The other day I got a phone call from a guy here who’s sort of a film/modeling/TV liaison, asking if I’d be interested in auditioning for a series of commercials. Now, obviously, commercials are hardly the most riveting things, challenging things, certainly not the most dignified things. They can be fun to do sometimes, though.
I sometimes feel a little weird about doing ads (and not to overstate – I’ve only done a few); it’s not an endorsement so it’s not that I feel like I’m ‘selling out’ or something (I have nothing to sell out – “Hi, I’m Byron MacLymont here for Times New Roman font.”), but partly because commercials, as entities, tend to irritate me quite a bit, and partly because I suspect I’m not that good at them.
Anyway, I said sure to the guy on the phone and he sent me over the details. I read over the particulars and actually laughed and thought, “Well, that’s not going to happen.” It’s a real perk of only doing things like this as an extra gig – not being dependent on it.
See, when you need these jobs, as an actor, you convince yourself of anything, because you have to believe it for the sake of your ego and your rent. And it isn’t just power-of-positive-thinking stuff, you actually convince yourself that you’re going to be the perfect choice, no matter how absurd. “Hm, okay, I suppose I don’t seem like the obvious choice for the part of a 70-year-old Japanese woman playing the harpsichord, but I can do that. They’re going to see that I can make the audience feel ‘70-year-old Japanese woman who knows how to play the harpsichord.’ I just have to get into the right mindset. First stop, the sushi bar; next, Harpsichord Emporium!”
It’s really freeing to be able to escape that. I really couldn’t decide whether to go to the audition or just call and say, “Let’s save both of us about 45 minutes.”
The part was for a series of ads for cable television (which I don’t have), playing a suburban guy in his late-40’s (which I’m not) with two kids (which I haven’t) who fanatically loves watching sports (which I don’t). Now, I’m not trying to be all iconoclastic cool-guy (“No way, man, I can’t play no L7, corporate zombie, rat-race, sell-out, man. Maybe if you’re looking for a Tyler Durden, Iggy Pop, rebel type, then give me a call – but you’d better leave a message because I never answer my phone!”) but I just don’t look like that person. When you think of that person, particularly for a TV ad, you think of a pretty specific set of traits. Easily recognizable, quantifiable. Stereotypical, too, but that’s a lesser point.
I also have a terrible time with the whole advertising reaction stuff. When I act it tends to be fairly understated. Based in real reactions. And this, of course, has no place in advertising.
There, it’s about the beatific “this breakfast cereal is so delicious it has imbued me with clarity and serenity and flavor bliss” look.
The awe-filled “this product, especially at such a low price, has filled me with a pure joy not felt since meeting Goofy as a child” look.
And, most relevantly, the maniacally ecstatic “my sports team has just scored a point, a task on par with victory over the Nazi war machine” Look/arm-raise/leap/yell.
But Byron, you say, it’s ACTING! Well, yes, obviously, but some things are just harder to act, for whatever reason. Maybe it’s because the simpering insincerity of commercials bugs me so much that there’s a little voice saying, “No, no we’re not doing that.” Maybe it’s that there’s just nothing to draw on. Or it could be that I lack what’s known in the craft as “talent.”
If it was, say, “You take a bite of the breakfast cereal, and suddenly a shrieking ghost comes out of the wall,” I could react to that just fine (I’d be scared, right?), so it’s not a plausibility thing. “You take a bite of breakfast cereal and suddenly realize you’ve betrayed the people closest to you.” No problem. But “this cereal is so good it’s mystifying that the finest restaurants serve anything besides this” is just really hard to get myself to do.
Anyway, I didn’t get it, and they were very nice about explaining it, no doubt trying to be careful with the most delicate substance in the universe: an actor’s ego. I just kind of laughed and said not to sweat it, I looked all wrong for it and that I wouldn’t have cast me either. Then hung up, called them mean idiot bastards, cried a little, and went back to my harpsichord. I’m gonna nail that audition.