Having grown up in Los Angeles and spending a good chunk of my youth thinking I was going to make my living as an actor, I am occasionally asked what it takes to make it in Hollywood. Given that I did not, in fact, make it in Hollywood, I’m probably not the right guy to ask. However, I do have one bit of expert advice on how to not make it in Hollywood. So for those looking for the key to failure, here it is:
Walk into an audition wearing a Republican T-shirt.
This was the route I chose back in 1992, when my overtly Republican father was a candidate for political office. I had an audition for the coveted role of Nerd No. 5 on “Married: With Children,” which, if you don’t remember, was a show that was exactly like “Downton Abbey,” except without the accents, class, intelligence and, well, pretty much everything else. No word on nerds one through four, but I was the perfect five, and I was determined to stand out.
Easier said than done.
Every possible television nerd in the city was herded into a holding tank to recite two or three lines for a bored casting director who had screened 72 potential nerds in just under 20 minutes. It was just like my last audition, where I had precisely one line in which to make an impact. It was the role of the waiter, and it came in a scene where the manager of the restaurant asks me to fill up the salt shakers.
“Already did it, sir!”
That was it. My line. “Already did it, sir!” Chipper, helpful and boring as mud.
The question you have to ask yourself is how in the name of Samuel T. Goldwyn do you break out of the pack by your brilliance in reciting those four words? Do you yell? Laugh? Burst into tears? Emphasize strange syllables? (“AlreadEE did IT, sir!”) Or do you do what I did — surrender to the ritual, speak clearly and forgettably, and then walk out the door knowing that, once again, you’ve wasted your afternoon?
I didn’t want to make that mistake with possible nerd fame on the line.
I figured the “Bennett for Senate” T-shirt with a big red, white and blue elephant on it would at least start a conversation.
It did. (Be careful what you wish for.)
“You’re a Republican?” the casting director asked in disbelief.
I assured her I was.
“What, you’re going to vote for Bruce Herschensohn?”
He was the Republican who lost to Barbara Boxer, the formidable Democrat who has served in the Senate these past 20 years. Yes, I was going to vote for Bruce Herschensohn, but I was too intimidated to admit it. I think I muttered something, although I’m not sure in what language.
“I don’t know anyone voting for Bruce Herschensohn,” she said. “I can’t imagine anyone voting for him.”
And then I read the lines I can no longer remember, and I was out the door 30 seconds later.
No, I didn’t get the part, but I can’t blame the shirt. I was no more likely to be a famous nerd than I was to fill up televised salt shakers. But the words of that woman have stayed with me these past two decades.
I don’t put a lot of stock into conspiracy theories about Hollywood’s left-wing, godless agenda. There’s no conspiracy necessary. The fact is that people surround themselves with like-minded people, even in Tinseltown, where they pride themselves on their tolerance and enlightenment. Not only did that woman not know anyone who thought about politics differently than she did; she couldn’t even imagine someone voting for a Republican.
Given the creative reputation of her industry, that’s a staggering failure of imagination.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.