Many years ago, I was at a lecture on St. Patrick’s Day and a brusque and somewhat imperious man, was scheduled to read from his novel. I was surprised to see he had a glass of whiskey hidden behind the podium—suffice it to say, I recognized the color and it was not lemonade. Every time he read a page, he took a swig of whiskey. It was a long reading. When it was over, he couldn’t move, and some assistant had to cart him off, but I remember thinking at the time, “Oh, get a grip.” And I thought that up until I had a different type of audition and looked into the camera and thought, if only…
Even if it’s ridiculous that I would have been nervous after being handed the sides, the first time I was asked to improvise I was so nervous; my mind went blank. Auditions in Europe weren’t done this way. After I left Europe for New York I never expected to be in front of the camera again. But back in Los Angeles, by sheer coincidence and a friend who introduced me to her friend, casting agent and Englishwoman Susie, I was back on the saddle again. I landed an agent in West Hollywood who had me going out. By then, things had changed. I still remember the cameraman telling me, “Just pretend you’re talking to me.” Ironic, that now what I do for a living is stand up in front of people and talk. And I am always a tad nervous, like butterflies in my stomach but never as bad as having my speech impaired. But there is something about reading something, having to memorize it and synthesize it in your own words, incorporating your voice and body into the delivery and into a camera, that felt different, as though naked and literally baring my soul. It would be a little bit like going to a psychiatrist and beginning to talk and then realizing that there are millions of people listening to you.
Matters were not helped along by the fact that I got to the audition about an hour early. I am chronically punctual, and the positive side of that is that even with traffic, I arrive on time, but the bad side is that I am always roaming around, trying to kill time, and in this particular instance I was getting hungry and there was forty-five minutes to go.
I knew I couldn’t digest anything but to keep myself alert and peppy I found a bakery and had a latte, thinking the milk might help. After my drink, I went to the bathroom to re-apply lipstick and take one last look at myself.
Anyway, now there were about thirty minutes to go and I walked back to the studio and there was another woman—who arrived in one door as I opened another. We argued over which of us would walk into the audition first, and for some God-unknown reason she also wanted to sit in the chair I had selected. Teaching myself feng-shui at the time and implementing directions for prosperity, I had to sit in that corner. I am good about sharing, but I was absolutely convinced she was going to knock my chances—I could feel my blood pressure rise—and so every time she came in my direction, I would put my hand up to block her way. It seems funny to me now, but at the time I was ready to strangle her. But then an acquaintance, showed up, which was a great treat. And from then on everything went well. It turned out there were quite a few people in attendance, some of whom I didn’t know, or had ever seen, but they all smiled and were friendly, except for the arguer.
I waited for my friends audition to be over, and on the walk back to our cars, I was relieved to be alive and for the first time in a while I felt relaxed. In fact, I was quite calm and then the argumentative woman came by and said, “Better luck next time!” The rest of that discussion I’ll leave to your imagination.
It’s no secret…the year 2012 for films I saw and books I read were unmemorable. However I did find stories that were intelligent on a medium that I have made a point to veer from… until now and that is cable television and PBS. The writing and the casting of Downton Abbey http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/downtonabbey/ is sharply etched. It’s gorgeously shot with beautiful art-direction and the fascination doesn’t stop there— its writing and acting is brilliant.
Certain tender scenes play in my head long after I turn off the set. Last Sunday I felt I watched a royal wedding again (in tears). But the character that I adore most is the brazen matriarch Maggie Smith who plays Violet Crawley, Dowager Countess of Grantham. She is multifaceted and flawed— the strongest and most outspoken of the bunch. Lady Violet, advice is far from politically correct, by today’s standards, and she is a bit rough around the edges but she doesn’t let her age or gender prevent her from getting things done. The best part about her is her wit and impeccable delivery of dialogue. It’s so good, I watch pen in hand thinking to myself— I wish I would have written and said that!
Naturally you would have had to have seen the show to understand its context. But for a lesson in dialogue, here are some of her finest quotes.
1. “No Englishman would dream of dying in someone else’s house . . . especially somebody they didn’t even know.”
2. “One way or another, everyone goes down the aisle with half the story hidden.”
3. Cora Crawley: “Are we to be friends then?”
Lady Violet: “We are allies, which can be a good deal more effective.”
4. “Well, give him a date for when Mary’s out of mourning. No one wants to kiss a girl in black.”
5. Mrs. Crawley: “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
Lady Violet: “Oh, I must have said it wrong.”
6. “Your quarrel is with my daughter, Rosamund, and not with me. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.”
7. “I’m a woman, Mary. I can be as contrary as I choose.”
8. Cora Crawley: “I hate to go behind Robert’s back.”
Lady Violet: “That is a scruple no successful wife can afford.”
9. “Don’t be defeatist, dear. It’s very middle class.”
10. “Oh really! It’s like living in a second-rate hotel, where the guests keep arriving and no one seems to leave.”
Have you watched the show? Who is your favorite character?