The life of an actress isn’t all glamour and money. Often it’s about humiliation. 2,029 words. Part Two. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
So one morning later in the month, I was again facing the relentless onslaught of overdue bills. And once again, I faced an unpayable mortgage. I managed to stretch a few paltry residuals and my unemployment benefits to cover my cell bill, utilities and the minimum payments on my credit card balances. It struck me that “balance” was an interesting word to call mounting debt. What would they call it once it came tumbling down all around me? Bankruptcy, I guessed. Foreclosure.
My chest began its now-too-familiar objection to thoughts of financial matters and squeezed in on itself while my heart sped to a dangerous pace. I tried some exercises to prevent the stroke that I was certain was coming, but I couldn’t even get air to fill my lungs let alone the deep breaths I’d been taught in yoga classes. I was becoming light-headed.
Then the phone rang. It was my agent, Kim.
“Hi, Ruby, good news! I have an audition for you. It’s a new show. Something about cops with ESP versus vampire teens. It’s actually called Sexy Dicks With ESP Vs. Gangster Vampire Teens.”
“You have to be kidding me.”
“It’s a Mentalist/Sopranos/Twilight hybrid with amazing buzz. You’re lucky I was able to get you in.”
I was in no position to pass on any opportunity. But the title of the show alone made me ask myself, for the first time seriously, if this was really the way I wanted to spend the rest of my life? To continually live on the razor’s edge of financial ruin, praying for an audition for a job I only wanted because the check would clear? Wouldn’t working at Costco be easier and more lucrative? At this point in my career, a guest star spot on a show like this would not advance me one inch toward my original career goal of amassing a body of work. But it might pay my mortgage for a month or two, so I kept my existential angst to myself.
“Thank you,” I said rather than, I can’t believe what a total failure my life is. “What’s the part?”
“Marge, fifty-two. Once a handsome woman, Marge’s face and posture show the effects of a life lived hard. Dowdy and in need of a root touch-up, Marge is an unexpected woman to be in charge of a sexy escort service. Having a regular client who also happens to be a powerful politician, Marge has been kidnapped by the head of the teen vampire crime syndicate, Demone Malvagio. During a long torture session at the hands of the teen vampires, Marge finally gives them the information they require. Actress must be comfortable with tasteful nudity and simulated sex. One thousand dollars. One-day guest star. All actors must agree to these terms before reading.’ Sounds like a great role, right?” Kim chirped.
I wanted to cry. “Um, Kim, I’m nowhere near fifty-two.”
“Don’t be thrown by that. They are probably going to go younger. How old are you these days, anyway?”
“Too old to suddenly start doing nudity and simulating sex. For a thousand dollars.”
“It says ‘tasteful nudity.’ This is a great show, and you could really use some new tape for your reel.”
I couldn’t imagine placing a nude scene, tasteful or otherwise, on my reel. In fact, I couldn’t imagine doing a nude scene at all. I’d gotten this far in my career with only a handful of bathing suit scenes and counted myself lucky. Ten-plus years and twenty-plus pounds later was not the time to start nuding up for posterity.
“Kim, I need money desperately and I really would like to book a job, but, oh my god, this is just brutal.”
“Why don’t I email you the material? You look it over, go in, knock it out of the park and then, once they offer you the job, you can make the decision. This casting office hasn’t seen you in a while. You want to go in there and remind them of how great you are, right?”
She told me and my records indicated it had been nine years since they had seen me for anything. They were a huge office and cast a dozen shows a year. Not going in could be a big mistake.
“Okay, fine. Send me the material. When is the appointment?”
“Today at four.”
I looked at the clock. It was 11 am.
“Today? Can’t we push this until tomorrow or something?”
“Today is the last day they are seeing people for this role.”
This was likely untrue but it was every agent’s rote response to the request I’d just made. I don’t know why I even bothered to ask anymore.
“Where is the appointment?”
Again, I don’t know why I ask anymore. If the appointment is during rush hour, it’s in Santa Monica. This meant I needed to allow a good ninety minutes to get there. That left me three and a half hours to shower, dry my hair, put on make-up and learn the material.
“Why don’t you text me when you’re done with the audition and meet me for a drink afterwards?” Kim suggested and then revealed the real reason. “I need to see how you’re holding up.”
I agreed to this plan even though I knew she just wanted to see if I had gotten fat, which I had. But what are you going to do? A minute later I hung up with Kim and printed out the sides. Lots of bloodied faces and bodies. Lots of ripped bras, blood, sweat & fangs. And loads of terrible snarling dialogue:
Tell me where you keep your little black book, bitch, or I will let Luna finish you off.
LUNA INSANGUINARE, 16, looms in a dark corner giggling wickedly. Her shirt is soaked in blood. Is it MARGE’s? We can see LUNA’s erect nipples straining the wet fabric, announcing her arousal and her bloodlust.
DEMONE straddles the seated MARGE and from a three-quarter angle, we can tell, if not see, that he is forcing MARGE to fellate him.
MARGE tries to speak but her mouth is full. All we hear are grunts and gurgles. DEMONE thrusts into MARGE’s mouth several times.
Didn’t anyone ever tell you it is rude to speak with your mouth full? Now, what is that you are trying to tell me?
Two scenes. Eight lines. Eight lines if you allow that one or two words can be defined as a line. Primarily, the audition involved: pretending to be bound and/or gagged, pretending to spit in a vampire’s face, pretending to blow a vampire while also trying to speak, moaning and whimpering in a way that sounds both turned-on and petrified, pretending to die, oh, and of course, bursting into hysterical sobs. Twice.
The only thing better than the audition was the fact that, if I were to be hired, I’d get to do all that again, but with my shirt off, cameras on and seventy-five crew members watching. The money was no real impetus. The role itself was degrading. The only reason to go in was to get myself in front of those casting people again, seated in a room with fluorescent lighting and an HD camera recording.
I called my mother in a panic.
“I’m done. So done. I can’t do this acting thing anymore.”
“Why? What’s happened? What’s going on?”
I told her.
“It doesn’t sound that bad. You’ve done stuff like that before.”
“No! I haven’t! I’ve never had to blow a vampire while bound to a chair with my tits out for nine hundred dollars!”
My mother laughed. The absurdity of the situation even made me laugh.
“I can’t go in there. The best case scenario is I embarrass myself. The worst case scenario is that I get the job. Then what? Topless for the first time in my career? While playing a haggard fifty-two year old?”
“Fifty-two? You can’t play fifty-two. You can’t play forty-two.”
“At this point, I can probably play forty-two. Stress is killing me. But that isn’t the point. I can’t go in. I have to pass.”
“Are you sure?”
“No, I’m not sure. I need the work. I need the money. But everything in me is screaming no-fucking-way. That’s why I’m calling you.”
“Then don’t go.”
We both sat in silence for a few moments.
“It’s just not fair,” I said defeated, and started to cry.
“It’s not fair. You’re really talented. I don’t know why nobody out there seems to see that.”
“I feel like I’m having a heart attack. I swear to God.”
“That’s not healthy. This strain you are under is going to start taking a real toll on you.”
“I know, but what am I supposed to do?”
“I don’t know. Have you ever seriously thought about giving up acting?”
I threatened it all the time but I never meant it. Not in any real way. In the beginning, there was no reason because I was doing very well. Then as my employment slowed, I’d watch other actors I knew quit and I’d feel genuine confusion, almost pity. As my career ground to a halt, I envied the people who quit for being brave. Lately, as I looked at people doing normal jobs — waitresses, cashiers, manicurists, dog walkers, Pilates instructors, flyer distributors, whatever — I imagined myself doing things to subsidize acting. I never looked at those jobs as taking the place of acting, not really.
“I defaulted on my mortgage this month,” I said flatly. I knew my mother knew this already but I needed to say it out loud.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Acting doesn’t want me anymore. Half a dozen auditions a year? For a day on a show here and there? Even if I booked every job like that, I still wouldn’t break twenty-thousand a year. That isn’t enough. But I can’t think of any other way to cover my bills.”
“Have you ever thought about moving home?”
Home to me meant Los Angeles. It took me a minute to realize she meant Boston.
“Why not? We have room here. You could sell your place there, save a nice little nest egg and then take your time finding something else to do that will make you happy with no financial pressure.”
The idea seemed absolutely preposterous. Live with my parents? I hadn’t done that since I was eighteen. I wasn’t that big of a loser.
She continued. “I just think you might consider it as a solution to your situation. The stress you are under is really unhealthy.”
I had no comeback for that. Several times a day, I had anxiety attacks that I actually feared might escalate to a stroke. Was anything worth that? Did I love acting so much I was willing to die for it? But who was I if I wasn’t a working actress and proud owner of a modest home? I didn’t want to be a McDonald’s minimum-wage employee and proud renter in a crash pad.
“I can’t talk about this now. I need to get ready.”
“So you are going to the audition?”
“No. But I am going to meet my agent. I need to figure things out.”
“Go meet her looking amazing. What are you going to wear?”
I think our conversations about how I look and what I wear were a way for my mother to feel supportive and involved but they always felt like a test to me.
“I’m going to wear that pink dress with the black shrug,” I said.
“I think that blue dress you have hits your calves in a more flattering spot,” my mother countered. “You want to show people what great legs you have. And that dress shows your boobs off, too.”
I didn’t have the emotional resilience right then to field this version of my mother’s support. I said goodbye. I dug through my medicine cabinet for a two-year-old Xanax prescription. It was for twenty pills. There were twenty left. I took one and felt certain I was one step closer to making my debut on a Faces Of Meth website.
This book excerpt first posted here on May 23, 2016.