I had a callback today for a credit card commercial. No dialogue, just images of various city dwellers using their credit cards to maintain and improve the quality of their interesting, urban lives. At the original audition an actress and I enacted a scene as a customer and a clerk. Customer approaches clerk with credit card in hand, customer "swipes" credit card, clerk gives customer a bag. End of scene (approx. running time: 4 seconds). We then reversed roles. I was deemed sufficiently interesting and urban looking to merit a callback. In addition to the original casting person, the director (a classic commercial director type, a big, tall, jocky guy) and various ad agency people were now there. Four of us were brought in and the director stared at us for a few seconds. "You're here for what parts?" he asked. "Cashier and clerk?" one of the actors said. The director looked troubled. "They're cashiers and clerks," the casting agency person said, "but James can be a foil." No one had told me about a "foil" character but whatever they wanted me to do was fine with me. One of the ad agency people then said "We could also do the barista." "Barista?!" the director exclaimed. "What's that?!" "The counter person in the coffee shop," the agency guy said. The director had apparently never heard the word. He looked more troubled than ever. Several more seconds went by. "Okay," he finally said to us. "I'm going to give you some emotions and you'll react to the camera." I was first. "Sad," he said. I did as told. "That's confused," he said. "Sad." He was the confused one, of course; I was totally doing sad. But to make him happy I put on more of a wounded puppy look (all in the eyes), resisting the temptation to also push out my lower lip. "Good," he said. "Amused." Piece of cake. This audition was so stupidly amusing no acting was required. I smiled, eyes twinkling. "Good," he said. "You're a cashier. Start with a neutral face, and then say thank you without speaking." Turning my face into an inscrutable blank canvas, I took a beat, gave a little smile and (the masterstroke) nodded my head. "Very good," he said. You're fucking right it was very good, big guy. An Obie Award-winner and Drama Desk nominee stands before you. I think he gave me one more direction but I forget what it was.
The director's attitude throughout was one of the utmost seriousness. If he understood, as I did, that there was a colossally goofy aspect to this audition he didn't show it. He went down the line and the other thespians had their turns to silently emote. Then we were released, no actual scenes between clerks, customers, baristas or foils having been enacted. In the elevator afterwards, one of the actors mumbled "That was brutal." It wasn't really but I knew what he meant.