In life, just as in art, there are a few things one can always count on. Say for example, death and taxes, to name the two most commonly referenced. Greece, or more accurately, Greek people have a few unchanging qualities themselves; a handful of characteristics that are so deeply imbedded in their culture one can be sure that no level of modernity or technological advances will ever change them. These too, can be counted on just as much as we all know the sun will rise and set every day.
After spending many years studying the interactions of Greek people while living in Greece I came to the conclusion that two of their most distinctive qualities, as you may be wondering, are as follows. 1. Their complete and utter disregard for the personal space of others, and 2. The shockingly reliable fact that no matter where one goes, one will always run into a relative, a friend of a relative, a relative of a friend, or any combination thereof. The workplace of course, is no exception to this rule.
Now, you may be asking yourself what the heck all of this has to do with an acting career in Hollywood? Well, allow me to be the first person to tell you that from what I can see so far, Americans (at least American directors and casting directors) have a smattering of their own reliable little personality traits. For example, the fact that they: 1. Cherish their personal space and the personal space of others, and 2. They are generally not related to your relatives, don’t know your relatives, nor are they likely to be friends with your aunt Irini from Santa Monica who happens to make the best baklava in the city. Even if they were, there is a very good chance that despite being the intensely friendly creatures that they are, it probably wouldn’t do you any favors to appeal to what is in Hollywood, an already sensitive and taboo topic – nepotism. Which is exactly what they will think you are trying to do.
In Hollywood, people are pretty serious when it comes to work. Maybe it’s the fact that millions upon millions of dollars are poured into the industry every year, maybe it’s as simple as their little philosophy that hard work equals big rewards, or perhaps it’s that this is the entertainment capital of the world and despite the fact that you know their cousin Giorgos they want the best person for the job – Giorgos or not. Whatever it is, gone are the good old days of cruising into a casting room in Greece with a frappe in one hand and a cigarette in the other, talking to the casting director about your mutual friend, Giannis.
It wasn’t until I was back in North America that I’d even realized how much my professional interactions in Greece revolved around this ‘big little village’ philosophy. I’d become so used to the Greeks’ casual way of socializing that it seemed impossible to re-adapt back into this rigidly professional work ethic. But isn’t that why I came back? Wasn’t I tired of going to auditions and seeing people with Polaroid’s of themselves instead of a head shot? I mean, really people, Polaroid’s?! Wasn’t I tired of being the only person on time on set? Or the only actor who seemed to understand that an acting resume should only be one page. How many times did I have to tell other actors that no, you cannot quadruple space your resume, and no, it doesn’t look more impressive – it’s irritating! And yet, there I was at one of my first auditions, running late (oh, they won’t mind, it’s just a few minutes…), coffee in one hand (frappe now replaced by frappucino), and (gasp!) a cigarette in the other. What was I thinking? For the love of God, I went to theater school for five years. I know that you don’t smoke before an audition. It’s like putting peanut butter in your mouth before singing, you just don’t do it! I should be doing my breathing exercises, I thought – the same ones that all the Greek actors would make fun of me for practicing before performing in a scene.
Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly be making more of a mockery of my training and good judgment by arriving late with a coffee stain on my blouse, I did what I promised myself I would never do – and worse, I did it out of sheer natural instinct – I stepped into the casting director’s bubble. Her personal space bubble, that is. Now if we were in Greece this would likely be perfectly acceptable, but this is Hollywood and personal space bubbles are serious business; as serious as handshakes and looking people in the eye. Once I realized what I’d done I immediately backed off but it was too late, the damage was done. I had poked her bubble. And she did not like it. I may as well have leaned over and given her a kiss on the forehead.
In an effort to remedy the situation I tried to make some light conversation, talking about my neighbors and other people I know down in the beach community.
“Have you ever been to Tony’s Taverna in Malibu?”
“I live in Burbank.” She looked at me blankly.
Obviously my strategy to woo her was failing miserably.
A few minutes later I slunk off back to my car and sat in the driver’s seat. Then, I began to laugh uncontrollably. I remembered when I first moved to Greece how it drove me up the wall when people stood too close to me in line at auditions. Once, a girl came right up behind me and began reading my lines over my shoulder. “She’s in my bubble!” I screamed inside. I remembered being horrified by actors lined up outside castings chain smoking and talking loudly – both big and unspoken no-no’s here. But oh, how I missed it.
It took me a little while to get my Hollywood Mojo back but since that casting I haven’t been late to a single audition. I arrive fifteen minutes early, head shot and resume in hand. My lines are memorized, my blouse is free of coffee stains and my agent is happy.
Just the other day I was at a casting, patiently waiting my turn when the casting director walked out fuming. It seems that the first group of people she brought in to read had mixed up their assigned audition numbers. “Unbelievable”, she muttered under her breath.
“Do you have your number?” She looked at me.
“Of course I do.”
She gave a brief snort in the first group’s direction and then looked at me approvingly. I smiled back, feeling a little bit like a traitor but happy to be on her good side.
“I’ll see her next”. She pointed at me to her assistant.
The first group of actors looked at me, embarrassed. I shrugged my shoulders and walked inside and early the next day I found out I had gotten a callback the good, old-fashioned way. No burst bubbles and no Giorgos.