Astrology is a new study with me. In my reading so far I have not found the planet, the sign or the house which deals with the incidence of actors with or without beards getting cast in screen vignettes. But now I know there must be one.
As Ian Fleming wrote in James Bond: “Once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.”
For backstory see here
Less than 48 hours ago, I was sitting with my younger son in an agreeable hostelry talking about life, art and truth, when a text came in. It was from my agent, Letitia Sideways.
“See attached. Send self taping by first thing tomorrow morning.”
An urgent tone is a given in all potential casting notices, and as a seasoned professional I took it in my stride whilst sipping a libation and looking over the attached script, thinking “I can do this.” So far so good.
But then I saw “NB: Must currently have a BEARD”
My capital letters.
I called Letitia immediately.
“The tragedy is, Letitia, I shaved my beard off yesterday. The other tragedy is, I was born to play this part.”
“But you know what, I’ll tape it anyway. I’ll do it in the morning.”
“Get it to me by FIRST THING tomorrow morning!” She said briskly, raising the urgency level from national to global, and she rang off.
In three and a half decades it would be absurd not to admit that one has performed heroic feats of drinking in the social side of theatre, but never once have I gone onstage with alcohol inside me — well actually once — when I was in my 20s (way back in the last millennium) a sponsor hosted a dinner before the show (terrible timing), and I drank half a glass of dry white wine.
Never again. The effect was hallucinogenic, the stage seemed to pitch and roll like a ship adrift in heavy seas, and the other actors seemed to speak GROTESQUELY SLOOOOOWLY, their faces gargoyled under the lights. It was horrifying.
There are some actors, some good ones too, with the constitution to work under the influence but I am not one of them, so, as I say, ever since then, stone cold sober whenever performing in any way.
So there I was in the hostelry taking in a leisurely beer, chafing under the irony of the ill-timed shave but spurred by an urgency that was growing in my imagination to interstellar. What was I to do? Well the answer was obvious: continue on to a second beer as though nothing had occurred, but rise early the following morning and do the taping then. Simple, right?
With the turning of the planet 6 a.m. rolled around — and let me note here that Mercury, the planet that rules communication is just coming to the end of one his three annual retrograde periods, you know, one of those times when checks (cheques) get lost in the mail (post) and people say things they don’t mean. Nick and I performed morning ablutions, drank coffee and deployed an iPhone over several takes. The script was a piece of Scottish sketch comedy for, wait for it … Stephen Colbert’s show.
The taping accomplished before the start of the business day and emailed to Letitia, mid morning I retired to bed for a restorative power nap.
Only to be woken by the land line ringing on endless loop, my iphone buzzing and vibrating, and then to see an email from Letitia – ‘They want to book you!”
I answered the land line. It was my wife. “Call Letitia immediately.” She shrilled. Her usual poise quite undone by the, yes you guessed it, urgency.
“Er,” said Letitia, “Just after I got off the phone with your wife, they called and said that it’s not an offer, they just want to hold you till tomorrow morning.”
This word “hold” is the American equivalent of the British “definite heavy pencil”. What it means is that you the actor should prepare to do the job on the understanding that the job itself can evaporate at any moment.
“Oh,” I said, “So it was an offer, but now it’s not?.”
“Right.” said Letitia.
“Er …?” I said.
But she had rung off.
I maintained an iron control on my imagination as the hours passed.
You’ll notice that I say nothing of the nervous hyper-stimulation and exhaustion that actors undergo whilst in the words of the late great Spalding Gray, “Waiting for the profession to make up it’s so called mind.”
I do not reference the flights of imaginative fancy along the lines of: “Wow, and no beard! What if I had had a beard – they probably would have given me a series.”
I am mute on the forlorn hope that a sensitive, perceptive television executive would interpret the audition as an homage to Jonathan Winters and send a car for me on the spot with a large contract.
I say nothing of this. What I do say is: is it any wonder that actors drink?
Long story short; late in the afternoon the news came through that the whole bit had been cancelled. My services were no longer required. So … the beer, the 6 a.m. rise, the taping, the definite heavy pencil aka the hold, the waiting … it was now as though none of this had ever happened.
The copyright situation will not allow me to share what, in some other strand of the multiverse you might actually have seen on The Late Show. Instead, I offer the brief video below, my own personal masterclass on how to do a Scottish accent. With acknowledgement and apology to that fine long running British TV show, Dr. Finlay’s Casebook.