Every 30 seconds or so, the elevator opened, bringing another young Asian woman into the crowded lobby. With every new arrival, 50 pairs of eyes surreptitiously darted over to check out the competition.
It was 10:30 Saturday morning, scene of an open casting call for the lead role in "Memoirs of a Geisha," a film to be directed by Steven Spielberg based on the best-selling novel by Arthur Golden.The fliers and newspaper ads called for "extraordinarily beautiful" Asian females, age 16 to 27. The only other specification was for someone "who can appear Japanese and speak English with an accent."
The doors to the San Francisco casting office opened at 11, and by the end of the day, more than 100 people showed up, each wanting a shot at stardom.
No acting experience was required. Few had it.
Maureen Hong, 23, is studying to be an optometrist. She went to the casting call at the urging of her parents, who saw the ad in a Korean newspaper. With a friend along for moral support, she made the two-hour drive from her home in Monterey.
"I think every little girl has a dream about being a movie star," said Hong, neatly dressed in a cornflower-blue pantsuit.
She did no preparation other than to read the book, which she had been waiting to get at the library anyway.
"Memoirs of a Geisha" is the story of a Japanese girl sold to a geisha house in 1929 at the age of 9. It follows her into her 30s as she learns the art of geisha - entertaining and charming clients through dance, music and sex - while also falling in love.
"She's quite beautiful, but she's also smart and intelligent and has the challenge of reinventing herself," said casting director Laura Folger, who is in charge of the San Francisco search.
At least one applicant in San Francisco was a bit baffled by the questions on the casting form.
"It asks for your bust, waist and hip measurements," Lisa Nish-i-mu-ra said. "Do you walk around knowing that stuff?"
She left it blank, but included a playful photo of herself with a friend's dog.