Yesterday I auditioned for another student film, this time at my alma mater, New York University. The part was small but meaty and well-suited for me: a businessman who turns into an evil clown. I’ve written lately about my new policy of just saying “yes,” and as I walked through Washington Square Park I thought about Johnny Mercer’s admonishment to “latch on to the affirmative and don’t mess with Mr. In-between!”
“Yes,” thought I, “I’m happy for this opportunity to build up my commercial reel.” My decision to be so very happy helped me make another decision: to ignore the fact that as I entered the Brown Building where I had attended my Film Production 101 class nearly thirty years ago, I spit up a little in my mouth. If I had been prone to indulging the more desultory aspects of what Norma Desmond would have called my “return,” I might have attributed my nausea to the simple fact that I had returned to N.Y.U. Film School not to deliver a commencement speech, or be an adjunct professor, or, failing that, even a substitute teacher, but instead to audition for a non-paying role in a short film. If I hadn’t been so damn grateful, it might have occurred to me this just might be enough to turn any businessman into an evil clown.
Luckily I got to class in one piece and, given the true scope of the feelings I was suppressing, everything was going remarkably well; that is, until I went into the audition room and the three little filmmaker kids told me about the set-up for the improv I was to do with the comely, young actress who was reading for the lead: we’re a couple on a first date. Fuck! It said nothing about sexuality in the break down and yesterday was really not a day when I was mentally prepared to have to “pass.”
Like any gay man worth his salt, I immediately flashed on Douglas Sirk’s 1959 technicolor masterpiece Imitation of Life, and the image of heartbreaking Juanita Moore in her Oscar-nominated turn as Annie Johnson, the self-sacrificing black woman who works as a maid to get her biracial, light-skinned, ungrateful bitch-of-a-daughter Sarah Jane off the street and into the home of glamourous star Lora Merideth, played with memorable flair by Lana Turner in her gauzy, irresistible late period and subsequently endures shame and indignation when the aforementioned ungrateful bitch-of-a-daughter Sarah Jane has the temerity to pass as white and even goes to far as to pretend that the woman mopping the floor is not her mother but a stranger before running away and becoming a stripper! Well, this does happen! How I wished at that moment that I could look up and see Juanita Moore with that reassuring look that Sarah Jane did not appreciate. What I actually did see before me were three little kids who wanted to make a short film. What they saw before them was a freaked-out, middle-aged gay guy who was thinking about Lana Turner when he should have been thinking about how to get down the pants of the hottie he was about to do an improv with.
But wait, it got worse. The next thing that popped into my mind was even less useful than thinking about Imitation of Life: “what would Cher do?” WTF? On the heels of that, a third thought: “DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES THINK ABOUT CHER RIGHT NOW OR ANYTHING AT ALL CHER-ORIENTED!” The fourth thing that occurred to me was that my scene partner had really beautiful hair — truly, just the most lovely, loose curls that framed her face so beautifully. I wondered to myself, “hot rollers or a curling iron or are they even real, they could be extensions, but either way very flattering on her…” I was lost in my hair-themed reverie when one of the kids yelled “action!”
Me: (Unable to think about anything but Cher/Lana Turner/hair extensions/GAY!….silence, realizing that the very best I could hope for now was a passive straight man)
Girl: Well it’s really nice to meet you. I’m so glad we could connect. You must be very busy — tell me again what you do?
Me: (Do not say anything about her hair.) Um. I’m a businessman. (There is a long pause)
Girl: I see. (pregnant pause). Well what kind of business are you in?
Girl: You sell teeth?
Me: (Relieved) No! Yes! I mean,that’s it, I’m an orthodontist. By the way, did anyone ever tell you you have really nice teeth? Especially well-formed lateral incisors. (Better to talk about the teeth than the hair, yes?)
Girl: Thank you.
Me: (Getting cocky) Plus I’ve been thinking about teeth even more than usual because my Benji’s just had his wisdom teeth pulled. Impacted too.
Girl: (Disingenuously) Oh, you have kids. Your profile didn’t mention that.
Me: (Shit, I must seem gay PLUS she doesn’t like kids…wow her hair really holds the curl and she has a first-rate colorist too, SHUT THE FUCK UP, DAVID!) Well, yes, I have just the one from my first marriage (feeling desperate now) but he’s special needs (she must use really big rollers to get those Farrah Fawcett size curls).
Went downhill from there.
Here’s the thing: I spent my entire life learning how not to give a shit if I seemed gay; purging that self-conscious, self-loathing observer in my head who prevented me from ever feeling relaxed. Many years of therapy. I did finally get to a place in my life where I just was and wasn’t trying to be anything but authentic. I couldn’t hear my own voice anymore and that was a big relief. Believe me, if you’re gay it’s the best kind of disability to have: the inability to be sitting in constant judgement of whether you seem gay.
Then I started acting again and here’s the thing: how many gay characters are there? What is it, maybe 2%? In a field that’s so competitive, can I afford to be excluded from 98% of all the parts? Listen, my total preference would be to just play effete hotel managers or be the superficial gay neighbor who comes in, says something hysterical about a dress or the drapery, and then minces out the door, but there just aren’t as many of those parts as there ought to be! So here I am, seventeen again, running around the N.Y.U. campus conflicted about how gay I seem. What year is it?
Failing to get any acting parts, I would be happy enough if I could just play myself on TV, but, somehow, in the impregnable avalanche of opportunities that cascaded over my freckled face in the wake of Girls Who Like Boys…, it’s come to this. But I’m really happy — honest injun’! If I get the part, great, if I don’t get the part, you get a blog entry! It’s a win-win, or a lose-win! And that, my friends is most certainly what Cher would do!