x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

An inconvenient truth is no better than an ugly lie

I have an actor friend who works a lot as an actor. And the only reason I say it that specifically is because I live in Los Angeles, and everyone here has an actor friend. But not everyone here has an actor friend who works a lot as an actor.

When you've got friends who are actors, you naturally and almost instinctively divide them up into two categories: the ones who work and the rest, who are waiting to work. Which I guess is why so many unemployed actors are waiters. They're already good at it.

This particular friend, though, works. He's not a big name, but he pays his bills and is poised for something good to happen.

He was up for a major role on a TV series not too long ago, and it came down to him and another guy who looks a lot like him. The role was a juicy one, and he wanted it badly.

He and his competition had already made it through an unnerving gauntlet of auditions: they had read for the casting director, then for the producers and then in "callbacks" for the producers. They had also made it through the studio casting test - an unnerving and barbaric kind of high-stakes audition where they perform snippets of the script in front of a dozen unsmiling and robotic studio executives.

I've seen talented and experienced actors crack under the strain of auditioning that many times, but these two rose to the top.

So they both ended up at the final network test - which is basically the same thing as the studio test, only not as pleasant. They had to perform the scenes again, this time for the network executives, too.

When he called me up after the network test, my friend was crestfallen. In the end, they went with the other guy. Or, as his agent said to him: "They went with the better-looking version of you."

"Can you believe he said that? Isn't that totally messed up?" my friend asked me.

I said: "No, I can't believe he told you that," but I didn't say, "and yes, that's totally messed up", because in all honesty, that's a pretty good description of the other guy: he is, in fact, a better-looking version of my friend. So, I said: "Well, that guy is handsome. I think he was a model."

"But not a fashion model!" my friend shouted. "He was a fit model!" he bellowed, using the insiders' term for a model who is only seen from the neck down.

"He's just a perfect size 42," my friend went on. "I don't see how that makes him better looking. Honestly, he's bland. He has bland looks."

"Really?" I said, not shutting up when I should have shut up. "Have you really looked at that guy's jaw-line? It's pretty amazing. And I have to call his eyes 'piercing'."

"You're just used to my face," my friend said, "so you no longer notice how good-looking I am. Anyway, it doesn't matter. I'm firing my agent."

Which has to be the first time an agent was fired for telling the truth. That's one of the reasons it's hard to be an agent: you lie most of the day to most of the people, and everyone knows that agents lie, but the one time you tell the truth, you're fired.

My friend fired me, too, in a way. It was many months before he got over the fact that I thought the other actor was more handsome and had a better jawline. It took a very expensive dinner to finally get back into his good graces. It was a tough lesson: under no circumstances tell your actor friends - or, probably, any friends - the unvarnished truth.

On the other hand, I have another actor friend who also works a lot. He spent most of last year going for roles in comedies when he doesn't really have what we in the business call "comedy chops". Meaning: he isn't funny. Unsurprisingly, he didn't book a job. He spent a year chasing roles he wasn't right for.

"My agent thinks I'm funny," he told me when I questioned his strategy. "But," I said, not shutting up when I should have shut up, "he's wrong. You're not funny. No offence, you're a great actor and you've got a powerful presence, but you just don't have a way with comedy."

Eventually, he agreed with me. And fired his agent: for not telling him the truth. So that's two agents fired and two expensive dinners paid for, all because some of us don't shut up when we should.


Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood

On Twitter: @rbcl