"Yourvoice is so high," said Joan, my director. "It just doesn't soundnatural." We were shooting The Booby Trap, a pilot for a television showshe and I had created. We were going to submit it to a network in the hopesthat they'd pick it up as a series. I was playing myself (natch) and a fly-lookingactor named Derek was playing a guy I date named Indie Rocker. In the scenehe had to compliment me on my dress and I had to say, "Thanks. It's body-conscious.It makes me feel hot but not too slutty." We'd already done several takesand I could see Joan was getting frustrated with my acting. But every time shegave me direction I didn't seem to know how to take it. Plus I wasstarting to get dizzy. Not just 'cause of tension on the set but because ofthe green screen. We were shooting in front of a huge green screen because thiswould be a high-tech show and the computer graphics people were going to putin special backgrounds in postproduction. Derek and I were sitting at a greentable on green boxes, and I could feel my brain beginning to go soft.
"Whatdoesn't sound natural about my read?" I said.
"You'respeaking in a babyish voice. Not your own. Try it the way you're talking tome right now. Try it like yourself."
"It'sbody-conscious," I squeaked. "It makes me feel hot but not too slutty."It was so bizarre. Carol Kane had taken over my body.
"Thatwas like yourself?" said Joan.
"No!I know it wasn't! But it's the best I can do with such a lousy-" I startedto say "script" but then I remembered I wrote the script. Icouldn't criticize my own text. I had to find someone else to blame.
"You'rereally not communicating very well," I told Joan. "I mean, what exactlyis it that you want?"
"Maybeyou could play it more flirtatiously." The DP rolled the camera and wedid it again and this time it did sound better, but not completely.
"Okay,"said Joan. "Let's move on."
I couldtell she wasn't satisfied. We took a five-minute break and I scurried into theholding area to put my head in my hands. When I'd convinced this productioncompany I should play myself it wasn't out of hubris. Okay, maybe it was a littlebit out of hubris. But I really believed I could do it. Now my delusions ofgrandeur were getting the better of me. Why was I so relaxed in life, but sostiff and stagy in front of a camera?
Derek camein the room and reached for his Winstons.
"Doyou think I'm a bad actor?" I asked.
"Youtold me this morning you were a failed actor."
"Thatdoesn't necessarily mean I'm bad, though. Do you think I suck?"
"Idon't think we should have this conversation," he said, took his pack andwent out to the stairwell to smoke. I followed him and sat next to him on thebottom step.
"Whatwere you trying to tell me?" I asked.
"Ijust don't want you to be afraid to play with me."
"Areyou coming on to me?" I asked excitedly.
"No.I mean, this morning when we were doing that improv, and I was giving you stuffto work with, you weren't really listening to me. That's the only thing thatmakes me mad, when you don't allow me to help you."
"Ipromise I'll let you help me!" I shouted. "What scene do we have next?"
"Theone where we make out on my bed."
Suddenlyall my fears flitted away. I'd never done a full-out, partially clothed, on-cameramakeout scene before. I couldn't wait to expand my horizons. We went into thecostume area and I changed into the Victoria's Secret Miracle Bra the costumegirl had bought for me, and then I slithered into a tight, slinky dress. Barry,the makeup guy, primped my hair and I went to the set ready to bare. When Isaw the bed, though, I got a little nervous. Not only was it neon green, butbehind it was a green cube with red dots on each of the corners. "What'sthat for?" I asked Joan.
"Thegraphics. It lets them build a 3-D environment behind you."
Derek camein and we lay down on the bed facing each other. "I guess this is whatcybersex is like," he said. Joan talked us through our motions, then calledaction and for the next 10 minutes, four takes in a row, we rolled around onthe bed. It wasn't very hot. I wanted it to be but it's just hard to get itup when someone's yelling, "Roll left! Now roll right! Sit up! Lie down!"the whole time through. I love being dominated-but by my dude, not my director.
We finishedthe scene and Joan seemed happy, but when we wrapped for the day I saw thistightness around her eyes that made me wonder if she'd had doubts about my performancein the rest of the scenes. Maybe the only good acting I could do was porno.
I changedout of my costume and called Paul. "I want to do something relaxing tonight,"I said. "Let's go see Arlington Road. I heard it's really good."
Unfortunatelythat wasn't the wisest choice. While the movie jolted me out of my performanceparanoia, it jolted me into a far deeper paranoia about terrorist militias."God, I'm depressed," I said to Paul as we walked out. "Whatshould we do now?"
"Let'sget some sushi," he said.
So we wentto a restaurant on 9th St. and sat at a window table and while Paul ate hisspicy tuna I bitched about the day. "Maybe it's okay that I'm a bad actor,"I said. "Jerry Seinfeld's a bad actor. He says his lines in a false andsingsongy voice, but people love him anyway. Maybe people will watch me, knowingI'm bad, but like the character and the writing enough not to care."
"I'msure you're not that talentless, pumpkin," he said.
"Idon't know," I said. "I really think I've lost my knack. What if thenetwork likes everything about the show except my performance? Then they'llhold onto me as a writer but replace me as an actor-with Parker Poseyor something. I'll never be able to live it down."
"Whydon't you wait till you see the footage?" he said. "Sometimes it comesout better than you think."
That nightI slept over his place and in the morning I went back for the second and finalday of shooting. My first scene was with a guy named Mark who was playing mybest friend Sam. I was supposed to tell him about my plan to paste Indie's photo to my breasts on our next date and Sam was supposed to mock me in a dry andJewish way. We did a few takes of the scene and then Joan pulled me aside andwhispered, "You're doing that thing with your voice again."
"Whatthing?" I whined.
"Let'sgo out into the hallway."
We sat downon two chairs and as she started to explain what she didn't like I started tobawl. I rubbed my head mournfully and my wig got crooked. I was wearing a wigsince my real hair is frizzy and wild and that looks bad against a green screen."I don't know what you want," I wailed, straightening the wig. I was embarrassedto be crying but I was glad I was dealing with a female director. If she hadbeen a male, then it would have been like that scene in A League of TheirOwn, where Tom Hanks coaches one of the girls on the team and she beginsto cry and he looks at her incredulously and says, "There's no crying inbaseball." "Let'sdo the scene together," said Joan, "just you and me. Talk to me theway you were talking to your friend when this happened and you were tellinghim your plan." And so I did the line, but improvised, pretending I wastalking to my real friend Sherm, and changing some of the words so they feltmore natural.
"Thatwas a thousand percent better," said Joan. "That's how I want youto do it. If you need to change the words a little then you should."
"ButLisa Kudrow on Friends always adds these little 'y'know's to her linesand it annoys the fuck out of me."
"Itannoys me sometimes too," said Joan, "but she's funny."
We wentback into the soundstage and after Barry blotted away my tear stains, we tapedthe scene again. When I finished Joan was smiling. She liked me, she reallyliked me.
The restof the day was a breeze-all the scenes went a million times easier than theday before because I paraphrased all my lines. I'd been trained for years notto mess with the writer's work, but now that I was the writer I could do whateverI wanted.
When wefinally wrapped, at 10:30 at night, I changed into my regular clothes and setthe wig down on its dummy head in the holding area. I went back in the studioand saw a cooler of beers on the food table, plus a delivery of chicken, ribsand fries. I loaded a plate and Joan beckoned me into one of the offices. "Todaywent so much better than yesterday," she said, inhaling on a smoke. "Totell you the truth, I was kind of freaked out when I left last night."
"Youdon't have to rub it in," I said. "I know I sucked yesterday."
"Iwasn't freaked about you. I was freaked about me. When I got home I called mybrother and three other friends to moan. I was afraid the network would loveeverything except my directing."
"That'sexactly how I felt about my acting!"
"Iwas so distraught," she said. "It was like thatthirty somethingepisode where Elliot directs his first video. It's a total fiasco and everyoneon the set knows he doesn't know what he's doing. He goes home that night andgets really drunk and depressed. At the end of the episode he's in the car withNancy and as he's complaining to her, the camera zooms out and reveals MelanieMayron on a crane directing the actual episode of the show."
"Howtotally meta-and gorgeous!" I shouted.
She smiled.Derek came in with some brews. We kvelled over his brilliant performance andhe said he loved working on the show. A few more crew members wandered intothe office with brews and smokes, and the nicotined air made me high insteadof nauseated. Finally it got late and everyone left for home. I went upstairsto the holding area. My wig was still sitting where I'd left it. I knew I shouldtake it with me but I didn't want to admit that the shoot was over. So I tookit into Joan's office and set it on her desk as a totally meta and gorgeoussouvenir.