The fact that I needed material to use on my acting reel forced me to set aside my moral hesitations to performing in some sort of creepy, homoerotic slasher film. I had been told repeatedly by many casting directors and agents that I was the perfect type for the guy who looks like he can be trusted, but who turns out to be a psychopath who buried your family in his basement. Never quite sure as how to receive that “compliment”, I would simply nod in agreement and keep my eyes peeled for such acting opportunities. My time had come.
I parked my car in front of an apartment building that looked like numerous buildings I had seen on “Cops”. Chipped paint, sun-burned grass, no numbers indicating the address, a deflated kiddie pool that looked like it was filled with some drunkard's urine. While most people would have driven away, I was oddly intrigued by what lay before me. My logic figured that if they had advertised publicly for this film, then there couldn't be anything too outrageous to walk into. I checked myself in the rearview mirror, took a deep breath, and approached the building.
Seconds later, the door opened again but this time a large man appeared and seemed to waft out like a hovercraft or Macy's Day parade float. He looked like Dom DeLuise with frosted white hair and wore a Hawaiian shirt the size of a four-person tent. His jet black eyebrows arched in suspicion as his eyes inspected me from head to toe. “Are you here for the audition?” I wondered if this question was rhetorical but decided to nod in confirmation. “Sign in there, and then look over the sides for the cold reading. Then take a number from the stack and knock on the door when you're ready.”
“Sounds good!” I replied and with the look of a man smelling feces, he turned and slammed the door behind him.
On a small, plastic patio table I found the sign-in sheet and wrote my name down next to number 27. Next to the sign-in sheet lay a small pile of numbers; the top number corresponded to my sign-in number. Finally, there was a laminated sheet of paper that I discovered was the material for the cold reading.
Now generally, when actors have to read something cold, it is typically something from either the script that you are auditioning for or a selection from some other piece of published work. This laminated paper had five lines typed on it. And they were numbered. The sentence structure and the depth of word choice looked as though they could have been written by a third grader. I read them once and knocked on the door.
I entered the shade-drawn apartment with a slight bit of hesitation. The door closed behind me, and Dom reached out his hand. His demeanor took a complete 180. Suddenly, he was Doris Day.
“Thank you so much for coming today. My name is Dom (no way!)and this is my business partner Steve. He'll be running the camera.”
A wiry man with torn jeans and a sweat-stained white T-shirt who resembled Steve Buscemi, early Steve Buscemi, not the cleaned up, Boardwalk Empire Buscemi, reached out his hand. “Pleasure.”
“Nice to meet you, Steve.”
I retracted my hand and it felt oddly moist. Apparently Steve Buscemi had sweaty palms. At least I hoped it was sweat.
“And this is Mickey. He'll be performing the strangulation and stabbing scenes with you after you do the cold reading.”
I turned to see another young actor leaning against a leather recliner that sat in a shadowed corner of the room. Mickey looked like he could've been a member of a white militia from the back woods of Missouri.
“Great. Hi, Mickey.”
He nodded to me and continued to chew on the toothpick that danced across his coffee-stained teeth.
“Are you ready for the reading?”
I took the cell phone and held it up to my ear. Then I recited the five lines from the laminated page.
“Hey, Mom; it's me.”
“College is great.”
“Yes, Mom. I'm keeping up with my homework.”
“I'm calling because I need to borrow some money.”
“You know what, Mom?! You can be a real jerk sometimes!”
The room was eerily silent. I wondered if I had offended Dom and sweaty Jerome because I had added some words and phrases to their script to try and create some form of unique character from the vacuous script they had written. Dom stared deeply into my eyes and slowly rose to his feet.
“Noel...I just have to say, and I think I speak for both of us, that THAT was THE BEST cold reading I have EVER seen. You are fantastic!” With that, he began to clap his hands and oddly resembled a walrus doing a trick at SeaWorld. Jerome followed suit.
I thanked them for their praise and wondered to myself just how bad the other actors must have been. I don't mean to diminish my talents, but they were talking to me as if I were Olivier himself. Was it possible for anyone to read those lines poorly?
“Now, Noel. We will move on to the second half of the audition which is the strangulation and stabbing scenes. You will be working with Mickey. One will be the assailant, and one will be the victim. Now for this part, I must ask you both to please remove your shirts.”
I swallowed my dignity and removed my shirt. The ickiness-factor of the situation skyrocketed as Mickey and I stood there bare-chested while Dom DeLuise and Steve Buscemi ogled us like two thirteen year old boys flipping through an issue of Hustler magazine. I couldn't wait for this to be over.
"Okay! Noel, why don't you be the assailant first and Mickey can be the victim. Now, Noel, you can just improv this scene…think of a reason why you want to strangle Mickey. And Mickey, when Noel is strangling you, remember the four steps of a good death by murder."
Let me quickly educate you on the four steps of "a good death by murder" as outlined by Dom and Steve. These were revealed to me in the initial casting breakdown I had read online.
Step 1: SHOCK! The victim is shocked to find himself being strangled. Really?! What kind of person would not be shocked to have someone's hands pressing on their throat?
Step 2: SCARED! The victim's shock turns to fright as he realizes his life is being threatened. A logical progression.
Step 3: STRUGGLE! Fighting for his life, the victim puts up a struggle. I would certainly hope so.
And step 4: SUBMISSION! Realizing struggle is futile, the victim submits to the assailant as the breath leaves his body. With perhaps a few bonus spasms…
Dom and Steve wanted to see the victim go through all of these steps…with their shirt off.
"Hey, man! I heard you were talking to my sister yesterday."
"Well, I gotta be honest…I don't like when anyone talks to my SISTER!"
I reached out, grabbed Mickey by the neck and started to strangle him. Of course, I made sure to do a stage strangle, meaning I put my hands on his neck without squeezing, allowing him to control the action. But the instant I grabbed his neck, Mickey let out a scream.
Dom bellowed, "STOP! STOP!"
Mickey fumbled, "I just reacted the way I thought-"
"Shock would not produce sound! Shock is a look! Shock is a GASP! A slight inhale!"
I worked hard to contain my laughter.
"Now, let's try it again."
"Happy Birthday, buddy!"
"Yeah! It's a good day, man! A good day to DIE!"
I started to strangle Mickey a second time and following direction, he didn't make a sound. Just pure shock.
Trying to defend himself, "I thought you said shock was a look."
"Well it is, but you would make some sort of sound. A gasp, a slight inhale…or exhale. You know what? Let's switch it up. Mickey, why don't you strangle Noel?"
"Sure thing, Dom."
Now I assumed that Mickey was a professional. And I assumed that if he was unfamiliar with how to strangle another actor safely, he would have learned from my example.
After a horrible improvisation that is too offensive to repeat, Mickey started to actually strangle me. For a second, I had a moment of panic and thought that this might be where my life was going to end. And instead of feeling fear, I felt incredibly depressed. To be murdered auditioning for a horrible D-movie with my shirt off, while Dom and Steven watched gleefully. I snapped out of the pathetic visual, and my adrenaline kicked in. I grabbed Mickey's hands and pulled them back from my neck. He matched my force with equal force, and I started to get pissed. "This is gonna get real!" I thought to myself. I was just about to take Mickey down, but then the rational side of my brain kicked in. I figured I should just die quicker so that this infuriating moment would end. I quickly acted step 4, Submission, and collapsed to the floor.
The room was silent. And then, the slow clap began. I opened my eyes to see Steve Buscemi clapping with such fervor that Dom had no other choice but to follow suit. I rose to my feet, still fighting the urge to punch Mickey in the face, and drank in the unsolicited applause.
"That was a great death, Noel! Absolutely great!"
Dom stood. "Well, I don't even think we need to see the stabbing death, that was so good."
Mickey looked disappointed. "Ah, man! I even brought my own knife."
And with that, Mickey reached into his pocket and withdrew an actual switchblade. With a flick of his wrist, he flipped the knife open for us all to see.
I thought two things in this moment. One, Mickey was such a method actor that he had to bring a real knife to the audition. Or two, Mickey was a psychopath. His acting ability led me to embrace option two.
Dom and Steve also looked a bit shocked.
Like a child sent to his room, Mickey sadly retracted the blade and put it back in his pocket.
"Thanks for coming in, Mickey. Noel, do you mind staying for a second?"
God help me. "Not at all."
Mickey put his shirt back on and slinked out of the room without even saying goodbye. I got over that quickly.
"Thanks so much."
"Now, most of the actors that we work with are in their early to mid-20's. I think you might be a little older than that, am I right?"
Steve chimed in, "And definitely full-bodied."
I threw up in my mouth a little. Swallowing my lunch, I managed to smile at the compliment.
"Thanks for being honest, Noel. We just had to know for casting purposes. Thanks again for taking the time to come in for us. We'll be in touch."
I thanked them again and shook hands on my way out. Rushing home, I bought a gallon of Purell at Walgreen's and, once safely in the comfort and privacy of my own apartment, turned the shower as hot as it would go and stayed in until my body and soul were sufficiently clean.
Two weeks later, I got an email from Dom and Steve. They again complimented my work and wanted to offer me a role in their upcoming film, "Boys Under My Blade". After getting my dry-heaves under control, I responded with a cordial "thank-you", and then respectfully declined the offer. Some other actor would get the chance to strangle or stab some innocent male with their shirt off.
Perhaps years from now, I will regret turning down this unique opportunity. But today, I look back with relief in knowing that I made it out of that David Lynchian situation with my life and most of my dignity in tact.