*I decided to go into the vaults. One of my favorite audition stories.*
This guy—he was almost indescribable, sitting in the waiting room, wearing black, 8-inch platform boots (which may have been odd enough, until I saw the rest.) I had seen him before somewhere, but there was no way of remembering. There have been too many of these calls. He had on a skin-tight white leotard, revealing way more of himself than anyone of us wanted to see, accessorized with a huge codpiece. He had slipped kneepads over the leotard, tied several multi-colored bandanas around his legs, with two overlapping, metal-studded belts dangling loosely around his waist. He wore a leather harness that wrapped through his legs and around his butt.
His face was unique. An older face, well-tanned and lined with wrinkles. A man who had lived in Southern California a long time. He had long, curly brown hair in the back, with a huge, bright beret on his head. He wore a skin-tight, purple Lycra shirt, with bandanas wrapping his biceps, and bracelets covering his wrists. He wore large, garish rings on most of his fingers.
An interesting man, I had to admit; and like so many dramatic types, he acted the part. He carried a cheap, flaming-red Ibanez electric guitar, one used during the heavy metal period of the 80s, when musicians spared no expense on spandex and hairspray. He pretended to strum chords, though his guitar wasn’t plugged in.
But then again, all of us were strumming guitars that weren’t plugged in.
The call from my agent had been vague, and had come when I was turning from Pico onto Cotner Avenue, on my way to acting class in the Valley during one of the worst traffic days I had seen in a while. Cotner puts me onto the 405 Freeway and is usually my secret sidestreet, but today the line of cars in the left-turn lane was backed up to the intersection. I sent the call to voice mail and pushed my way onto the parking lot that is the 405, then listened to the message from my agent.
Hi, Michael. You have an audition tomorrow. It’s for a Got Milk commercial. You’re playing “White Gold.” You’re the lead singer of a band. Wear tight, white pants, a tight top, and look very rock ‘n roll. Oh, and bring your guitar.
The next day, I packed my guitar, some rocker-type clothes, left work early and, again, parked my car on the 405 Freeway, encountering traffic as horrendous as the night before. 85,000 miles on my car, and they have been 85,000 tough miles—ones such as these, when it takes an hour to drive 9 miles.
The casting office was located in a shopping center on Ventura Blvd. On the door, someone had posted a sign, warning that actors could not park in the lot or their cars would be towed. Great. I circled the block twice before finding a street spot, dumped my last two quarters into the meter and hoped I wouldn’t be there long enough to need more change.
Inside the office, two commercials were being cast simultaneously—White Gold and a Hallmark commercial, for which the producers needed a nice-looking, older couple. I couldn’t help but laugh—men in leather and biker boots sitting next to mothers in skirts and father in loafers. I signed in, checked how many names were ahead of mine (I still had to drive back to work after this), and looked around for a script. I saw a bulletin posted, outlining the character description of White Gold: Psycho-sexual, Charismatic, Self-serious. (What does that mean?) Then, in bold caps…THE KING OF HIS UNIVERSE.
Often, on these calls, I will fit into a strict type, and all the men have a similar look. This was different, I was quick to notice. A very diverse group of men in the room. There was the man in the codpiece (Ray Ferrara—I stole a glimpse at his headshot); a 5’3’’ African-American man with a huge afro, wearing red Chuck Taylors; a pasty Caucasian man, trying desperately to look like a rocker, wearing stiff vinyl pants and a sleeveless vest with no shirt underneath; and a genuine rocker, wearing a see-through, ripped mesh shirt.
White Gold, King of His Universe!
I put my guitar on the bench and sat next to a baby-faced young man listening to a song on his cell phone. I said hello and introduced myself. Andrew was his name; he spoke with a southern accent.
“Do you know anything about this audition?” I asked.
“You’ve got to lip synch one of these songs.”
He handed me a sheet of paper with the lyrics to three songs—The Rolling Stones’ “Emotional Rescue,” a song by Prince and one by Beck, “Peaches and Cream”—printed on it. The Stones’ tune was the one he had chosen to perform. Silently grumbling at my agent for not telling me to learn a specific song, I asked Andrew if I could listen with him. He said yes, then held the phone close enough for both of us to hear. I’m not the biggest Rolling Stones fan. I think “Sympathy for the Devil” is one of the all-time greats and love “Gimme Shelter,” but I didn’t know this one and scrambled to pick up the melody.
Andrew received a call and answered it, ending the song. I rolled my eyes and looked around the room. Ray Ferrara, now standing in the center of the room, placed his guitar around his neck and told everyone, “Okay…no looking at my ass.” He gave a dramatic pause and smiled. “Well, okay… you can look. But just for a second.” Andrew ended his phone call; I asked him to replay the song, hurriedly trying to memorize at least two verses.
The casting assistant, a tall, slight-of-build man, entered the room, carrying a Polaroid Instamatic. “Who hasn’t had their ‘Roid taken?” he yelled. “Who needs a ‘Roid?”
I stood and got my picture taken, then stapled it to the size-measurement card I had filled out.
“I’m teaching a ‘Roid class on Saturday for all those interested,” the casting assistant joked. “The cost is $300.”
He quickly gave way to the casting director, who entered from the hallway. A middle-aged man with long, graying hair.
“This is a recurring spot for Got Milk,” he said. ‘We are hoping to turn it into a franchise series— White Gold. If you haven’t seen this yet (holding up the bulletin with the character breakdown), White Gold is sexual. Confident. He’s not a jerk, but he is secure in his sexuality. Think Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust days. Think Prince. Sexy, without having to prove it. You’re giving a performance here, so I don’t want you lip-synching. It steals your energy. I want you to sing. I want you to perform.”
The casting assistant called out the first group of names. Ray Ferrara was the first to audition. He stood, strapped on his Ibanez and picked up a knee-length, fake leopard-skin fur coat. I hadn’t noticed it before (and almost fell out of my seat when I did). He made a comment about his harness chaffing and, with a grand flourish, draped the coat over his shoulders. It was a brilliant move. He walked down the hall, a looming figure—Willa Wonka meets A Clockwork Orange, with a cheap, fake fur coat as his train.