By Zachery Roman
I stared at the advertisement, then put it away. A few minutes later, I pulled it out and re-read it.
“Latino actors will have the opportunity to meet casting directors, agents, and other well-known people in the industry while attending workshops.”
I neatly folded it and put into my desk drawer, but my curiosity was piqued.
The advertisement was from the National Association of Latino Independent Producers. I can’t recall where I found it, but I do remember the excitement that I felt.
This could be an opportunity of a lifetime, I thought to myself, the chance to network that I had been waiting for in my short acting career.
As a child, I enjoyed acting. Growing up, it was a job I had aspired to, but bills and a professional career always seemed to put a limit on my ability to pursue this dream. I had even printed some headshots in time to hand out at this event where I was sure I’d meet someone who would help a novice actor.
The first time I ever acted, I was in first grade. I played an elephant in a school play. I think the teacher selected me because I always like pretending to be someone I wasn’t.
In fourth grade, I was David talking to Goliath, putting on boxing gloves getting ready to fight him. Right in the middle, I forgot my lines. I stood in front of the entire school with a blank stare on my face. I just ad-libbed the rest of the lines. I continued to threaten to beat up Goliath like a boxer would. Nobody knew, except the teacher, that I was making everything up.
During high school, I was cast to play Bernardo in West Side Story, but due to a leg injury, I pulled out. Years later I found that I was still interested in acting. I attended acting classes and auditioned, but didn’t get any work.
The event was in five days, plenty of time to ask for time off from work. I gave myself all the reasons why I shouldn’t attend. I didn’t know anyone. The event was too far (Dana Point). I’m not that good of an actor. But finally, I convinced myself that the chance to meet other actors and casting directors who worked on television shows and movies would be worthwhile. Even if I didn’t meet anyone who could help my acting career, I thought the experience alone would suffice.
I got into my beat-up Honda Civic and trekked to Dana Point hotel overlooking the ocean.
I immediately felt out of place.
Valet? No, thank you.
Porshes, Escalades, Audis, next to my silver hatchback with the dented front.
I sat in my car thinking this was a bad idea.
The hotel was decorated with marble floors and ornate sitting furniture.
There was a slew of younger Latinos/Latinas and then, there was me. Dressed in blue jeans and a collared shirt.
They were the “beautiful people”. Guys with well-chiseled bodies, arms like cannons, clear skin, hair coifed to perfection and average height of 5’10”. The ladies, were showing all their curves, big breasts, nice legs, perfect teeth, long hair and camera ready.
Then there was me: doughy mid-section, chicken arms, acne-pocked face, slightly shaved head with dandruff, and 5’6”. I wanted to run and hide.
The first workshop began. I could overhear others nearby.
“I’m up for a part in an HBO sitcom,” said one guy, who looked like a model.
“Me, too, and I was cast in a feature,” replied his chiseled friend.
Everyone seemed to be in the “industry” at some level or another. I sat quietly, trying to take it all in.
The day comprised instruction on how to audition, what our headshots should look like, how our résumés should be formatted. Most of the stuff I already knew.
At the end of the forum we had a chance to meet actual casting directors for various soaps and sitcoms. I stood in a long line and waited while the casting director met briefly with each actor.
Finally, though, I decided to leave and walked back to my car. Then I stopped. I thought that if I’d come all this way, spent all this time, sat through all these workshops I should give myself a chance to meet with an actual casting director. I turned around and stood in the shortest line possible, behind two beautiful women who were talking about how they had been cast into various television shows and how they knew the casting director we were in line to meet. One said she had even appeared on the show as a maid who had an affair with the lead actor’s character.
Our casting director had a timer on his table and was only giving one minute to each attendee.
The line went fast. Suddenly, it was my turn.
“So, tell me about yourself and why you’re here today?”
My mind went blank.
Finally, the words came to me, “I work for the County of Los Angeles as a Social Worker,” I began. “I’ve been attending acting classes, but I really haven’t appeared in anything before.” I told him about my interest in acting since I was a child, but how I didn’t have that much experience except acting in grade school.
He thanked me for my time.
I spent the drive home thinking about how dumb I was to have gone to the forum. At least nobody would know of my failure.
Two weeks later when I was driving I received a phone call.
“Hi, I’m calling for Zachery Roman,” the voice on the line said.
“This is he.”
“Hi, I’m calling from casting at General Hospital. You met with our casting director a couple of weeks ago and we’d like to offer you a part in an upcoming episode….”
I swerved, cutting off a truck whose driver honked and gave me the international sign of disapproval.
The woman on the line offered me what is known as an “under five” part. I would be paid $100 for each of the five words I would speak in the episode.
A few weeks later, I went to the studios where General Hospital is filmed and met that same “one-minute” director: Mark Teschner, who had won awards for his casting.
Of all the actors he had met that day, he said, I was the only one he hired because of my authenticity and honesty. We shook hands and I was taken to the dressing room and given a costume and my five words.
I hadn’t realized that most of acting is waiting. Waiting for the lighting to be set up, waiting for the props crew setting up the scene, waiting for actors to do their make-up.
I walked around the sound stage. There were several stages: one was a doctor’s office, another a bedroom, and the stage I worked on was arranged as a warehouse.
The actors were professional and friendly, greeting me with a “Hello” and smile. Each spent most of the time rehearsing his or her lines before the camera rolled.
I was one of several thugs working for Sonny Corinthos, a mob boss played by Maurice Bernard. Sonny used a coffee-bean warehouse as a front for a drug smuggling operation. In the scene, I accidently drop one of the “coffee bean” bags and apologize to Sonny while he looks at me menacingly.
We rehearsed and then my big moment came.
“Sorry boss, my bag slipped.” Five words.
“Good job!” said the director, and that was it.
I walked off the sound stage with a feeling that I had accomplished what I had set out to do. Looking around, I took it all in. The sights of the stages, the actors, even the catered food.
It was my first and last time being in a studio.
For a few months, I kept going to auditions for various acting gigs. I was successful a couple of more times, getting work as an extra, but then my first child was born. Work got hectic. I put my acting dreams away for the time being.
Periodically, residual checks come in the mail. The last one was for 10 cents.
I still have it. It’s in one of my journals.