while I’ve not heard anything and it may just be too soon, we will see…
On to the next casting, and one nice thing about these castings is that they mostly tend to be within a few hundred metres of each other between Leicester Sq and Oxford Street. The next one was next to Leicester Square. I arrived there a good hour early, to see if I could get an early casting, and was in luck. With most of these castings, they are doing them all day long, so it means that often you can get seen earlier if the timings suit.
I went in to the room and did the usual, face to camera, “name, agent, age”, profile left, profile right, and this time behind the camera there was a whole team of creatives. Or “creatives”. These trendy creatures who look at us, the product, like tourists in a bazaar thinking “will that camel fit in my hand luggage”. This second casting was stranger, with them wanting me to improvise. I say improvise, in reality they more wanted me to react than to improvise, as they called out “your girlfriend’s just left you, you are on a roller coaster, you’ve won the lottery, you are on a plane about to crash”. Actually, I imagine that this might be quite a good warm up exercise in an improv session, but it is a little strange to do off the bat. With practice I would expect you could get quite good at this really relatively easily. Anyway, I don’t think I was much cop at it, reacting more as a comedian than as an actor, as in my instant reaction gravitated more towards “what would be the comedy response”. Whilst the “creatives” laughed and enjoyed my show, I suspect not what they were looking for.
My final casting was more like other castings that I have done in the past, just a couple of lines and a small bit of a reaction. Of the three, that was the one I felt least comfortable with, I just got the impression from the start I wasn’t what they were after, although that could quite easily have just been me and my awareness that they were very specifically after a southern Irish accent. Anyway, a few attempts and out of there. Again, I’m not the one looking through the lens, so I’m probably not the best judge of whether I did well or not.
For all of these casings they are generally looking for one individual, and they tend to look at several dozen people, so getting the parts is a lottery even if you are any good. I believe that one has to do about 30 of them before you get the swing of them anyway, so hopefully upon my return from Chicago I will have more skills and experience under my belt and I’ll be able to slam dunk a load. And ramp up the number I’m going to. As a lottery, it is key to play as many times as possible for a greater chance of winning…
However, one nice thing about the final casting was that as I sat down and filled in my form, read the script, put my head in the right place, in walked the very lovely Northern Irish comedian Paddy Lennox. Paddy is both an extremely funny chap and one hell of a good bloke. In fact, Northern Ireland being such a small place, when I first met him I found out that his family knew my family over there, his father treated my great grand mother and growing up both he and his sister would visit her. As such, when I took a small party of mates over to stay for a boozy weekend of feasting and partying in Fermanagh last year, I invited Paddy along too, a great fun crowd.
This, to me, is one of the nice things about comedy; in every job I’ve done, I’ve got on well with my work colleagues, but in comedy, there are a great many people that I would actually class as friends, really solid blokes like Paddy, people with an attitude of drive and enthusiasm, individuals who think for themselves, fun to be around and also would be good in a scrape. There are many reasons why I love my job, and the people I work with is definitely one of them.
Paddy and I had a quick catch up, and then it was his turn for the casting, so I stepped out into what was now a gentle shower. I stripped down to my waterproofs, namely my skin, jumped on my bike, and weaved my way back through the tourist throngs, taxis and traffic. Every experience a learning curve. Soon I’ll know everything!