I was sixteen years old, had just got my school certificate at TAFE and was working at a lolly shop at our local mall.
Going to TAFE was what I imagine a prison education to be like. I studied like crazy and graduated early because I was hell-bent on getting out of there as soon as I could. I felt there had to be bigger things out other there than learning algebra from a teacher who seemed to suffer from manic episodes and had severe garlic breath.
Working at the lolly shop was a lot of fun. It was the first job I managed to hold down for longer than a week and I’d confined my drinking to just Thursday to Sunday out of respect for my newfound independence.
Then, during the summer of 2007–8 my agent called to tell me about an audition he had for me, for one of the lead roles in a new feature film starring Geena Davis called Accidents Happen.
This was a big movie compared to the other projects I’d been auditioning for and I knew it was special because my agent rarely sounded excited. We chatted about the roles and I was sent the script, which I devoured in an afternoon. I’d wanted to be an actor since I was four years old and I knew that a film career was what I was after. I also knew that in order to start you needed a big break. Accidents Happen was that break; that one big project I’d been hoping for.
Up until this point I hadn’t said a single word on camera. I’d auditioned for various TV shows and low budget movies but never anything even close to this. Even in the tiny commercials I’d done I hadn’t been allowed to say anything so the prospect of a job where I got to play a real character was overwhelmingly cool.
My hopes turned to a morbid fear when I realised that everyone seemed to be auditioning for this movie. People I didn’t even realise were interested in acting were telling me they had booked an audition for it.
The audition day finally came. My initial screen test was for the role of Billy. I arrived early, spitting my piece of spearmint gum in the bin as I took a seat in the casting office’s waiting room. It was a humid day and the room felt stuffy, my flannelette shirt clinging to my body and my long, side-swept fringe holding beads of perspiration at the split ends. My heart hammered in my chest and I bounced my knee to focus my attention on something other than my anxiety. Other young actors were scattered about, some I recognised from TV and some I didn’t.
The door to the studio opened and the lovely Anousha Zarkesh, casting director extraordinaire, called me in. I grabbed my backpack, wiped my top lip and forehead and followed her inside. I threw my backpack next to the door and walked over to Andrew Lancaster, the film’s director. He was my height, skinny with a thin moustache and a friendly demeanour. He shook my hand and seemed filled with almost nervous, excited energy.
I had worked my arse off day and night on the lines I was given, rehearsing on the bus to and from work, in front of the Jelly Belly shelves while restocking during my shifts, and in the shower. I’d put my entire world into it and it settled me to see that Andrew seemed genuinely interested in what I might bring to the role.
I did the scene. Andrew and Anousha said I did well, smiling kindly as they showed me the door.
I stood, my arm trembling as I picked up my backpack from the floor and placed my hand on the door handle.
My heart racing, the blood rushing from my face, I word vomited: ‘I like Larry. I like, in the, in the script. Larry, the brother, Billy’s older … the, the drunk. I like Larry.’
They both stared, the corner of Andrew’s lip teetering on a smile as silence filled the small room.
I sounded completely incoherent. Larry was the older brother of Billy and a character I really
connected with. He was conflicted, lost and had a real heart underneath his sadness. He was also a raging alcoholic and I was certain I could pull it off to a tee.
They adjusted themselves in their seats and before they could ask if I was having a mental breakdown I spoke again.
‘If it’s possible I’d love to read for him if you have a minute?’
‘I’ve learnt some of Larry’s lines. I’d … I’d love to just read a scene of his if you had just a second?’
I could hear my heart beating in my ear canals. What had I done? Is this how people behaved in auditions? I had no idea. I stood just blinking at them like I’d been hit over the head.
The silence following seemed to last a solid ten minutes until Anousha spoke.
‘We’ve got a lot to get through today but we will be in touch.’
That was it. I thought I had completely blown my shot at being in this movie. I thought I had blown my chances at being in any movie. I had no idea how I should behave in these things or what was appropriate to say or do. All I knew was I loved the role of Larry and really wanted to read for that part.
I smiled, mumbled something and left.
Standing outside on the street I squeezed my eyes shut, wishing
I could wake up and go back in time to avoid that entire clusterfuck of a situation. I opened the pack of Marlborough Lights I’d been concealing in my back pocket, lit one and took a long drag as I turned and left.
I spent the next day at work hunched over the Jelly Belly wall in the grip of a comfort-eating binge. I was convinced I had completely blown my shot at a film career as I shovelled Berry Blue and Buttered Popcorn Jelly Bellys into my mouth.
I spent night and day of the next four months badgering my agent about whether he’d heard anything. I was by far the most annoying client on his books and not a solitary day went by where I didn’t ask him what was happening.
Eventually I figured that being a sixteen-year-old with literally nothing to lose, I needed to take matters into my own hands. Adults never take young people seriously. (Disclaimer to fellow young actors: this is a ridiculous risk that I took and could have very easily backfired.) In 2008, Myspace was on its last legs but a few of us were still clinging on to our profiles; both Andrew, the film’s director, and me were two of those people. I was a raving lunatic who saw this as an opportunity to pitch myself directly for the role I loved.
I’d read the script again a few times in the weeks following the audition because I genuinely just enjoyed the story. It was a beautiful script, penned by the genius Brian Carbee, about a family going through a really difficult time. It came at a point in my life when I understood these people on such a deep level that it was refreshing to think my family were definitely not alone in our struggle to understand each other.
I sat at my desk, my hands shaking and opened a new message box on the screen in front of me.
I typed Andrew Lancaster’s name in the ‘To’ box.
April had brought a chilly autumn with it and I opened up the window to feel the bite of the air on my face. I stared down at the keyboard and started typing:
I don’t know if you remember me. I auditioned for the role of Billy a few months ago but asked about the role of Larry before I left.
I hope this isn’t too unprofessional but I just wanted to let you know how much I loved the script.
The characters are so special and I would love to be able to have the chance to read for you again, this time as Larry. I really think I can do a great job on this. I hope I’m not being a pest.
I had either made the best or worst mistake of my acting career to date.
In the days that followed I refreshed my browser every 30 seconds, eagerly awaiting a reply.
As the days turned to weeks, I realised I had probably royally fucked myself over and made myself look like a complete idiot. Resigned to the fact that this just wasn’t my moment, I decided to try to forget about it. I applied for a performing arts school, the horror of my anticipated rejection from the film a driving force in my decision. A week passed when I received a letter in the mail explaining that I had been accepted to start at the school the following year and was to attend an orientation day.
I had high hopes for an exciting new endeavour to channel my energy into but quickly threw in the towel after realising the performing arts school was nothing like the one in Fame that I’d imagined it to be when I applied. Not one book was thrown, nor was a spontaneous musical number performed in the hallway the entire time I was there. Instead, I was surrounded by a bunch of arsehole sixteen-year-olds in turtleneck sweaters and Doc Martens boots who loudly spoke of the ‘struggle of the craft’.
So back to the lolly shop I went for another shift of restocking Dr Pepper and sneaking Hershey’s Kisses whenever customers weren’t looking. Something in my gut was telling me to hold out, but my head was nagging at me to move on. The sad part was I didn’t have anything else to focus on besides my manic alcohol consumption on weekends and my shifts at the lolly shop. I had put all my eggs in one basket for this movie and felt like I was awaiting some severe disappointment.
On a warm afternoon, after spending hours perfecting my display of Wagon Wheels and Double Decker chocolate bars, I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket. My agent at the time rarely called so when I saw his caller ID I knew it was either a pocket dial or something of average importance. I walked into the storeroom out back and answered the phone, waiting to hear the static from the inside of his pocket or a potential eavesdropping opportunity.
‘Hi Harry, how are you?’
Okay, good sign. Not a pocket dial.
‘Fine thanks, just at work. What’s up?’ I said, wondering if he actually had any news or was just bored and wanted to chat.
‘So that movie you went for – uh, what was it called again?’ The sound of papers shuffling and a coffee mug clanging on a desk crackled through the receiver.
‘Accidents Happen, you remember that one?’ He seemed distracted.
‘Yeah …’ My voice was barely audible over the chatter from within the store.
‘Yeah, they want to see you again.’ His voice came through my phone and hit me like a bolt of lightning. Everything slowed down and I couldn’t speak.
‘Yeah, they want to see you read for the role of um … one sec, Larry. The Larry role. Good work. Are you all good to go for the callback next Wednesday?’
He sounded calmer than I thought humanly possible.
For a moment I had forgotten how to breathe.
I took a large gulp of air.
‘Yes. Th-thank you. Thanks so much.’ My legs felt like jelly and I steadied myself on a box of Oreos.
‘Okay great, I’ll send you the email details.’
He hung up.
I stood in the back cupboard with my phone in my hand and started to cry.
Excerpted from Pink Ink by Harry Cook, courtesy of Finch Books.