Sunday, 30 September 2012

A Head of the Rest

On Thursday evening I'm in the foyer of the Royal Festival Hall, apparently for an audition. I'm a little suspicious, because auditions tend to take place in specific rooms rather than public spaces and the idea that I should join the milling crowds on the off-chance of meeting whoever might want to hire me and giving them a speech from Henry V or reeling off whatever lines they have for me, doesn't quite gel. In fact it sounds more like a practical joke played by some reality tv programme and I wonder if the mass of humanity around me is suddenly going to stop moving, turn as one, point in my direction and say with an evil laugh "Ha, you didn't get the part!"

The reality is more mundane. I call contact Nely and two seconds later she scurries over and takes me to director Paul, who is sitting at a small café table with a notepad. The crowds around us fade into the background and we discuss the project and why he wants to see me. The role I'm up for is White Suit Assassin and what attracted me to him is my head.

Me on a good day: picture from
I've been told I have a unique look before. Usually it's my face that's commented on, but sometimes it's my head. Which means I'm not being chosen because of my acting talent, but because I look like some space alien who is trying, not always successfully, to pass as human. I may have applied enough make-up to hide my green or grey skin (the colour depends on the time of year and whether I am in rut or oestrus and no, you can't check my tanline), but there's not much I can do to hide the enormous smooth skull perched above my too-pale eyebrows. And that's what directors want.

Or some directors. The next day I learn that Paul of Kill Mode has gone for another actor. (Swizz, curses!) But as you all (should) know, I've already strutted my head in two short films in the last ten days and I'm scheduled to do so again on Tuesday. Not to mention the audition I did on Friday, the outcome of which I still have not heard. Paul may not want me and I may not be being paid, but at least I know I am still A Head of the Rest...

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Stars in my eyes

Turn up at 9am yesterday in a basement at the mouth of the River Lea for The King Is Dead, a short film in which I play the Body Bag Man - the sinister figure who comes in at the end to - yes, you've got it - bag up the bodies of nasty criminals who get in the way of an even nastier criminal. Into the changing and make-up room, shake hands with the figures being powdered and begin to settle in.

My costume - self-supplied, with black shoes, trousers, shirt, jacket and tie - is fantastic, says Giulia the Costumier. My bald pate is soon powdered. I stroll out, get coffee from an eager assistant and fail to avoid snacking on the biscuits. Look around, work out who is cast and who is crew. Those faces I saw being made up earlier are familiar. The younger one in particular. I recognise those ears, that brow. Just like that actor who's appeared in a few tv comedies, and I've seen him on stage in a Tom Stoppard. The older one, too, although I can't place the face.

I sidle over towards a callsheet on the wall to check the cast list (the same callsheet I hadn't bothered to look through the night before). I was half right. The older one's name isn't familiar, but the younger one's is. A B-list Celeb. Seems pleasant enough. I wouldn't notice him in a crowd and he isn't drawing attention to himself.

Filming starts. I have an easy task, coming in, pausing in the light flooding through the door before coming forward to survey the scene before me. Bagging up the victims. No dialogue, but the adrenalin is pumping, the crew are enthuiastic and it's clear I'm part of a team creating a strong scene.

But not the whole team. For the first time on a set I notice a division between the stars and the nonentities, between those who speak and the silent extras, between the names emblazoned at the start of the film and the names that march across the screen at the end. Each time there's a break the four leading actors huddle together, talking shop and never addressing an unnecessary word to others around them, surrounded by an invisible force field. They are not rude to anyone and it's only natural to spend time with people with whom you have a lot in common, but I am slightly annoyed because their behaviour reinforces a - yes I have to say it - caste system that is unnecessary on a small film. Why can't they behave like most people would, making small talk for a few minutes with others around them? You don't have to get involved with anyone and you may even come across someone interesting, someone you may want to get to know better.

The day draws inevitably to a close. The leading actors leave with weak smiles and perfunctory thanks. When I follow shortly afterwards, I hope my farewells to crew and remaining cast come across as strong and sincere. Walking back to the station, I reflect on my contribution. Yeah, I like what I did; today I done okay.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012


Killer in Grander Designs, completed last week. Head Bodyguard in O Sole Mio, wrapped yesterday. Thug and body bag man in The King is Dead, filming tomorrow. Bomber or White-Suited Assassin in Kill Mode, for which I am auditioning on Thursday. Gangleader in Got-Got, for which I am auditioning on Friday. Psychopath in unnamed film for which I have a provisional booking on Monday.

Simple minds will have worked out that there is a pattern emerging here. (Actually, there are two patterns, since none of these projects is paid.) I should be pleased by the attention. Everyone keeps telling me I have a memorable face, which is why I keep getting these castings. It's not a face I'm particularly fond of  - I prefer the one I had decades ago when I was Not Badlooking (that's me on the shores of Lake Titicaca in 1980)  - but it's the face that I'm stuck with and if it gets me work, then I should be pleased. It's just that I would like to be the Good Guy for once, as I was in The Lower Depths three months ago. Three months? It feels like a year.

But I have to keep going at these parts until I get enough credits to impress someone - a director, a producer, a fanbase - that I am worthy of greater roles. And then, when Martin Foreman is a Name To Be Reckoned With - the roles will come - pardon the pun - rolling in. In the meantime, if you want an ageing criminal / tough guy / executioner who'll work for expenses and the biscuits and crisps and pizzas and other junk food that delivers future heart attacks and diabetes, I'm your man.

As for paid work, well, I'm relying on my agent for that, but, in that well-known phrase, I'm waiting for him to return my call....

Monday, 24 September 2012

Not Easy, Not Energetic, Not Enthusiastic

It's early in the morning of my fourth day shooting O Sole Mio - a pleasant short comic film about a couple of  lovebirds set in an Italian restaurant. I'm one of two bodyguards to the heroine's father. (I know, regular readers - all three of you - are already aware of these facts, but in best tv serial tradition, new viewers readers have to be brought up to speed.)

Ten hours ago I expected to be on set at this time and so I dragged myself out of bed at 5.15, breakfasted, showered and shaved, and was about to tie my shoelaces when an apologetic text came through from producer / assistant director Diogo that I wouldn't be filmed before 11. I ought to have gone back to bed for another couple of hours, but the thought of undressing, half-dozing, being woken just when I really was falling asleep and getting dressed again didn't appeal, so instead I'm sitting at my computer with a mild headache and no energy for the day ahead.

A generic Italian restaurant
similar to the one we are filming in,
inserted because I couldn't find a more interesting picture
I'm not enthusiastic about this production for a number of reasons. I am putting in a lot of time for no financial reward - traveling to and from the set and hanging around doing nothing. So far I have appeared in five shots, which have taken not more than fifteen minutes out of the more than twenty-four hours I have devoted to this project so far. My sleep patterns are all over the place and the constantly changing schedule has meant that I missed a film at the BFI that I had wanted to see and already paid for. I'm calm and friendly on the exterior but grumpy underneath.

Worst of all, I'm annoyed that I can't be annoyed - the crew, film students at Ealing, may have been chaotic in their planning, but they are friendly, considerate, apologetic for the inconvenience they are causing us and generally Nice People. And they are putting together a good short comedy that will almost certainly get the crew and the leading actors noticed and further work. 

My main problem is with myself. I am not happy with what little contribution I have made to the project so far. It should be easy. My role is formulaic. Like all but one of the cast I have no lines. All I have been asked to do so far is a couple of reaction and movement shots. No-one is complaining about my contribution. Yet, yet... I feel like a fish out of water. I do not feel the part. I suspect that the camera sees not the monolithic figure of an ageing, cynical bodyguard, but an ordinary man who isn't quite sure what he is doing. Is my expression hard enough, am I the stereotype that this kind of film requires? Have my eyes moved smoothly, as the director instructed, or jerked as it felt to me that they did? Was my stance strong or weak? How do I convey in two seconds all my character and his impetus at that moment - his boredom, his single-mindedness, his need to protect the young woman against her will, his contempt for her suitor, his impatience with his colleague?

In other words, I am reminded again that acting is not easy and the more I do it, the less confident I become. And yet I can't stop myself. I have two more productions and an audition pencilled into my diary in the next eight days. None of them paid, but all of them a challenge. I'm obviously trying to prove something to myself. What that something is and whether it will make me happy is a question for another day.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Lothario in Limbo

It’s two-thirty in the morning and I’m sitting in a large black rented car on a street in Bath outside what appear to be the city’s only two late night eateries, where groups of scantily dressed young women and merry young men (a couple of whom have bared their chests for some reason forgotten in the night) are gorging on saturated fat and bloated E numbers while pontificating on the state of the world or making suggestive remarks that they hope will lead to greater intimacy. (Actually, I made the last part up because I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying, but I’m sure that the conversation of drunken twenty-somethings hasn’t changed much in the decades since I was in a similar situation.)

Lothario was a character in Don Quixote.
This is  a picture of  DQ with Sancho Panza.
By Pablo Picasso, of course.
Across the road sits a pile of filming equipment – stands, lights, tripods, tracks, cases and ominous silver metal boxes of the kind you see in sci-fi movies where the Evil Scientist has to transport a glow-in-the-dark concoction from his secret laboratory to the sewer or office building or airline terminal where he will release it in the expectation of destroying or taking over the world. Behind me, snoring gently across the back seat, lies Vauxhall, a fellow thespian who has decided, on the basis of a couple of remarks I made earlier in the evening, that I am lover of the female sex of such prodigious talents that I am a second Lothario. Vauxhall is unaware that earlier in the evening on our way to Bath, I revealed my sexual and marital status to our producer-driver, Diogo, while he, Vauxhall’s attention was absorbed by one of many football matches that flooded out of his iPad that evening.

I am, I realise, in Limbo – the place between Heaven and Hell populated by beings that are neither vicious nor virtuous and which exists for a length of time that has neither beginning nor prospect of end.

The evening started well – Diogo, Vauxhall and love-interest Hannah and I met up in Ealing at 5.45 as planned for the drive to Bath for the exterior nighttime shots of O Sole Mio – and then, in the tradition of filmmaking everywhere, went slowly downhill. Slowly, I said. I’ll gloss over the detour to pick up unnecessary umbrellas from a place to which Diogo did not have the key, and the fact that it took us several additional miles wending through London traffic before we found the M4. Despite these inconveniences, we got to our destination in plenty of time to get into our costumes and make-up and wait.

And wait. And wait. More than four hours had to pass before I had my three minutes in front of the camera – the period of time needed for my short reaction shot. Vauxhall, had more to do, running through the streets and knocking someone over, but he too spent most of his time standing around or in the car, where he either slept or reviewed alternative arrangements for The Talent that might have produced an extra hour’s comfort at one or other end of the long night. But our input was short and once it was over, focus returned to lovebirds Hannah and Adam, for their second stint of filming, this time a few streets away.

And so the hours passed and I was bored, bored, bored, and recognised the wisdom inherent in my Other Half’s implication that I was wasting my time acting for no financial reward at all. This is the last time, I told myself. Well, the last time apart from the two more days I’ve agreed to spend on this film and the evening provisionally scheduled for next week and the possibility of a day long-shoot (yes, unpaid, unpaid) the week after. Besides, haven’t I in the last couple of days applied for at least two more – unpaid, of course - projects on CCP that took my interest? Well, apart from all these, this really is the last time I’m going to give so much of my time for so little reward…

Yes, I've made a mistake and will need
to Tippex it out. And I have a couple
more answers I haven't filled in yet,
but it's a start.
Of course I’m looking my response is purely personal. For the film-makers, particularly the crew who probably spent ten hours on the streets shooting scenes from every conceivable perspective that did not involve a helicopter or a submarine, it was, I assume, a very busy and productive night. And the lovebirds on whom the film focuses did more than their share of running through the streets of Bath and kissing, then running and kissing again, and again. (I wondered, but did not ask, whether they would prefer to spend more time running or kissing, and whether they would agree on the answer …)

It’s just that I’m getting old and increasingly selfish. I like to be productive and once I’d finished the Evening Standard Sudoku (an even tougher one than usual) and the crossword where you have to substitute letters for numbers and got bored with the Private Eye cryptic crossword and spent an hour listening to the World Service and stuff myself with junk food simply because I was restless and it was there, I had run out of things to occupy my mind and all I wanted to do was stretch out in my own bed. And it’s difficult to maintain enthusiasm for a project in the middle of a night that feels like it might never end.

But I’ll be there on set tomorrow, even though I’ve had to cancel a couple of things I wanted to do this afternoon and evening because I will need to get to bed early for a 4.30am wake-up. And I know I’ll enjoy myself even, in a perverse way, while I’m bored, but still I would be much much happier if I actually got paid.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Bath and forth

To Ealing this afternoon, to meet fellow-cast and crew to be driven to Bath in the evening for night-time exterior shots for O Sole Mio, the (yet another unpaid) short film in which I appear as Mike, the chief bodyguard. We have been warned, since autumn is approaching, to wear warm clothes, which means my thermal underwear will be coming out of eternation (that word almost exists). I expect to be back home around 4am. The Other Half is not impressed. He doesn't understand that We Actohs have to Sacrifice Ourselves for Art. He might change his mind when this film goes on to win hundreds of awards and the supporting cast go on to star in Major Hollywood Movies. Or not....

Monday, 17 September 2012

Let's Lose Money!

I'm exploring the possibility of putting on a three-week run of three of my one-man plays at a fringe theatre in London next year. They would be Ben and Joe's and Los Feliz, hopefully with Barry Clarke and Robin Holden reprising their successful performances from July, and Sunset, a piece for an older woman, which exists in story, but not yet script form. And yes, you've noticed that I would not be reprising my role as the priest in Angel. This is not just from modesty, but from bitter experience that to be both actor and producer in the same production is to be overworked, underrewarded and highly frustrated.

It's early stages and I have only got as far as researching theatres, finding out which ones are available, what they cost and which productions they will accept. The most promising at present is a pub theatre in Zone One. I had initially balked at the price - £1,500 a week - but after sitting down and working out the figures, I realised that it would be possible to break even at around 25 seats a night, and the actors might even get some money for their pains. (Another theatre, in Zone 2, far from the Underground, wanted £450 a performance; it was the same theatre that made me and half a dozen others who had paid for rehearsal space wait outside in the cold for half an hour beyond their scheduled time and neither apologised nor offered a refund when, after repeated knockings and phone calls, someone finally decided to come out from their warm office inside to open the door.)

Assuming we do go ahead, we will need investment of £5,000. I cannot afford that amount of money without a guaranteed return and of course there is no guarantee that any money will be returned. (Remember the three-quarters empty Vaudeville Theatre last Thursday - how much money, I wondered in the interval, were producers Thelma Holt and Bill Kenwright losing?) So the money has to come from elsewhere, the customarily-named "Angels" - people who gamble with unwanted cash in the one in ten chance that they might see some return. If we go ahead, I shall be asking for 50 lots of £100, with the slight possibility of getting a profit on their money, and the much greater possibility of only getting ten or twenty percent of it back. Watch this space...

In the meantime, I have received the script for O Sole Mio, the short film in which I am to appear as Chief Bodyguard Mike. We shoot on Thursday evening, Saturday and Sunday. It looks easy and fun. More anon.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Blast from the Past

To the Vaudeville on Thursday and a three-quarters empty theatre, to see Jenny Seagrove et al in Noël Coward's "forgotten" Volcano - a play that (as far as I can tell) had never actually been performed before. I expected a 1920s piece, somewhere between the melodrama of his Vortex and the sophisticated comedy of design for living. But this play was written in the mid 1950s and is set on the verandah of a colonial house on a small Pacific island where a group of British plantation owners fall in and out of lust and love with each other. (Special mention here to Simon Scullion's sumptuous set, which immediately pulled me back to the various tropical lands - Brazil, Thailand and elsewhere - that I have lived or worked in.)

The play has not been kindly received - Michael Coveney of What's On Stage being particularly waspish, while Michael Billingon of The Guardian and Fiona Mountford of the Evening Standard teetered on the fence of boredom - and it's not difficult to see why. This is Old Style Theatre, where actohs and actresses enunciate complete sentences clear upper-class English (even if the upper-class tones of the 2010s have shifted somewhat since those of the 1950s) and always wait politely for the other person to finish before beginning their own speeches. Everyone is well-dressed and looks naked at the odd moments they find themselves without a stiff drink or cigarette in their hands. The native servants are never seen, but are either Treasures or Traitors, depending on whether their cooking is marvellous or they have driven away without permission in the plantation landrover. And adultery - real or imagined - seldom overwhelms the stiff upper lip (and heaven forfend that any other part of the anatomy should be similarly stiff). The contemporary world of crumbling Empire and Cold War does not intrude; we are in Somerset Maugham's timeless world where the Old Country is as much memory as reality and where references to flights to and from London seem very out of place.

In other words, Volcano creaks, loudly, and for the first quarter of an hour or so, as widow Adela rebuffs yet again the advances of Casanova Guy, I was more critical than compliant, telling myself that both actors could do a little more to make their characters believable (Jenny Seagrove was competent, but Jason Durr's performance, with directed or self-chosen, was too much of a caricature). But as friends, strangers and Guy's wife Melissa (the excellent Dawn Steele) enter, the pace picks up. Inevitably, Guy turns his attentions to another, waspish comments abound, the Volcano erupts and unexpectedly there is a brief but strong whiff of homoeroticism. My attention was fully held for the rest of the play and I happily watched developments unfold and joined the enthusiastic applause of the minimal crowd when the final curtain fell.

That does not mean I was blind to the play's faults - which other reviewers have helpfully delineated in order to drive away the potential audience. It does mean that I am a sucker for / a fan of British middle-class, middle-brow, middle-century literature and drama - Coward and Christie, Mackenzie and Maugham. I like to retreat into a world where lives are comfortable, order is maintained, emotions are suppressed and Everything Comes Out All Right In The End. And so too, it appeared, does the middle-aged to elderly audience around me. But that audience is in a minority now and Coward's star - with the exception of regular revivals of Design for Living, Hay Fever and Private Lives will continue to wane.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Now You Hear Me...

...Now You Don't

To Soho at 6pm yesterday to do a voiceover for Myles Painter as part of an "ongoing collaborative video project" by Peckham Artist Moving Image 2012. I was playing the part of a man who may or may not have killed his wife and who is answering police questions. The original brief (as I may have mentioned - I can't remember whether I've written about this before and in New Post mode it's difficult to see what has already been posted, which probably doesn't matter anyway because few people who read blogs do so in a linear fashion or remember what has been written before, so I might as well repeat it again here, with apologies to those who have read and remembered it before, and now apologies to everyone else who is reading and is bored by this long and totally unnecessary digression, which would have saved everyone time and trouble if I'd put this post into the draft folder and checked what I'd written before so that I wouldn't have to repeat myself here, or rather I would have repeated myself here but so artfully that it presented the information as new to new readers and as refreshing to older - in the sense of previous - readers)....

As I was saying... The original brief was for an upper class voice with a slightly foreign accent and in the end Myles decided that my dulcet Scottish tones were foreign enough for the people of Peckham. Come judge for yourself. The show is on 19th - 23rd September at the charmingly named Foodface Unit, DGE CIP House, 133 Copeland Road, London SE15 3SN. More details here.

From there the long trek out to Ealing again, home of hundreds of happy hatchling film-makers, this time as a call-back for the short comedy O Sole Mio, where they want me for chief bodyguard, Mike, a non-speaking role in a film where only one of the characters speaks. It looks fun and easy; all I have to do is look threatening, which is my natural look. The downside is that it is three days of filming, including a day on a bus to and from the city of Bath, for no pay whatsoever. It'll be a great film, they promise, shown at festivals all over the world. Well, yes, maybe it will and maybe it won't; in my short career as an actor and my decades-long career as a mostly human being, I've learnt to lower my expectations to maybe getting through the next twenty-four hours (when I got home the Other Half was watching a series of documentaries about Top Models Who Had Fallen Into Drugs And Degradation, which kind of reinforced the point that whether or not there are Ups there are always Downs). Of course I said I'd do it (we're back at the film again, after another digression), on condition that if a paid job comes in (Hah!), I'd pull out of the project.

So after the glamour of the acting world yesterday, it's back to reality today. I have to do some minor plumbing. The first question is, where is the master tap? I've lived in this flat for four years and I still don't know...

Sunday, 9 September 2012

This and That

As soon as the metaphorical curtain came down on my last performance at the Lord Stanley in July, my enthusiasm for acting began to wane - so much so that I was unperturbed by the idea that I might never appear in front of the camera or on stage again. The fact that nothing was coming through from my agent did not help. Nevertheless, I continued to go through the motions of monitoring Casting Call Pro and Spotlight and applying for parts, and on Friday I had two auditions. One, by telephone, was for a voiceover and the other in person for a short film; both, surprise, surprise, were unpaid. I didn't expect to get either part, but the fact that I enjoyed both experiences, combined with a reunion with several acting friends, was enough to revive my thespian ambition to the extent that it has recovered consciousness, although it is far from lively.

Picture from
To my surprise, I was offered the voiceover. It's an interesting role - 10 pages of script as a man accused of murdering his wife, which will play as part of an artist's installation later this year. The description had called for an Upper Class voice, which I offered first, later modifying it with a slight Central European accent, another specification. In the end, however, the artist, Myles Painter, decided he wanted my natural Scottish undertone, which makes it easier for me. I'm looking forward to the recording, which takes place this Wednesday, because it will stretch me and it is the first real voiceover I can put on my CV.

The second audition on Friday was also Interesting (a word which, my other half reminds me, I use too much). It was for one in a series of short films and before I met the director I had the impression that he was young and hoping to make a name for himself. In fact he was middle-aged and, it appeared, with considerable experience in both the UK and Hollywood. The part had called for a pompous theatre director, but when I acted pompous I was told to stop acting and be myself. In itself, that wasn't a problem. The evidence of this blog notwithstanding, in real life I am friendly, relaxed and very forgiving - and that appeared to come across in the second reading I gave. At that point, the slight frost between us melted and we chatted about this and that for a few minutes until I left. On my way back home, however, I was aware of two emotions: pleased to have got as far as the audition, but also annoyed at being placed on the back foot, when the preparation I had put into what I thought the role demanded was taken as a defect rather than a bonus.

My mood lifted even further today with an email from a director whom I had seen earlier in the year. A very good audition, I thought, for Lilies, as a hardened criminal in prison confronting a priest about a case of child abuse. He had remembered me and wondered if I was interested in a part in the large ensemble piece, Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens. In the natural course of events, I would have said yes, but the piece requires singing and there is no way, ever, that my voice can be made to sound musical, so regretfully I declined. But I like the man's choice of productions and if he remembers me again it may be third time lucky.

One other piece of (non-)news... The positive reception for my one-man plays at the Lord Stanley inspired me to think about a three-week season in 2013. I would produce, not act in, three plays - Los Feliz (diner talking about the last woman he fell in love with), Ben and Joe's (middle-aged man talking about events at a gay bar) and a new play, Sunset (grandmother talking about her life). Last week I started looking for fringe theatres to hire, specifically asking about cost and availability. The cost, I assumed, would be in the region of £1,000 a week, which would work out as £150 - £200 per performance. That in turn would allow some profit for marketing, props, rehearsal time and - gasp, gasp, even some money to pay the performers, assuming audiences of 50% or more.

Hah! Was I self-deluded? I was indeed. Not all the responses have come in, but with rates so far being quoted as £450 per night or £3,500 per week (and I'm not sure whether VAT is added onto that), the likelihood of covering costs, far less paying players, comes close to zero. I will continue to look for possible venues, but it looks as if that little plan may fall by the wayside. Unless there's an altruistic angel somewhere out there...?

Monday, 3 September 2012

Next appearing....


I'd like to fill in the blank, but I can't because I don't know where or when my next appearance will be. Either I haven't got the hang of this agent business, or this agent business hasn't got the hang of me. In the last few weeks it seems that parts for actors of my type are as scarce as an endangered species. Nothing has yet come from my agent and very few of the notices from Casting Call Pro and Spotlight are applicable to me. I have managed to get one audition for later in the week for a small unpaid part in a film, but that's all the news on the acting front.

That means I find my attention wandering from the stage and screen. Most of my working time in the past couple of weeks has been spent on my bookselling business - preparing a catalogue and cleaning up the website. I've also been using the time to continue the process of decluttering my flat; in the last week I have managed to reveal several more surfaces in my office that have spent the last year piled up with papers, periodicals, publications and paraphernalia. This summer cleaning has left me feeling self-satisfied, but I'm concerned that my enthusiasm for acting, my connections and my talents are beginning to ebb. Before the Actoh in me dies, someone please throw me a metaphorical lifebelt and start giving me virtual resuscitation...