Be sober, be vigilant;
because your adversary the devil,
as a roaring lion, walketh about,
seeking whom he may devour.
1 Peter 5:8
She skims the list of names with her pencil. "You're not here," she says.
"Yes, I am."
Sigh. I plunk my finger on the list. "There."
"Oh." She looks up at me with large blinking eyes. "Sawwwry!"
"Am I late?"
"A little," she says, shoving the crumpled scene pages at me. "But don't worry about it. They're running behind."
I exhale in relief and turn to face the broadloomed waiting area. It's filled with the shifting, murmuring figures of what must be every actress in Manhattan who could get the lunch rush off. Some are tall, some are short, some are sitting, some are pacing, some are cross-legged, doing breathing exercises on the floor. The only thing they seem to have in common is that they're all muttering the same words under their breath in a great monotonous chorus:
"Good morning, sir. Welcome to First Fidelity....Good morning, sir. Welcome to First Fidelity...."
It's the opening line for the part of Candace, "a buxom bank teller" who gets taken hostage during a bank robbery that goes wrong on UBN's prime-time cop drama. I'm not exactly perfect for the role, anatomically speaking, but my agent told me to explore the wide world of Wonder bras and sent me out for it anyway.
"Salleee! Sallee-hee!" I hear my name called in a breathy, singsongy whisper. I look over to see a blond woman in a pink T-shirt and A-line miniskirt bouncing excitedly up and down on the edge of her seat, fluttering her fingernails at me.
Shit. Dara Dempsey. Now I'm never going to get the part.
I tuck the script under my arm and reluctantly walk over, sitting down into the cloud of CKOne that surrounds her.
"I haven't seen you in ages," she whisper-trills, tapping my knee. "How are you?"
"Oh, not bad, Dara. You?"
She sticks out her tongue in a little pant. "I'm so busy I can't take it! Did you hear I got the part on Dusk Until Dawn?"
"You got that part?" I ask innocently. "Congratulations."
But of course I know she got that part. I auditioned for it myself. Dara and I always end up on auditions together -- not that it's surprising. We're both about the same age, same height, same hair color, same blue eyes (okay, well, mine are sort of grayish blue, but I put blue on my résumé because it sounds better). The only real difference between us, besides the fact Dara doesn't have to wear padded bras to "buxom bank teller" auditions, is that she always gets the part.
"Thanks," she says, "but it's no big deal. Just a soap. What about you? What have you been up to?"
She has to ask? Isn't it obvious from my scuffed boots and second-(possibly third)-hand leather jacket that I haven't had any disposable income since they canceled Melrose Place? And definitely not since the last time we saw each other. Dara and I used to hang out. We weren't best friends or anything, but we'd sometimes find ourselves at the nearest Starbucks drinking skinny lattes after acting class. We'd commiserate over our lack of prospects, bitch about other actors getting work, and whine about being broke. When it got really bad, we even threatened to drop out of acting and find something useful to do with our lives before it was too late. She wanted to be a teacher. I wasn't so sure -- maybe I'd go back to Wisconsin and finish my psych degree.
But then she got that walk-on part in an HBO movie.
And a national ad campaign.
And now the soap.
So I'm drinking my skinny lattes alone.
She's still waiting to hear what I've been up to, and I'm fumbling over the most impressive way to say "absolutely fucking nothing!" when the casting assistant, wearing a mustard-yellow shirt and brown argyle vest, leans around the corner and consults his clipboard.
"That's me!" I say, springing from my chair.
"Break a leg in there!" Dara says. "And if you can't break a leg, whatever you do -- don't break a nail!" She throws her blond head back and giggles.
I laugh like it's the first time I've heard the line, but she uses it before every audition.
I catch up to the quickly disappearing argyle vest. He has one of those abrupt, tense walks where his knees seem to lock after every step. We take a left, then a right, then another left down a long white corridor. I make a mental note of a water fountain and two rubbertree plants so I don't get lost on the way out. I always get lost after auditions at UBN. Everyone does. With its labyrinth of white hallways, closed doors, and nondescript exit stairwells, actors have a nickname for the place -- we call it Purgatory.
"Wow. I'll never understand how you guys know your way around here."
"You get used to it," he says. "Hey! Wait a sec! I know you!" He clicks his fingers and points at me. "You're in that Pizza Hut commercial, aren't you?" He can tell by the look on my face that it's a case of mistaken identity. "Whoops! Sorry. I thought for sure it was you."
"Don't worry. Happens all the time." And it does. But Dara's the Pizza Hut girl. I, naturally, made an idiot of myself in the audition. There were about sixteen of us at the call, all gathered in a stuffy room, surrounded by stacks of pizza boxes. The casting director told us that for authenticity's sake, and to test our natural aptitude for cheesestretching, which is essential to the success of any Pizza Hut campaign, the pies were hot -- very hot. "Now remember," he said. "Forget the fat grams. Forget the carbs. This is the best pizza you've ever tasted. You're in pizza rapture." On cue, we enthusiastically sank our teeth into our slices. He hadn't been kidding about the "hot." I felt the sizzling cheese immediately graft itself to the roof of my mouth. My eyes started to water. My throat started to close up. Pizza rapture. Pizza rapture, I was thinking. But I couldn't take it. I gave the slice such a violent jerk that the sizzling toppings slid off the crust and flopped onto my chin, sending the production assistant running for the first aid kit. Dara got the part. And I ended up smelling like Ozonol for a week.
"So," I begin, lightly, "who am I reading for?"
I cross my fingers and look heavenward:
"Hazel Grippe," he announces.
Shit. I might as well just go home.
"Why? You know her?"
"Oh, I know her, all right," I grumble.
He opens the fingerprint-smudged door to the audition room. Like most audition spaces, the room seems expressly designed to cause as much anxiety as possible in every actor who walks into it. It's too small, too cold, and too bright -- more like a walk-in freezer than anything else. The argyle vest quickly hurries to a video camera set up in the corner and begins puttering around it like an executioner polishing his gun.
There are two other people in the room, both sitting behind a cluttered table. One is Precinct's Emmy Awardwinning director, Foster Maclean, a middle-aged man with silver hair and a round belly. He's leaning back in his chair, stroking his beard, his thumb hooked into a loop on his multipocketed khaki vest. He seems to be staring with great intensity at no particular spot on the floor. The other person, of course, is Hazel Grippe. The most-feared casting director in the city. Or at least the one I fear the most. With her glossy cap of red hair, her red business suits, and her sharp little fuse of a nose, if you had to categorize Hazel as something other than a casting director, a stick of dynamite wouldn't be too far down the list. She's furiously scribbling on the back of someone's résumé and doesn't so much as glance in my direction.
The director's gaze travels from no particular spot on the floor and comes to rest in the general vicinity of my bustline. He squints and strains curiously. I know what he's thinking:
Finally, Hazel puts down her pen. "Hello, Sally," she says tonelessly.
"Did you lighten your hair or something?"
"Uh-huh," she says without approval. She reaches for her can of Diet Coke with a menacing flurry of her red fingernails while quickly glancing at my old leather jacket and jeans. "We asked everyone to dress in character this time, Sally. Or at least to take an honest stab at it."
"I know," I say apologetically. "But I was at work when I got the call and I didn't have time to change."
She arches an eyebrow. "Well, at least you didn't wear the dress."
Wait a second. Did she say "the dress"? It can't be. She couldn't have said "the dress." All this time I've been telling myself that the reason Hazel Grippe hasn't hired me in eighteen months wasn't because of "the dress" -- because that would be shallow and catty and unprofessional -- but because I was too tall or too short or just wrong for the part. But there it is. She brought up the fucking dress.
"The dress?" the argyle vest asks.
"Last year," Hazel begins, "Sally and I showed up at a wrap party in the exact same little red Versace number, didn't we, Sally?"
The argyle vest lets out a loud gasp -- the kind of hopeless, sympathetic noise people emit when they hear very young children are dying of cancer.
"It was a year and a half ago now," I correct Hazel, hoping to remind her it may be time to bury the hatchet.
"It was still a tad embarrassing, wasn't it?"
"It was worse for me." I laugh. I flatter. "You looked way better in yours."
"That's because mine wasn't a knockoff."
"That's enough," the director says. "Can we get on with this? My ass is falling asleep."
The argyle vest comes over with a Polaroid. "Say Brie!" he announces. The bulb flashes, eternally capturing what I am sure is the thespian equivalent of a deer caught in the headlights. Through the shifting phosphorescent images that follow the flash I hear Hazel's voice: "Okay, Sally. Knock us dead."
Copyright © 2003 by Sheri McInnis
Devil May Care
Sally Carpenter is a struggling New York City actress. She hasn't had a real gig in two years, she hates her day job, and her agent won't return her calls. She's just about ready to pack it in when she meets someone with the power to change her life. Jack Weaver is not only one of the city's most eligible bachelors, he's the charismatic president of a major TV network. Sally's not sure she trusts him at first. She's heard rumors he's ruthless in business -- and elsewhere. Still, when he asks her out to dinner, she doesn't say no.
Almost overnight, Sally's luck turns. She lands a role on a hit TV show and Jack thinks she's the Next Big Thing. But she can't shake the feeling that something is wrong. Especially when anyone who stands in Jack's way ends up in the hospital -- or worse. Has she really met Mr. Right -- or has she fallen for the Devil himself? She's not afraid of losing her heart, but is her soul on the line, too?