I’d been hustling in my pursuit of an acting career for six years and two months. I’d eat rice and raisins for breakfast, weighed 142 pounds, and begged friends for their leftover french fries.
I’d had a bit of success, having been cast as a youth chained to the hood of a car in Strange Doings at the Patroon Garage by—name drop alert!—Caleb Carr, author of the best-selling The Alienist, and a recurring non-speaking role was now on my resume. I was a busboy in the hospital cafeteria on As the World Turns, where I got to watch actors such as—name drop alert number 2!—Julianne Moore work. I became more comfortable working in front of the camera and this led to some speaking roles on Guiding Light, Another World and Ryan’s Hope.
I’m a working professional! I’m ready for an agent! Fuck those old ladies. (See part 1.) It was time to resume my quest for representation.
After scraping together enough nickels and pennies for subway fare, I rode the grubby, graffiti-ridden train to West 50th Street and headed for a building that was home to a few lesser-known, smaller talent agents.
Finding Actors and Artists Agency/5th floor on the directory, I entered the elevator, assessing myself in its streaked mirror. I looked okay, outside of a few random pieces of hair scurrying about in sixteen different directions. I knocked on the door. My throat tightened like a serial killer was strangling me.
A balding five-foot-two man with wire-rimmed silver glasses answered. He wore a white shirt with no tie and had a relaxed, kind vibe about him.
“I’m Jack,” he said, shaking my hand with a real manly grip. “Nice to meet you.”
I gave him my picture and resume. The 8 x 10 had a macho, night sky black background and I was wearing my black leather jacket, staring intensely into the camera. When the photographer took my photos, I’d imagined a nude Demi Moore—my Hollywood crush—inside the lens, which gave me the intensity of a guy who’d just met a smokin’ hot woman.
Jack checked out the picture as I hid my desperation. He turned into his office, said goodbye and shut the door.
He didn’t slam it in my face! PROGRESS!
Two days later, I nervously rang the agency’s number and Jack invited me in for a read. I was ecstatic: an agent wants to meet with me! Visions of bowing to a standing ovation as I performed on Broadway in the next Neil Simon play coursed through me.
No more cater waitering! No more being down to my last quarter!
The next day, at 3:50 pm, I knocked at the agency’s door timidly. Jack opened the door, his face lighting up. He gave me a real manshake again.
“Sit down! I’ll just be a few minutes.”
I sat in a gray metal chair with a cold, uncomfortable back. I fidgeted, straightened my spine and waited.
And waited. And waited.
His phone didn’t ring once. Every few minutes the sound of a pen scratching on a pad of paper emanated from his office.
Finally, he called me in.
“Grab a piece of commercial copy.”
He handed me an ancient notebook with about 47 pieces of coffee-stained pages. Copy for Listerine, M&Ms and some insurance company that had been shut down because their CEO had embezzled forty-six million dollars were stuck together.
Head & Shoulders jumped out at me. I hadn’t taken any commercial classes, so I read it with a big, fake over-the-top smile.
“Head & Shoulders keeps you up to 100 percent flake free! It prevents dryness and you can whatever whatever whatever…”
“Good!” His fake smile put mine to shame. I couldn’t tell whether I’d passed, failed or gotten an incomplete.
“You act younger than you are. Look at your hands! Those aren’t the hands of a twenty-year-old.”
I was 29. What was the difference between 20-year-old hands and 29-year-old hands? I had no idea. (I still have no idea.)
“And if you want me to send you in there…” He pointed down the hall to the owner’s office. “… you’re not ready.”
Jack glanced at my headshot, where I was still staring lustily at Demi Moore. Then his eyes locked onto mine.
“You’ve got sex appeal,” he said with surprise in his voice.
“You… might need… a little more seasoning.”
“What do you mean?”
He just thinks I need a little more training. And then I’m on Broadway!
“You ever been to an orgy?”
I couldn’t breathe. My spirits plummeted.
“No. Uhh.. no.”
He looked deep into my eyes. His expression said, “I wanna become one with you.” I looked away, stuck.
“’Bout once a month, a group of me and my friends get together and have… you know… an orgy.”
I sat, frozen.
“And we’ve got a guardian angel. His name is Gabriel. He’s there to protect us. If Gabriel sees you doing something that’s dangerous, like, you know… unsafe… he’ll point his finger and go ‘unh unh unuhh! Don’t do that!’ To warn you.”
I didn’t want to know what “that” was.
“And you can explore… with men and women!”
“Uhm… I don’t think I’d feel comfortable. I’m only attracted to women.”
He rolled his chair back about an inch.
“Would you be willing to try something… different?”
He tried to lock eyes with me. I blinked.
“My girlfriend wouldn’t approve.”
I was single.
My shoulders dropped down from the top of my ears. I could breathe again.
“I guess you can go now.”
“You mean we’re not going to work together?”
“When I said you needed more seasoning, I meant it. But if you want to talk some more, give a call!” He said this with an eager, hopeful smile. I slid the chair back, got up, and with the minuscule amount of self-respect I had left, said, “Thanks for meeting with me.”
A few weeks passed. Walking by subway movie posters with pictures of the two Toms (Hanks and Cruise) and the one Arnold, I started fantasizing about my own face on a poster. This led me to call Jack again.
We went out for a drink at an old-time Irish bar stinking of years-old beer on the floor and peanuts. After talking for a few minutes, I asked him the question: “So, can we work together? Or can I meet with the woman running Artists and Agents?”
“I’m not sure about that. Let’s talk about some other things. You’re still young. There’s always more to explore.”
He gave me that same intense, direct eye contact like he was thinking about me naked with his Gabriel sex group buddies and hoping to get an affirmative answer. But I’d have sooner injected heroin into my eyeballs than sacrificed my nether regions and integrity to this guy.
We spoke for a few more minutes before parting ways.
After two more years of frustration, I took a class, Acting as a Business, and it changed everything. It helped me connect with agents who were good, kind people and build a functional career. I was so glad that, to find success, I never had to compromise my integrity or attend a sex party where some guy named Gabriel would point at me and tell me I was putting something in the wrong place.
Not long after our last meeting, Jack left the agency and started a career as a casting director, where he could audition hundreds—if not thousands—of actors for tv, film and theater.
This likely gave him a plethora of opportunities to peer profoundly into actors’ eyes and ask, “have you ever been to an orgy?”
I hope no one said “yes.”
*The names of Jack and Artists and Agents Agency have been changed.