This story falls in the category of “I couldn’t make this crap up if I tried”.
There once was a time I thought I wanted to become an actor. My logic was that it would be fun, and I would get paid work quickly since I have a rare body-type. While I was right about getting paid work quickly, I was oh so wrong about how fun it would be.
This crazy idea stated when a friend of mine who was studying Film in university asked me if I wanted to appear in a student film he was making. It sounded like a fun idea, so I volunteered to lend a hand in a minor role. I had no clue what my character was to be, but I didn’t care.
Several weeks later, I showed up at the locale of the film shoot, an apartment somewhere in the district known as “The Plateau” in Montreal. It was the dead of winter, brutally cold, but at least we were warm inside the crowded apartment. Anyone who has ever been an actor will know what I’m talking about when I say the scene inside was “organized chaos”, with an emphasis on the chaos.
Having been a performer in musical theater, I was prepared for the “hurry up and wait” syndrome that often occurs in the entertainment biz: I pulled out a paperback novel, and began the process of killing time. Eventually, the makeup and wardrobe people approached me along with my friend the director, to explain who I would be, and what my lines were.
The basic story was about a forty-year old male who was still a virgin, and who was about to be surprised at his birthday party. My role was to be a man dressed as a clown, delivering a huge fake birthday cake, out of which would pop out a stripper. They dressed me up in a fancy black suit and top hat, and led me to the door of the apartment.
As a last minute touch, the director asked me to speak in an East-Indian voice. Because, you know, there’s nothing more hilarious than dwarf-clowns in fine suites who speak with an East-Indian accent while delivering a stripper in a cake.
My mind still boggling at the stupidity of it all when I was moved outside where the scene would be shot on the balcony, outside in the very sub-zero Montreal dead of night. That’s when the lighting technician, lead cameraman, and sound guy started arguing over and over.
“But that microphone is blocking my reflector!” said the lighting guy.
“But the reflector is muffling my recording!” said the sound guy.
“But I can’t fit the scene with all your junk in the way!” said the cameraman.
Over and over again they went, each repetition getting louder and louder, while I was freezing my butt off. After waiting for over twenty minutes as they argued and adjusted their equipment, I started to get the shivers.
I could not resist being snarky at this point, and shouted at the top of my lungs: “It’s frikking freezing guys. You’d all better just move along with this, or this dwarf-cicle won’t be able to speak his lines!”
The entire crew laughed, director included: My outburst seemed to wake everyone up. The scene was shot, and I was mercifully brought back inside and wrapped in a nice warm blanket. Having experienced that madness, you’d think I would have run away screaming from the movie business. But no, I’m a glutton for punishment.
That spring, with photos of myself in hand, I met with an acting agent. They were delighted to have a dwarf in their potential group of actors, and virtually guaranteed me paid work. And they were right: Two weeks later, I had my first paid gig, playing a gnome in some weirdo artsy film that would be broadcast on a French cable channel.
Come the day of filming, again I experienced major hurry up and wait. Only this time, an hour was added to attach a bulbous rubber gnomy-nose to my face.
My scene was supposed to take place in a dream-like sequence, where the main character, a groom, was being pulled to his doom by a giant rubber band. Meanwhile, I, as the gnome trying to save the groom from his bridezilla, was trying to cut the rubber-band with giant scissors. But the groom, armed with a pistol, would shoot me arcade style, three times, as I try to save him.
How I kept a straight face as the director described this scene is beyond me: He thought it was hilarious, bordering on sheer brilliance. Me? Not so much, especially the part where I had to “die” three times.
To capture a close-up of my death, the director asked me to fall on the ground sideways, with my face as close to the camera as I could. The kind of camera with the square hood with nice sharp corners that protect the lens from soft falling faces.
From three different angles the director wanted this scene, multiplied by the number of times we had to film it until he considered it to be perfect. I don’t remember how many times I fell down, doing my best imitation of a dying gnome, but being that close to sharp corners the terror on my face was not acting at all. And even though I was falling on relatively soft grass, I was very sore the next day.
I was paid $300 for just six hours of work, but in the end it was a no-brainer for me: You couldn’t pay me enough money to put up with the crazy things they put actors through, or the stupid roles people think up of for people with rare body types.
Needless to say, I’m very happy I ran away from acting at lightning speed. It is a better life writing safely from behind this here keyboard, instead of pretending to be a dying gnome, or a strippergram-delivering, East-Indian dwarf-clown.