Fifty First Dates

I have a no-fail first-date skirt. It’s a red pencil skirt that I bought a few years ago at a surf shop. I love surf shops, and not just because being there means I’m on a sunny beach vacation. They just make me think of my alternate universe, the one in which I own a glam beauty shop by the beach instead of trudging to auditions in a smog-filled city.

When I wear the red skirt on a first date, I always get a second date (even if it’s one I don’t want). It’s not outrageously flattering – it fits me the same as any other skirt – and it’s knee length, so we’re not talking micro mini here. I even get whistles when I walk down the street. Maybe it’s a Pavlovian/running with the bulls thing.

So since I usually think of first dates as an audition (for him, not for me), why not think of auditions as first dates? I wore the skirt to an audition for a profit share show that’s going up to Edinburgh next month. The lead actress got a job as an understudy in the West End, and they needed a last-minute replacement.

I thought the audition went well. Afterwards, the director asked me a few questions, complimented me on my teeth, and said he’d call the next day.

Two days later while still waiting for his call, I wondered: “Did I rely too much on the red skirt and not enough on talent? Or maybe he lost my number? Or maybe he tried calling, but couldn’t get through. Or maybe he left a message, but misdialed and left it on someone else’s voice mail? Why, why, why hasn’t he called?”

I considered e-mailing him just to follow up, but what if he doesn’t check e-mail very often? Instead I thought I’d send him a text message. How much trouble could I get into in 150 characters or less? I entered the carefully thought out message: “Hi Bobby. I had a good time at the audition. Hope to hear from you soon – Lucy”. Straight to the point – not too needy.

I stopped myself just before hitting send. Who was I kidding? It would make me sound desperate. I popped in my Shakespeare in Love DVD to take my mind off the audition. I bet Gwyneth Paltrow didn’t have to wear a red skirt to get that part.

The next day I got back from the gym to find Bobby had left a message. Apparently he knows the three-day rule.

I love that skirt.

Pretty in Pink

Across from me on the bus this morning sat an attractive girl, probably mid-twenties, brown hair, big brown eyes: the picture of summer in head-to-toe pink.

Now as an actor, you’re meant to be an observer of people and what with her directly across from me, and having no reading material, I had no choice but to observe. I noticed her pointy-toed pink shoes, her sparkling earrings, the striped pattern of her skirt and oh – a diamond solitaire engagement ring on her French-manicured hand. Brides-to-be are the only ones who I ever see with a French manicure, and it is July – she must be getting married really soon.

This theory was bolstered when she was rummaging around in her bag. She just held the other hand out, fingers slightly spread, as you would when your nails are drying, or when you haven’t gotten used to your fake nails yet. I concluded the nails were fake.

Except I looked a little closer. Her other hand was out of her bag now – why was one hand darker than the other? I casually removed my copper-tinted shades to get a better look. The nails were fake because she had a prosthetic arm. All the way up to the elbow.

So much for being observant.

But then I thought – I really could see her eyes, her blank yet pleasant expression, the way she was so put together and didn’t need any makeup, the way she carried herself, and maybe she’d just like to know that the arm was the last thing I noticed.


I went to a short film festival with Olivia where I met Gail, a stylist with an office on Harley Street. She agreed to meet with me, which I was hoping was not just a tacit indictment of the black and white Urban Outfitters mini dress, circa 2003, that I was wearing.

She painstakingly helped me go through my closet, where I learned that

1) I should not wear turtlenecks

2) I have too much black

3) I need shoes (Hurray! Guilt-free shopping awaits!)

4) I must get rid of all of my old baggy t-shirts; there are only so many shirts I need for working out.

But the best thing of all was that she helped me overcome my F.O.B. (Fear of Belts). I have dispensed with my old Gap belts from when I was wearing jeans to the waist – it’s all low rise now – and I now have a lovely collection of red leather, silver chain, copper medallion and brown breaded belts.

I did not relent to Trinny and Susannah’s “magic knickers” (besides, I’m not sure where to buy them), but I did need some good foundations. I took my trusted friend Cheri to a tiny Italian lingerie shop in Soho. Within moments we were each ushered into dressing rooms and tag-teamed by three Italian ladies adjusting straps, fastening hooks and analyzing shapes with frenzied enthusiasm.

Minutes later we both walked out of the store in a complete blur, having spent way too much money for such small amounts of fabric. But might I say, those Italians know their boobs. We both looked and felt great – a feeling I suspect will last approximately as long as it takes until our MasterCard statements hit the doormat.

I also took care of some essentials. I filled up four charity bags for Oxfam, took two dresses to the tailor and decided to spruce up an old suit with some new buttons. Gail recommended a shop called “Button Queen” near Bond Street. I pictured a girly, glamorous palace of buttons, bangles and some sort of illegal business going on in the backroom. (Really, now much money is there in buttons? They must be laundering money for something.)

Instead I found two curmudgeonly old men in a tiny, dim shop. One had a crazy eye that looked as if it had been staring at buttons for the past 50 years. Occupational hazard. Nevertheless, I found my buttons and revived my old DKNY.

Now the only problem is I still have nothing to wear.

Eyes Wide Shut

Rehearsals with Kevin steadily improved and we felt we were ready to showcase our scene from Eyes Wide Shut. (Despite the fact that Tom and Nicole shot this very scene for three weeks straight to get it right – a luxury we did’t have.)

We changed the kissing so that he’d be kissing my neck – only for a few seconds until I interrupted him with a question. One thing I should have considered earlier on was that this was a bedroom scene and thus required bedroom attire. We decided on boxers and a wife-beater for him; black pantyhose, a camisole and one of his blue work shirts for me. (He’s not all that tall so the shirt could have been longer, but oh well.)

I really had to work on anger for this character, which was difficult to trudge up after years of well-practiced conflict avoidance. After one long day of rehearsals I met up with my writer/producer friend Olivia for a film screening; it took me awhile to realize why I felt vaguely agitated throughout the first half of the rom-com – residual rehearsal anger. I probably should have started with a passive-aggressive scene instead.

Kevin and I were confident after our dress rehearsal and were pleased with our second-to-last slot in the running order. This was a lunchtime showcase at Soho Theatre so there were bound to be some busy agents who were latecomers and would miss the first few scenes.

I had normal-sized-head headshots and my new business cards ready to hand out afterwards: “Lucy McGinn, Actor/Producer”. Everyone’s a slash something and I don’t /model, /sing, /write, /direct or /dance. Besides, it’s hard for someone to make you prove your producing skills… at least not in an audition. I did produce a student fashion show in college, so I decided that would count.

When it came time to do the scene, we waited for our cue behind a long black temporary wall (a makeshift backstage where barely two at a time could pass abreast, in the spots without piles of props). Kevin tried kissing my neck backstage to make the opening more realistic.

The scene was great. It was intense. I’m not sure if anyone noticed though because Kevin decided to undo more than the agreed-upon two buttons on my (his) shirt. So I had to do most of the scene with my shirt hanging open revealing my lacy black underpants to the world. It was a bit much for lunchtime. At least the anger was real.

Afterwards all of the actors were eager to add “/salesperson” to their business cards and get networking with the agents. Unfortunately, the producers kept us all cooped up behind the fake backstage wall until the agents had time to make a break for it to avoid the impending mob. Some of them left their names on a sign-up sheet, but for most it was the usual entertainment-business mantra: we’ll call you.

Head in the Clouds

The last time I got headshots done, the photographer decided to do some “artistic” cropping. Unfortunately for me, this meant that the top of the photo was cropped across my forehead, leaving me looking as if, beyond the borders of the photo, I had a giant conehead extending into infinity. Needless to say, I decided to look for a different photographer when I needed new headshots for the showcase.

I met with three photographers. The first, an artsy slacker type, really emphasized that he specialized in getting the photo to “really look like you”. That’s fine, but I don’t want to look like me, I want to look like Claudia Schiffer. Otherwise, what am I paying him for?

I also met with a boho chic photographer whose idea of originality was to have her clients pick from her collection of 11 different stools and dining room chairs to pose on “to bring out your personality”. Unless I can pose on a massage chair at the nail salon, I don’t know what a casting director is going to learn about me from a chair (although personally, I’d never hire someone who would choose the wicker one).

Finally, I got tipped off about a New York photog who was passing through town and was taking headshots for a day to make some extra cash. This guy had done photos from several up-and-coming models, actors and comedians in NYC, and he was cheap. He was perfect.

I arrived late to the photo session – damn traffic (I told him). Damn make up (real story). I had to get my eyebrows looking like twins and figure out which lipstick would look best in black and white. It’s a lot of work!

He told me which side was my best side (good info) and snapped away while Chris Martin sang in the background.

I always thought a photo session would be like a scene from America’s Next Top Model. However, when you’re on a budget it’s not possible to get a team of make-up artists, hairdressers and stylists. If you’re lucky, you get your best friend to sit in the room to tell you when you have hair stuck to your lip gloss.

I suddenly wished I had practiced posing in the mirror to get the right angles, but this just isn’t normal past the age of 16. So I relied on him saying “chin down, head to the right, eyes to me”, etc. It was very technical; there was none of the Austin Powers “give it to me baby, yeah, yeah” that I had hoped for.

When we were done, I thanked him, gave him a cheque and asked him not to give me a conehead.