From Dave Chappelle’s appearance on Inside The Actor’s Studio:
“My dad says, ‘to be an actor is a lonely life. Everybody wants to make it and you might not make it’. Then I said to my dad, it depends on what ‘making it’ is. He says, ‘what do you mean?’ I said, well you’re a teacher. If I can make a teacher’s salary doing comedy I think that’s better than being a teacher. And he started laughing.” His father’s advice, though, grows in significance when considered alongside the backdrop of Chappelle’s latter successes:
“He said ‘Name your price in the beginning. If it ever gets more expensive than the price you named, get out of there’.
In 2002 I landed an audition for a well funded independent film. It was being helmed by a director you’ve heard of (I had to sign a confidentiality agreement) and had already been accepted to Sundance. The script was making waves in Hollywood and they hadn’t shot a single frame. It was one of the best scripts I had ever read and I just knew it was going to be my big break. The role was inspirational and the story was timeless.
My role was that of a homeless man, not a lead, but a character with a significant amount of influence in the story and a decent amount of screen time. It was one of those rare occasions where the producers were actually looking for a new face, an unknown.
My audition was at 10am. I dressed the part, arrived at 7am, parked a few blocks away and slept behind the dumpster in the corner of the casting office parking lot until the assistants arrived to open the office for the day. They glanced at me with disgust, snickering and rolling their eyes as they emptied the garbage and sipped their Starbucks. When the producers’ Bentleys and Benz’s started arriving the treatment continued, but I kept my composure.
At 9:50am I walked into the office and placed my head-shot and resume on the desk and signed in. The look of horror on the faces of the casting assistants was priceless. ’This can’t possibly be the guy in the headshot’. I was unshaven, unshowered, disheveled and I smelled like piss. The other guys sitting in the waiting room who were also auditioning for the role had plucked eyebrows, bleached teeth, tight shirts with bulging muscles and dirty jeans on. They were speechless.
When it was my turn the producers immediately recognized me from the parking lot. We went through the motions and did the lines and they offered me the role on the spot. Not only was I the only actor who was off-book, they also feared that the level of commitment I showed didn’t exist anymore. They offered me a handshake (and a shower) and told me I was a breath of fresh air.
A week after that audition I got a phone call saying that due to a disagreement between the creative team and the financiers, the gig fell through. It had literally vanished into thin air and they didn’t know when/if it would be filming in the future but they thanked me for being willing to ‘pay the price’.
I hate ‘almost stories’ and I try very hard to forget them because ‘almost’ doesn’t count. But the lesson I learned that day still gets me out of the bed in the morning.
Whatever challenges lie ahead, I still take comfort in knowing that I don’t have any competition. Because I believe that I’m the only one who’s willing to pay the price, and sleep behind the dumpster.
How about you?
-Kahlil (at) gigsmacked (dot) com