That outbreak of directors and producers, chaperoning their laptops and 10 cafe sữa đá amongst local coffee shops can only mean one thing: CASTING season is upon us.
Sure. Castings happen all the time. But the real meat of it happens between September to end of November here in Vietnam. (In case any of you beautiful-faces-and-unsound-minds decide, HEY, I should drop everything, move out of the country and model/act/host/lookcute in Vietnam - I wonder when I should I do it!)
An old friend I had worked with on the set of "Nữ Vệ Sĩ" had me come up to a casting for another soap opera.
They made sure not to mention what kind of soap opera this was as well as what characters they were looking for.
So I was left wondering, whatever shall I wear?
You'd think it wouldn't matter as much as say, the talent themselves but let me explain to you guys a simple formula when it comes to showbiz in Asia:
PRESENTATION > TALENT
In the States, unless you've been requested to wear certain things, they'd rather see you in minimal make-up and simple clothing for castings and head shots. Avoid loud colors, distracting logos, heavy eye make-up, blah, blah blah. They constantly remind talent that they want to see "YOU".
But say, if you were in Thailand, a casting is a job in itself! You get to the location, they have a make-up artist and a hair stylist work on you, put you in full-on wardrobe and then you have to shoot exactly as the concept layout they have for the actual shoot. You're there for about an hour or so, that is, if you were early. If you weren't early, be prepared to miss the rest of your castings as you wait behind all the other folks in line waiting to be "casted".
It's mind-warping how production would put in so much time and effort into casting just as much as they would for an actual shoot. But their purpose is to get the talent to look as exactly as they possibly can to their ideals.
Recently, I made the mistake of wearing a long resort-y type of dress to an action film casting last time. So this time, I was left wondering, what outfit could I compromise for roles that range from:
Femme fatale to girl-next-door, and
Naive university student to single, young, mother of two
For a show that's possibly:
Action packed, drama filled, or comedy based.
And this, dear friends, is the best I could do:
Low-cut cleavage bearing red tank underneath,
Church-approved beige button-down cardigan on top,
Skinny blue jeans, and
I arrive to a rather intimate audition room where a bunch of other local talents are seated. I smile at everyone. It's easy to spot who's there to audition and who's there making the decision. The latter has a relaxed dominance within their postures. Despite being the last to arrive, they took snaps of me first. And then the man with the most relaxed dominance within his posture asks me what I used to (and maybe still) consider a dreaded question: "Can you speak Vietnamese?"
Here's where I've realized that neither presentation and talent apply.
My mind raced unnecessarily defensively. Of course I can speak it. Let alone karaoking it, reading it, writing it and typing with accents on a computer! But how can I can convince anyone of these things with my blasted American accent! And yet, they did voiceovers anyways for even the local actors, whether you had a Southern, Central or even the proper Northern accent.
"Tất nhiên em phải biết chứ! Of course I have to know how to!" I added with a sweet, sweet smile to cancel out what could've been taken as a smart-donkey comment.
"Tên em là gì vậy? What's your name?"
"Isabelle Du." I made sure to pronounce it slowly and enunciate clearly.
The man wrinkled his brow. Clearly, my name didn't make it through the velvet rope.
"Tên Việt?" He asked for my Vietnamese name.
"Anh cứ gọi em bằng 'Du" hoặc là 'Beo' cũng được." I told him that he could just call me by my last name or "Beo". "Beo" means wildcat in Vietnamese but the nickname was originally derived from the local's pronunciation of "Belle".
He didn't seem so amused and just had me fill out a form while I could feel onlookers' eyes were upon my writing.
Name. Alias, if any. Height. Address. Cell phone number. Acting Experience. And, done.
I hand him over the clipboard to which he tells me that he'll call if anything comes up.
Er...that's it? No video casting? No sides to read? No crying-on-cue-requests for the melodramatic hospital scenes? The whole room stares at me as I smiled, thanked and said my goodbyes to everyone.
Apparently, no one was interested in my acting abilities and I just wasn't what they were looking for. I don't mind these things. Especially if I got to try out on camera and didn't get the role. But I can't help but wonder "why" when I didn't get to try out at all.
Is my look not convincing enough as a Vietnamese person?
(I hear it just as much as people misspelling my name.)
Or was my Vietnamese not convincing enough for them to hear a full-on script reading?
What could I have done to better my chances or did I not stand a chance to begin with?
Was the interaction the "try out" itself? Or is that too meta?
And what shall I have for lunch?
Well kids, all I can come up with is that a yes is a yes, a no is a no and that you can never go wrong with phở for lunch. Yum!
Till next time,
IsaBEO Du Meow!