I've been meaning to tell you all about this experience for a couple of months now. Back in August, I booked a day player role for a feature film called 'Hello, I Must Be Going...' starring Melanie Lynskey (Two and a Half Men). I had about 3-4 lines in the film playing a restaurant hostess that flirts with Melanie's ex-husband as they walk into the restaurant where I work.
The scene was filmed in Connecticut so I had to travel there by train the day before and the producers put me and the other actors up at a hotel. The morning of the shoot, we were all driven to set and once I got there, I immediately had feelings of trepidation. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, I just had a nagging feeling that something bad was going to happen. I pushed the feelings aside because I wanted to have a good shoot and I was still very excited about playing this part. I had just filmed 'What Maisie Knew' (the scene with Alexander Skarsgard) a couple of weeks before and I was still riding that wave of happiness at booking two big features back to back.
I went to hair and makeup and waited to be called to set. Production was behind schedule so we got started a couple of hours late probably around 10AM. The scene was seemingly pretty simple, Melanie's character walks into the restaurant with her ex-husband played by Dan Futterman (A Mighty Heart), he and I have a little inside joke/flirtation, and then I walk them to their table and give him a flirty smile as I walk away. After that, the two of them (the two exes) have a long conversation that results in her walking out on him. Simple.
So, the director decides to shoot the second half of the scene first. This is where I walk them to the table...etc. However, their conversation is well over 5 minutes long. Shooting me walking them to the table, handing them menus and the long conversation takes a few hours, allowing the director to shoot the wide shots, two shots, and Dan's closeups. Then we broke for lunch.
While eating, this is when that nagging feeling comes back. I overhear the director saying how they have to be out of the restaurant by 4PM. It's after 1PM and we have not shot Melanie's closeups yet. The set also needs to be completely changed around. Once lunch is finished, the crew gets to work changing the set in order to shoot Melanie's closeups. Once they start filming her, this takes another couple of hours. The director is running the scene from start to finish for every single take. There were many takes where either Melanie or Dan flub lines and the entire take needs to be scrapped, even if it's almost finished. Keeping in mind, each take lasts roughly 7 minutes. All in all, the second half of the scene probably ran close to 30 takes.
When the second half is finally finished, the crew begins to strike the set. At this point, the restaurant workers have started to arrive and are preparing to open the restaurant for business. I had known for sure around 2:30PM that my lines would not be filmed but the director, Todd Louiso, finally confirms it once the scene wraps. He obviously needed to shoot the second half first because it was the most important part of the scene and I understood that. He was also very apologetic and seemed genuinely sorry that I would not get to fully play my role. Despite the apology, I was bitterly disappointed and very angry. I could barely contain my tears long enough to walk away and call my manager. Once I got him on the phone, I broke down. He explained to me that I was still booked and going to be billed as a principal actor, that I would still get paid the principal rate. But that didn't matter to me.
It was heartbreaking. As an actor, you spend so much money on classes/headshots/clothes/etc., you go on audition after audition, facing rejection after rejection. But, you keep getting up and going to the next one because you know that your time is going to come. Then, you finally book that job, the job that will give you perfect footage for your reel, look great on your resume, and give you that emotional boost to keep going. You sign your principal contract. You even get on set, get your hair and makeup done, get dressed, and spend the whole day doing your job, waiting for your little moment to shine.
And then the rug gets pulled out from under you. To work so hard, to be that close, to literally be on set and then have the opportunity taken away, through no fault of your own, is infuriating.
I remember having to pull myself together long enough to say thank you and goodbye to the director and producers. I thanked them for the opportunity and I remained as professional as I could under the circumstances. Even Melanie seemed really sad that I didn't get to do my part and she also apologized and gave me a big hug before I was taken back to the train station. I spent the hour and a half train ride home trying not to cry. But when I got home, I cried for two days every time I thought about it, or talked about it. I kept getting angry. I was angry at the lack of time that resulted in my part getting cut. But I was even more angry at the fact that a role that was so important to me, wasn't really important at all. That was the worst feeling, knowing that I didn't matter, that I was expendable.
I suppose you could call it a humbling experience....and being humbled pissed me off too (haha!) because I feel that I have a deep appreciation for everything that I get out of this business. I don't take anything for granted and I work very hard. I kept trying to figure out the lesson in this situation because I didn't understand what I was supposed to be learning.
The biggest thing that I have learned from this is that no matter how close you get, how hard you work, or how much you may think you deserve something, things don't always work out and you have to be able to bounce back quickly. It's okay to feel upset or sad, but you can't let it stop you from moving forward. I've also learned not to put too much stake into really small roles that aren't integral to the story because, most of the time, if there is a lack of time/funds, that will be the first part to get scrapped or end up on the cutting room floor. I look at these parts as necessary for establishing relationships with casting directors, building a resume, and building reel. Once you do enough of them, you'll get the chance to start auditioning for parts that really mean something to the story and allow you to be more creative as a performer.