Monday, June 2, 2008

I Meet My Waterloo

Only once have I ever gotten a job in the entertainment field by answering an internet posting. By the time I finished the job I would wish the number had remained at zero.

It was the summer of 2002. I was bartending in NYC at Dempsey's down on the Lower East Side. But I wasn't pulling enough shifts so I needed other work. I'd occasionally take temp work that lasted a few days but that led to pure insanity as I'd work during the day and then hoof it down to Dempsey's until closing only to drag myself out of bed on 2 or less hours of sleep to do it all again. To this day I wonder whether the emotional crackup I went through has direct antecedents in those frenetic days.

I had noticed that my commercial audition schedule had almost been obliterated. 9/11 had killed the biz but no one had quite realized it yet. I faithfully sent out headshots to Backstage postings, went to open calls, and, in a new twist, scoured Craigslist for Film/Theater opportunities.

One day I noticed a need for someone who could do an authentic French accent to portray Napoleon Bonaparte. Eh bien! My lifelong interest in French had come about from doubling over with laughter at the Inspector Clouseau movies combined with my Bastille Day birth. I'd lived in France. If there was an accent I could nail it was French. (Unlike Scottish. My worst audition EVER was with a Scottish accent. I'll tell that tale sometime.)

I wrote an hilarious reply to this posting. I think I might have spelled everything in a phonetic French accent. When they got back to me and wanted to meet with me I was tres happy.

Until I found out EXACTLY what the job entailed. It had been a vague posting, yes, and maybe my depserate financial situation left me unable to read between the lines, but I'd been sure it had been something that was to be FILMED. But, no.

A small public relations firm had been hired to try and jumpstart recognition of a movie coming out starring Ian Holm as Napoleon Bonaparte. The conceit of the movie is that Napoleon is in exile...he escapes by replacing himself with a look-alike. He then heads to Paris to begin plotting his return. Before he can do this, his look-alike DIES. So noone will believe that he is Napoleon.

OK, so, whatever. It's a comedy.

Why would they put an ad on Craigslist for a movie that's already been shot? How would I be playing Napoleon?


The public relations firm had come up with the brilliant plan of dressing EXCELLENT actors as Napoleon and unleashing them on the city with flyers that promoted the film. Not passes, mind you, that people could use to see the film for free or anything like that, just FLYERS.

Why I didn't run for the hills at that very moment I'll never know. Instead I turned on the charm even more. Sure I didn't want the gig but I certainly couldn't handle NOT getting such a stupid gig. What would that say about my career?

Long story short I got hired. There were two Napoleons. The other was actually French and short. Since he was short he got the good costume. It looked very Napoleonic. Mine looked like something an extra whomping away on a trombone in The Music Man might wear.

Was it his authentic Frenchiness that caused him to be so beloved and me reviled? I don't know, but consider the following...

He showed up outside The Today Show and was so embraced by the long line of people and security guards that he was interviewed by Al Roker. The VERY next day I was asked to leave.

I'm sure you can remember a time when you walked down the street and saw some loser in an outlandish costume passing out flyers. You altered your trajectory so as not to come into contact with them. They might as well have had leprosy.

Now imagine being the object of that scorn and rejection. While wearing a Napoleon outfit that more closely resembles a high school band uniform. Oh, did I mention that it was SUMMER? And HOT? Somehow this other little French dude could prance around the city sweat free and seduce legions of jaded New Yorkers into taking these postcards. I, on the other hand, stood forlorn on street corner after street corner like an ancient whore who can't fathom that she has ceased to be attractive to anyone for anything.

The worst part was that I had to get to and fro either wearing the costume or carrying a bag big enough to hold it in. I admit, I took to dropping off the flyers at nearby coffee shops and reading the paper near the stacks. If I saw anyone from the public relations firm I'd tell them I was just taking a break, that I'd get back into my costume in a second.

My evil girlfriend actually took a picture of me in the get up somewhere at Midtown.

I don't like to look at it.


Nate said...

George Orwell wrote a book before he was famous. It's called "Down And Out In Paris And London". He was basically homeless. And a dishwasher in Paris. Which worked out to be the same thing. Anyway... one of the things he says is to always take a flyer from those people handing out flyers b/c they don't get to get paid or go home until they've handed out all his flyers. I never thought about that until I read that. (Full disclosure: I still don't take flyers unless it's from a cute girl.) But your Napoleon story is hilarious! Why are the tragedies so much more interesting than the triumphs?

Brendan O'Malley said...

That is what trash cans are for!