This is a real story about my life that I am telling July 9th at Raconteurs.
When I became a professional actor, I realized very quickly how unspecial I was. I wasn’t a person, I was a type. Every casting call I attended was full of the same guy: tall, thin, white, beard, glasses, age 19 – 25, and looked like he could teach an introductory class in English lit. I was not a special snowflake and I felt like just one more unit off the assembly line.
My first auditions were non-union commercials which meant a few things. One, it meant that the jobs were not as good. One time I auditioned for a commercial that turned out not to be a commercial at all. What I booked was a job with the Royal Ontario Museum where I put on a toga, walked around Yorkville handing out coupons, and pretending I had fallen out of time. At one point that afternoon Margaret Atwood told me, ‘You’re too tall to be a Roman!’ and walked away.
Two, non-union means that I was a less experienced actor. The casting agents would schedule dozens of new actors for the same time and audition us in groups. My job was to find a way to make my single line of dialogue sound better than the competition next to me. It’s hard but I always took a deep breath and gave that one shitty line my all. Usually I over shot it. It was common for the casting director to say, ‘That was good, Brian, but can you bring it down a bit?’
The first real union audition was for a new product called All-Bran Bar Bites. Someone at Kellogg’s had a great idea to make their new All-Bran Bars not bars. I was so excited because if I booked it, I would get more money, I would get a credit in the union, and I would be one step closer to getting out of the cattle call.
I was also excited because I would get to eat an All-Bran Bar Bite which I thought would be very special. I imagined myself in the future watching television with friends. The All-Bran Bar Bite commercial would come on and whether or not I was in it I could claim that I was one of the first civilians to eat an All-Bran Bar Bite. They would be so impressed.
On the day of the audition, I thought I wouldn’t arrive on time. I drove half way across the city on my bike before realizing I was going to the wrong casting agency. On the way to the real agency it started raining and then a cube van struck me with its side mirror while we were both in motion. I showed up thirty minutes late, so apologetic, but the receptionist said, ‘No worries. We’re thirty minutes behind.’
When I got in the room, there was only me and one other guy, a surfer dude camera man. There was also a kiddie pool filled with an inch of water. You may remember the All-Bran Bar TV spots: someone ate the bar and said ‘Huh, these All-Bran Bars are pretty good!’ Someone next to them would then do a spit take. End scene.
The camera guy tells me to take a cup, drink it, and then spit it into the pool. ‘That’s it?’ I ask. ‘Yeah brah, that’s it.’ I do it. He films it. It takes ten seconds. These union auditions are fucking amazing. I wasn’t even mad that there were no All-Bran Bar Bites.
Three hours later I get a call from my agent telling me, ‘You got a callback!’
‘That’s ridiculous,’ I protested. ‘All I did was spit some water into a pool.’
‘Well, whatever you did, do it again tomorrow.’
The callback was a bigger deal. I recognized some more established commercial actors while I waited. I entered the room with a partner, a tall, beautiful woman in a white dress. I felt like a kid standing next to her.
The little casting room was bursting with people. There was a casting director, her assistant, three marketing people, two people from the Kellogg’s, their assistants, and the surfer dude camera man at the back of the room. On the floor was a kiddie pool filled with an inch of water and there on a stool was a real bag of blueberry flavoured All Bran Bar Bites. For some reason the balding forty year old Kellogg’s rep was the one in charge.
He said, ‘Brian, why don’t you eat the bites first and Sarah, you do the spit take.’ He said go. I took the bag and ate one. It was gross. Then I said my line enthusiastically, ‘Huh, these All-Bran Bar bites are pretty good!’ Sarah does a spit take. End Scene. The Kellogg’s guy says, ‘That was good, Brian, but can you bring it down a bit?’
I was honestly embarrassed. After four years of theatre school and months of auditions, I felt like an amateur getting that note. I needed to do shine at this audition and I was blowing it in front of all these professionals. He even said it sort of shitty.
I felt an overwhelming urge to guide the negative energy somewhere positive. I knew I needed to make a joke to lighten the mood. So when he said, ‘That was good, Brian, but can you bring it down a bit?’ I replied, ‘Why? Are they not that good?’
I didn’t even really finish the sentence. I got half way through and realized it was incredibly stupid so it came out like ‘Why are they not thaaaa guuuhhh….’
Kellogg’s guy said, ‘WHAT?!’ He clearly heard me. I laughed awkwardly and said ‘Forget about it. What are doing now?’ He gave me a look and continued. Sarah and I switched parts: she would do the line and I would do the spit take.
The audition was still going. I still had one a shot to save the audition. I had to rock this spit take. The guy said go, Sarah eats the bite and said, ‘Huh, these All-Bran Bars are pretty good!’, and I release a torrent of water and spittle that causes everyone in the room to recoil. All the assistants cover their notes. The Kellogg’s guy tries to shield his leather briefcase with his body. It’s Seaworld but there are only front rows.
When the mist finally settles, the Kellogg’s guy says ‘Thank you’ in the way that really means ‘Get out.’ The assistants, all pretty young girls, were laughing. I don’t think they were laughing at me. I honestly think they were impressed.
I didn’t get the job. But I didn’t quit right away. I stuck with it long enough to book a voice over gig where I made six thousand dollars in a single day. But for months in between, there was nothing. Just rooms full of replica Brians repeating the same line over and over again. Trying really hard to look unique.
Sometimes in my real life, people still ask me if I can bring it down it bit. But you know what…fuck all ya’ll! I don’t have to listen to you! I’ll spit in your face! I am a special snowflake!