Hi. I’m Charles. So. You love the biz, I love the biz. Welcome.
Cut… Too smiley. You don’t have to be so nice. Again in, 5…4…3…2… …
I’m Charles. And I’m going to help you. Enlighten you. I’ll give you skills—from my personal well of experience—that will separate you from the riff-raff of wannabes.
Bollocks. Is this on? … Alright then, easy edits. C’mon Charles, three’s a charm. Tip of the teeth, the lips, the tongue…Ma-may-me-mo-moo… … red leather yellow leather, red leather yellow leather… Ommmm. Coming again in 5…4…3…2… …
Is there no place you’d rather be than on set? Do you have a dream? Does that dream keep you up at night and will you never rest until you achieve that dream? For some actors, it’s a calling. I assume it is for you, and that’s why you’re here. We have an important purpose, you and I. We are not civilians. We are not Muggles, for God’s sake. We are artists. Creators. Truth tellers. Magic makers.
Before the shot—in the collective silence of cast and crew, I mentally prepare and listen for the words I was born to hear—roll camera… speed… marker… and… action!
Now. Let’s begin with basics. If anyone tells you a director yells, “Lights! Camera! Action!” Look out, mates. The rube hasn’t been on set. Plenty of them will say they’ve got the inside scoop, the 411. They’ll call themselves professionals, but the only acting they’ve done is in class at The Actors’ Studio. Some will even claim they studied with Uta Hagen, which is a goddamn lie, because I studied with Uta, and I can tell you, she didn’t offer many classes. I had to wait several years, go through some humiliating auditions until I was accepted into her workshop. She helped me transform my accent. I know it’s hard to imagine, but it was thick. Unrecognizable, she said. So don’t believe all the boasts of your fellow actors. Bunch of credit bloaters.
Good actors know taking class is necessary. But don’t call yourself a working actor, don’t call yourself a professional, until you’ve paid your dues. I myself have worked on Law & Order. Met Mr. Jerry Orbach. Twice. Once I played a bartender. No lines, but there’s a close-up shot of me pouring a beer. The second time I played the killer’s cousin’s friend. My lines were—“Manny, let’s go!”—“So maybe I don’t like cops.”—and, “He told me three o’clock.” Did you see the episode? My agent Sid—my agent at the time—got me in to read. If you didn’t catch that, you probably saw my Milky Way commercial. They flew us—me and my co-star, Sandy Levine—you’ve seen her, she does all the spots for Kotex—to Miami for the shoot. First class, by God. Put us up at a swanky hotel with a rotating bar in the lobby. Now that’s star treatment. I felt like I’d arrived. A day later I had a check for ten grand.
Even in the face of success, be prepared for aggravations. I had to pay out 10% to Sid—yes, your agent, good or bad, will receive 10% of your earnings. Sid, who doesn’t know the meaning of the word work, and who I fired as my agent shortly thereafter, for failing, miserably hard, to deliver to me the opportunities that agents should make available to their top talent. Then there was Elsa, ringing me up the whole bloody trip. What’s it like? Do you miss me? What’s the director like? Is Sandy pretty in person? Do you miss me? Elsa knew how to ask questions.
Besides the silver screen, I’m properly trained in theatre. I spent time at the prestigious Belvoir Theatre in Australia. See this coffee mug? Belvoir Theatre it says. Every member of a cast receives a mug and every single morning I drink my coffee in it. Well, sort of. Unfortunately this is not my original mug. The original was red. Elsa broke my original while carelessly doing dishes. She had absolutely no idea how devastated I was, or the significance of it being the mug I drank coffee from for the last twenty-five years… sorry, twenty-eight years. And now, here’s Elsa, clumsily dropping it to shatter into a hundred pieces, as if it were just another thrift store mug. Never-the-less, I ordered another (Although they no longer have red. I had to settle for green) and had it shipped ‘round the world—with astronomical shipping charges—so that every morning, I can still drink from a Belvoir mug, despite Elsa, and be reminded of my education.
Lots of well-known Aussies have come up through Belvoir. I was in a production with Cate Blanchett. Yes, the Cate Blanchett. We were both not quite twenty, so that’s…twenty…many years ago. I had a small role. Spear Carrier. Everyone mattered and was treated with respect. We were a close cast. Once during a rehearsal she asked to have a sip of my coffee—from my original mug of course, the one that Elsa broke. I always say, the day Cate Blanchett and I are on the red carpet together, I’ll say, “Hey Cate, may I have a sip of your coffee?” She’ll wink and say, “I always knew you’d make it, Charles.”
I’m Charles. I may have forgotten to say that in the beginning. And it’s pronounced Chals, not Charils, like you Americans like to say it. Charles Nesbit. Look me up on IMDB to find my credits. N-E-S-B-I-T. Charles Nesbit. And feel free to share this with your fellow co-stars, agents or any casting directors that you may know.
I did try to call her. Cate Blanchett. When I first got to New York and didn’t know a bloody soul. I was never able to reach her directly. I’m sure she’s got her people around her, protecting her. I would too. I will, when I’m in a position like that. But still, it was disappointing. (Sorry Cate, if you’re listening.) It would’ve been nice if she’d called back and just said hello, even if she didn’t remember my name. Hello Spear Carrier, of course I remember you.
When I told Elsa that story—of calling Cate Blanchett—she laughed. She laughed in my bloody face—that high trilling laugh she has. Elsa didn’t believe. But then she’d believe in things that didn’t make sense. Like us. She was certain we were meant to be together. How do you know that, I’d ask. I just know, she’d say. Then she’d say, how do you know you were born to be famous?
I had a teacher once—not Uta, this was back in Sydney. Professor Crumb. He’d say, if there is anything else you can do, you should do it. It’s a hard life, Charles. Well, here I am. Here I’ve been. Travelled halfway ‘round the world to Manhattan because I was meant to do it. Born to do it. I’m not going to waste my life mucking about in some dead-end job, mouths to feed, driving a ute for some dill. And I sure as hell am not going back to Sydney to work for my brother Gabe at his aquarium shop.
Now. Money will be a challenge for you in New York. Be prepared for years of Ramen noodles, then a check for ten-grand, then back to Ramen noodles. If you’re one of those Trustafarians, bugger off. You’ve had enough help in life and the likes of you is very chapping. But if you’re a bloke like most of us, it’s expensive as hell. Once, I had three other fellows living with me in a one bedroom flat. Two of us in the lounge room, two in the bedroom. Luckily I had the lease. Then I met Elsa. I kicked the fellows out and Elsa and I shacked up. She had a good job as a hostess at Gramercy Tavern. The wealthy slipped her twenty after twenty. Rent was always paid on time. But don’t let a bloody survival job distract you, mates. Don’t get comfortable. Elsa got distracted and started talking about cooking school. Then she wanted to talk about our future…
So—how can you feed yourself and keep in the loop? Here’s a tip: Extra-work. Some call it background-work. Newbies—you can call it either, both are industry terms. Let me also take a moment to say, I really like the newbies. I feel for your crew, and want to do anything I can do, any gems I can pass on from my acting experience, I want to share. So pass this on to your fellow actors—your co-stars—to check me out. Ok, mates?
With extra-work, there is a wide range of quality. Aim high. Aim for the highest. A Woody Allen project, for example. To get on Woody’s set is a big deal. He’s got N-Y-C-clout and does most of his shooting in your backyard. Woody is also particular about his casts. Even his Extras are picked with deliberation. You are not just a body, or a vase of flowers on a table. No. You are selected. But the number one reason you want to get on a Woody gig—is the Hollywood legend of Pretty Girl on train.
Newbies may not know this story. Go rent Woody Allen’s early film, Stardust Memories. You’ll find Sharon Stone as a featured extra. That’s right, her first film. Woody cast another actress for this featured extra role, the role of Pretty Girl on train, and the sheila didn’t show. Just bloody didn’t show. So Woody and 1st AD’s in a pinch (AD is assistant director), but because Woody is particular about his extras, he knows he’s got options. Ms. Stone’s in holding (holding’s where the extras wait to be called to set), and she’s waiting, just like everyone else. She’s got no idea her life’s about to change. 1st AD walks in. The extras get quiet—they say you could hear a bloody pin drop. He walks over to Ms. Stone, who’s reading a book—some say it was War and Peace, others say Flowers in the Attic—and says, Our actress playing a small featured extra role didn’t show. Would you like to play the part? She says, sure. When? 1st AD says, now. And that, ladies and gentlemen, as they say, was that. I’ve heard and told that story hundreds of times and still mist up a bit. Did you know the cinematographer was the same bloke who filmed The Godfather? He shoots Stardust in black and white and here’s Ms. Stone, her creamy skin glowing, waving at Woody and blowing a kiss from the train car. She’s a bloody star overnight. Listen up. Rule #1 and the only rule: Always believe in the dream.
Now perhaps you’re an insecure fellow who thinks, I’m not handsome enough to be a movie star. Think again. I consider myself to be an attractive guy. I work out. Keep my hair colored. But in case you can’t tell from your screen, I’ll tell you. I’m a man of short stature. It’s ok. Look at Willem. Dustin. Look at Tom, for god’s sake. Your height is not a stopping block. Push on. Others have made it before you, and you will too.
It’s important to believe in your talents, mates. Believe in yourself or die. I believe that I’m a good actor. I’m a good whistler. I’m a good son. I’m a good lover. Elsa told me that no one had ever touched her like I had—and I know many had touched her. She was very touchy-feely, Elsa. She said, us together? It was transporting. Transporting, I says, where are we going? She says, why do you have to be such a jerk, Charles? I mean, wanker. Why do you have to be such a wanker? That made me laugh. Elsa could be a straight up funny sheila.
Look, I liked Elsa. In fact, I know what she meant. The transporting thing. But things became strange. She’d leave for work and an hour later she’d be ringing me already. She’d say, I was looking in the bathroom mirror, Charles. When I looked into my eyes, I saw your eyes. Well…what the bloody hell does someone say to something like that? It’s creepy. So I says to her, Elsa, why would you want to see these ole brown eyes when you got them beautiful blue ones to look at? Then she’d laugh, see, cause it was a little joke we had that I’d call her eyes blue when in fact, they were green. Are green. Sometimes they’re a vibrant green like grass after a hard rain. Other times, when she’s sad, or mad, they’re a brackish green, like a bottomless pond. Like a sticky pond I’d never be able to climb out of. A sinkhole. And I’d drown. I’d bloody drown and die.
Things became confusing. Elsa and me, we had crazy—I don’t know what you’d call it—sex like—tribal drums in your ears—John Patrick Shanley-“white flyin’ rain”-“it’s like Africa”-“I’m all eyes”—kind of sex. And if you don’t know Shanley’s, The Dreamer Examines His Pillow, you should. Some great audition material in there. Anyway, it was hard to get back to life after all that.
Let me say for the record, please, I am not a bad guy. I told her. In the beginning, I told her where I stood on things. Told her I didn’t believe in marriage. That men and women should be friends or lovers, but certainly not both. I told her. She forgets.
Remember your priorities, mates. Everyone needs a support system, but remember your career. Mum was a great support. She’d ring me every Sunday for twenty-six…twenty-nine years. She’d give me all the news, who’s with whom from my high school, fill me in on brother Gabe and his five little ones, tell me which fish was wreaking havoc on the other fish at Gabe’s aquarium shop. She’d ask about Elsa, and of course, have I heard yet from Cate Blanchett? Then she’d ask if I’m working. Mum, I’d say, I’m working on a film; I’m always working on a film. Good son, she’d say, you make me proud.
Mum died two months ago. I wasn’t able to make it home. I was on a two-week shoot—Candyland, a post-apocalyptic film that takes place in an abandoned chocolate factory. I’m hoping it’ll be released this year. Brother Gabe had to handle arrangements, but he knows I’ll make it up to him. If you happen to be in Sydney, check out Aquarium World. Ask for Gabe. He’s your man.
Perhaps you’re someone who doesn’t have much support. That can be a hard thing. I’m really feeling that now that Mum is gone. Elsa didn’t have any rellies telling her she made them proud. When I met Elsa, she was a pathetic little newbie on a Woody Allen set who hadn’t even heard the legend Pretty Girl on train. We were cast in Woody’s Sweet and Lowdown, starring Sean Penn—who, by the way, I shared a cigarette with during a break. Very nice fellow. Elsa had no idea the significance—how lucky she was to score it for her very first extra-work gig. Ended up there by incredible luck.
Our instructions were to meet at 38th Street and 10th Avenue at 4:00am. I get there and there are four passenger vans waiting, thirty actors and a handful of PA’s (Production Assistants) on the sidewalk. There’s Elsa, all wrapped up in some bodgy sweater with a coffee stain on it, smoking a durry and standing off to the side. She’s not being friendly, which is a no-no on a gig. I look at her twice, cause she’s kind of pretty, and then I realize—she’s wearing bloody make-up. She’s got a face full a make-up at 4:00am. We’re about to load up, and you know the first place we’re going on site is the hair and make-up trailer. So I walk up to her and say, excuse me miss, can I bum a smoke? And the little weasel raises her eyebrow, shrugs, and says, I guess. You know they’re really expensive. Bloody hell. Can you believe that? She doesn’t even have the know-how to act professionally on the bloody gig. So I says to her, I says, first time? She nods yes, and I says, what’s your name? Elsa, she says, all hoity-toity like. Elsa, I say, they’ll fix you up when you get there. She’s staring at me like she’s daft. I can’t understand what you’re saying, she says, your accent. So I draw a circle around her face with my finger and say, you’re supposed to show up blank. Well I don’t show up blank, she says. I’m laughing, thinking, she’s some kinda diva or something. But then I see the brown bag she’s carrying. Elsa made herself a bloody lunch. I’m trying not to bust out laughin’, don’t want her to feel bad, poor little green-eyed lamb. Doll, I says, stick with me. Toss that tunafish sanger in the trash and I’ll tell you about Craft Services. Let’s grab a seat. Then she smiles at me, like she’s got a secret.
Here is a tip: Elsa got the gig because she had a great headshot. Headshots can mean life or death. Here’s my leading man shot…commercial shot…character shot (this one’s my favorite). Three distinctively different looks. This is your calling card. Your first impression to an agent or casting director. A headshot got me my almost-big-break. Got a call from The William Morris Agency—I’d been mailing them my headshot and resume every month for…many years—and this assistant says they’re casting a small bit in a Charlie Sheen film. They need someone with an Aussie accent who can wear a kangaroo costume for a minimum of thirty minutes in July. Could I do it, he asks, could I come in and read. Can I do it? I say, I’m your boomer, mate. I’m him. I can come in today. No, he says, Friday, 3pm. I’m leaving town Thursday, I say, I’m playing Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman at the Muscat Valley Theatre. Where? He says, The Finger Lakes, upstate, I say. It’s a 2-week run. Why don’t you come up? Check out the show? Take a break from the city. I’ll send you some comps. Summers are beautiful upstate. I’d never been upstate, but the bloke doesn’t know that. Elsa told me. She’s from Wappingers Falls.
So I miss out on the Charlie Sheen gig, but this agent’s assistant, he sounds real interested in me. The William Morris Agency is a giant. The big time. This guy is impressed with my headshot and resume and says he’ll make the trip upstate.
So I send him the comps. That week I leave and go up to Muscat. They put us up for free—all cast members stay with families in town. It’s very prestigious to be a host-family to the New York City actors coming up to play for the summer. I get settled in with the Rightmires. Nice family. They give me Rodger’s room. The kid. Rodger’s a little pissed off, but I know I’ll win the tiny bloke over. Promised him I wouldn’t touch his Star Wars gear when he wasn’t around.
I start rehearsals. Things are going famously. On the day of opening night—I’m walking on Main Street running my lines—out of nowhere, here comes Elsa, walking towards me. Surprised? She says. Ugh, yeh. I’m surprised. I talked to the Rightmires, she says. They’re Ok with me staying. I told them I was your fiancé. You told them what? I say. Oh don’t be such a puss, she says, and grabs my hand, wants to hear everything. How is rehearsal going? What are the actors like? Isn’t Rodger Rightmire strange? What’s your room like? Did you miss me? Elsa knew how to ask questions.
We get back to my room—Rodger’s room—upstairs. The Rightmires are all home watching Americas Funniest Home Videos, and Elsa starts taking off her clothes. She’s bloody straddling me on the floor, right above where everyone’s watching telly. She says, I missed you so much. Elsa, I say, you’re too loud. Everyone is home. We’re surrounded by Storm Trooper helmets. I don’t care, she says, I want to disappear with you. She always had to say something strange. And I’m annoyed. Until I actually do disappear. Goddamn Elsa.
Then it’s over, and she’s all flushed and wrapped around me like bloody Saran and staring at me with those brackish pond eyes, and I say, I’ve got to go. Got to get ready. There’s an agent from the city coming tonight. She jumps up, very cute-like, and squeals, oh my God! Well, an agent’s assistant, I says, but an agent’s assistant from William Morris. Charles! That’s great, she says, I’m so happy for you, baby. And then she starts to cry. Elsa, stop. I say. I have to go. Go! She says laughing, Go. Go and be great. Go and do good work. I’ll be out there watching you. Think of me Charles.
And you know what? That really annoyed me. It really did. Cause why would Willy Loman be thinking of Elsa? He wouldn’t, see. I needed to concentrate. Do my best work. I had an agent’s assistant coming, and there she was. Right in the middle of everything, and me, coming, going, disappearing, transporting, or whatever the fuck. I did not give my best performance that night. It wasn’t terrible, I don’t do terrible, but not my best. As it happens, the agent’s assistant didn’t show. I received a note, sorry, got held up in the city. Which—look—it’s William Morris. I get it. But it was disappointing. He could’ve sent another assistant. Hell, he could’ve sent an intern. Whatever. I should be doing my best work. No matter who is in the audience.
After the show, back at Rodger’s, Elsa spreads rose petals on The Death Star comforter. You were great, she says, I’m proud of you. She was lying. Then she puts on this thrift store slip that she wears as a nightgown. She loves that thing, and I just can’t stand it. Never had the heart to tell her, but I really did hate it. It reminded me of granny wallpaper.
Do you want to talk about it? She says. I bloody told you before, I says, I’m not getting married. This eclipse comes over her face and she says, I meant the show.
She got quiet after that. Her eyes, those green silty eyes, algae eyes full of life’s first pulse, those eyes turned darker. Almost brown, like dead wood.
Professor Crumb was right. If you can do anything else, do. If you can’t, push on.
I did call her. Elsa, not Cate Blanchett. After she moved out. She didn’t pick up. It’s just as well. I can’t have that kind of negativity around me. I’ve got people to meet. Roles to play. Work to do. Lovers and friends, right Elsa?
The important thing is to believe. No matter what. Elsa didn’t believe. She said to me once, lots of good actors don’t make it, Charles. It would be impossible for all the good actors to make it. She had just paid her deposit for culinary school. You’ll never be a famous actor if you don’t want it, I said. She says, Charles, just because you want something, doesn’t mean you’ll get it. Doesn’t mean it will happen for you. Well…I don’t see it that way.
Sometimes, if she ate supper too late, Elsa would talk in her sleep. I remember moonlight streaming through city window bars, making lines on her face. Tell me, she’d say, Please tell me. So I’d tell her my favorite story. Pretty Girl on Train. Except, I’d change it for her. On the set where we met. And she’s the rising star:
Ms. Elsa’s in holding with the other extras, see, and she’s real cranky, cause she’s been up since three. It’s chilly—she’s in the basement of a stone lodge—a kid’s summer camp somewhere up in Nyack. It’s all closed up for the fall, except here’s Woody shooting Sweet and Lowdown, starring Sean Penn. Now here comes the 1st AD over to Ms. Elsa. The other actors start whispering. We’re shooting the club scene, he says, our featured extra didn’t show. Would you like to play the part? Ms. Elsa says, sure. When? He says, now.
The extras get shuffled up to set and the lodge has transformed into a 1930s jazz club. It’s dark, filled with gingham-clothed cocktail tables with little votive candles. Red paper lanterns hang from the ceiling. Woody wants the club to look smoky, so the actors light up. Sean Penn takes the stage and pretends he’s playing guitar. On, “Action,” the camera pans the crowd. Actors are in 30’s costumes drinking sodas to look like cocktails, and the cameraman stops on Ms. Elsa, zooming in for a close-up. She’s wearing black gloves and smoking a durry in a sleek holder, smiling up at Sean Penn, pretending he’s the best guitar player in the world. She radiates light…
This is Rick. My vagrant roommate.
“What the shit, Charles?”
“Quiet on set! Rack off.” Bloody hell.
“Time’s up. I’ve stayed out of your way for the time we agreed upon.”
“You’re ruining good tape.” Fucking bludger.
“Goddamnit, time’s up, man.”
Perfectly good. Ruined by Rick, whose life’s purpose is to constantly be making scrambled eggs in this kitchen—the only decently lighted room in this mouse-hole.
“Cinema time is over, ok? Cinema time, film critic time, magic time, it’s over, alright? Charles, you can’t keep doing this. I live here too. You can’t keep assigning me periods of silence and blocking me out of the kitchen.”
Rick doesn’t realize, if he keeps acting like this—getting his bloody baby panties in a wad, ruining good tape every time I get down to serious work—when I make it, he will be forgotten. Rick will be forgotten. Rick will definitely be forgotten.
“Charles, I work late shift. I need to make dinner.”
Ob-sessed with scrambling eggs.
“I pay you four-hundred dollars a month to sleep on that lumpy stained sofa, which includes use of the kitchen. Turn the camera off!”
Strike a light. “Bloody little shit. I’ll crush every one of your fucking eggs, you ungrateful bastard. You wouldn’t be living indoors like a human, or be with Angela, or have a bloody brass razoo without me… Like that audition last week! Kellogg’s cereal, for Christ’s sake. Maybe I’ll give Bohdanowicz a call to let him know a certain young bloke—not on his lease—is squatting in my living room.”
“Charles… Charles I’m sorry. I really do appreciate you giving me the inside on that Kellogg’s audition. Did I tell you I got a callback? Listen… we’re just going to have to work some shit out, man. Ok?
“Do you know how many lumpy sofas I slept on in other people’s apartments when I was your age?”
“I said I’m sorry, man. You can have the kitchen for now. Ok Charles? I’m sorry.”
“Do you know what rents are now in the East Village compared to your measly four-hundred dollars? Do you know how long I’ve been at this? Twenty—I’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive. Show some bloody respect.”
“Totally, dude. It’s cool, Charles. You know, I could hear you. Besides the instructional idea, which is really good—you could use this tape for an audition reel. You show a lot of range, Charles. Good stuff. I’ll help you splice it together, man. Plus, I’ll get my buddies to give you clicks and ‘thumbs ups’. Are we ok?”
“Yeh, we’re ok.”
“I’ll grab dinner on the corner. See you later, Charles.
In closing, remember this: Create your own work. You can’t rely on others. Self-promote. No one cares about you more than you. Rule #1 and the only rule: Believe in the dream. Check back for the next episode. Break-a-leg mates. See you on set.
Charles Nesbit – Lead
Rick O’Donnell – Roommate
Directed & Produced by Charles Nesbit
Editing – Rick O’Donnell
William Morris Talent Agency
Law & Order
Milky Way Candy Bars—Mars, Incorporated
Muscat Valley Theatre
NESBIT PRODUCTIONS LLC
For Industry tips or for information on booking Charles Nesbit:
Kim Winter Mako spent many years in New York City as an actor. She currently lives in Asheville where she contributes to the live story telling series, Listen to This: Stories in Performance. Her creative non-fiction, poems, and stories have appeared in Sou’wester, The Citron Review, The Nervous Breakdown, Prime Number, The Great Smokies Review, Ducts.org, and the contest anthology, Drowning Allison and Other Stories (Grateful Steps Publishing 2012) as the first place and title story. This year she was a finalist in The Citron Review’s, Spirit of Sandburg poetry contest. She’s at work on a short story collection.