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Bite your tongue

by Alison Martin

I’m an actor.

This job of being an actor has paid my bills for quite some time. I’ve been on Broadway. I’ve been in movies. I’ve been in TV shows… and I’ve been in commercials – lots of commercials.

I love doing commercials. It used to have a stigma. But now I think people realize that anytime you can do something you love and get paid for it – it’s amazing. For me, that’s acting.

I’ve auditioned a lot. For every commercial, or for that matter any acting job I’ve done, I’ve auditioned 15 times. That’s about my ratio — 1:15. I’ve auditioned sick, fat, hiding a pregnancy, tired, in large groups, alone, in bathing suits, in towels, in farmer garb (I’m from the Bronx, so I had to borrow stuff), as circus folk, as a nun, as a restless sleeper and as a dead person (which was a lot like the sleeper).

I used to think that everything I wore from my socks to my earrings, to my necklace… every strand of hair… everything had to be perfect… everything would make or break my audition. Then I had a life-changing moment.

I was in New York a few years ago and I hadn’t worked for a while. I was at a callback for a national network phone commercial. Everybody tells you not to let “them” see your desperation, but that feels like don’t let them see you’re a woman. So I was feigning joy, relaxation and a laissez faire attitude. I want it, but I’m trying to fool myself that I really don’t. I’m wearing exactly what I wore to the audition. Thinking that everything had to be exactly the same. Hopefully my khakis and plaid shirt nonchalantly worn over a complimentary colored T-shirt would remind them why they liked me.

So I’m waiting to go into the audition. Just sitting there. Being relaxed. Chewing some gum. Chew. Chew. Chomp. Then it happens. I bite my tongue. Really, really badly. It starts to bleed. A lot. My mouth is full of blood. I remember reading somewhere that your tongue is the organ or organelle or something most filled with blood.

When the casting director comes over to inform me that I’m next to go in, I nod and say “OK.” But instead of “OK,” a huge blob of blood shoots out of mouth. Someone screams. The blood is all over my shirt! My shirt that’s going to remind them of how good I am!

The casting director is both shocked and horrified. He rushes into his office and gives me an old, smelly XL sweatshirt. “Put it on.” I do. The blood drips on my pants. His assistant, who has come out to see the festivities, peels off her leggings and I put them on right there. I have no shame anymore. The casting director pushes me into the room.

The commercial director tells me he wants me to do exactly what I did in the audition – an impromptu, choreographed ballet with a roasted stuffed turkey. I do. Trying not to open-mouth smile, I twirl the dumb bird, I dip the stupid thing, I pirouette with it. I’m finished. I’m thanked. I nod. I leave. I’m humiliated.

In the cab home, in clothes that aren’t mine, with that strong bloody iron after-taste still in my mouth, I cry. I really wanted that commercial. The cab driver drops me off five blocks short of my apartment. He thinks I’m a mess. I have to agree.

Two days later, I book the commercial. I tell the agent there must be some mistake.

I do the commercial. I dance all day with a plucked bird. I love it. While I’m on the set, I ask the director why in the world he chose me: “You were funny.”

“Didn’t you see I was bleeding?”

“You know, the casting director told us, but you were really funny.”

I think the point is… that you get the job you are supposed to get. That when you don’t get a job, it doesn’t mean you wore the wrong socks — it just means someone else was supposed to get it. That goodness is always being expressed. That you can’t see the big picture. That it all works out. That there is divine intervention.

That it’s not about your earrings, or if your hair is a mess. That what matters is your essence, your joy of the craft. That basically you’re OK. Just keep going. The next one is yours.

Now, I don’t always wear the same thing to callbacks… but… I still don’t chew gum before an audition.

Alison Martin

About Alison Martin

Alison Martin is an actor, writer, wife and mom living in Los Angeles. She can't get enough of her incredible family, her goofy friends, chocolate ice cream sundaes, thinking about big stuff and working. Especially working. www.alisonmartin.net. IMDB

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