Feeling Like the MVP
Booking a network role.
If booking as an extra for a SAG commercial is like getting an honorable mention trophy at your club football game, booking a network role is sort of like winning MVP. Getting scouted for college teams is kind of like pilot season, and getting drafted to the NFL is like starring in a major motion picture or booking a recurring character on a hit show on HBO or Netflix.
I booked my first network role in December of 2016.
I had just stepped into work at my restaurant gig when I received an email from my agent saying I had an in-person audition for "Being Mary Jane," which is Gabrielle Union's show on the BET network. I was about to start the coffee machines and start filling the candles when I was notified, and I somehow convinced my manager to let me leave work early so I could prepare for the audition! Lucky for me, my manager is also an actor, so he just... gets it.
Some people are not so lucky. I have plenty of friends who have full-time desk jobs without flexibility, and they can't make it to any auditions. This is why you will find most out-of-work actors to be servers or, say, fitness instructors. I quickly gathered my things and headed home. Thankfully, the role was for an ESPN-type reporter a la Erin Andrews. EASY! My whole life I grew up telling people that I wanted to take Kelly Ripa's job someday, so I felt as if I had been preparing since birth for this audition.
The script was pretty dialogue-heavy, and I was slightly nervous, as I typically am for network show auditions. It's a lot of pressure because you can actually pay your rent in one day of work if you book it. Plus, the more network shows your book, the idea is that your career will snowball into what you had always dreamed of! People will start to notice you more, casting directors will consider you "hot" and it can only mean good things. I put on my best reporter look and I headed out for downtown Atlanta where the addition would take place. I had practiced over and over again in my living room and then again and again in the car in the hopes that I wouldn't flub any lines under pressure in front of the casting director. I remember being in the elevator after my audition feeling like,
"Wow, I must have been in that room for less than 2 minutes. All that practicing and perfecting my look, hair and makeup for a moment that lasted less than 2 minutes."
I recently finished Bryan Cranston's memoir "A Life in Parts" which is one of the most inspiring reads I have had in a while! Highly, highly recommend to actors! He said that he experienced a major breakthrough in his acting career when he finally realized that he can't expect anything when he goes into the audition room. You are going in the room to give them something, to perform - to play. You cant put the pressure on yourself, or else desperation will read right across your face. The casting director will see in your eyes that this job will save you from not making your next rent payment. They want confidence! They want to believe that you can handle the role, no matter how small.
I totally blacked out once I went in the room, as I usually do. My instincts always somehow take over and I just hope for the best. I'm pretty sure I didn't go over to shake the casting director's hand, and I kicked myself for this in the elevator on the way out. It's all a first impression, and you only get one chance at it! I did the dialogue, surprisingly didn't flub my lines and out I went! At that point, it was all out of my hands.
The next day, via group text, I found out that another actor friend of mine had the same audition for the same role the next day. I was disappointed because it meant that even after they saw me, they wanted to see even more girls for this role. I hadn't done enough. I had pretty much completely given up and accepted that it wasn't going to be me this time around. Oh well.
Four or five days passed and I was laying in bed with John, when I got a call from my agency. Every time they call me, it's like the whole world stops spinning. It's exciting every...damn...time.
It was my agent telling me that I was on first refusal for the role! AKA, they were pretty sure they wanted to book me, but they were also possibly looking at a few other girls, looking at schedules, and trying to figure out what they wanted to do with the role. It's so funny to me, because there's all this rigamarole involved with casting just one scene of a network show. They want it to be perfect.
So of course, you want to get excited because HOLY SHIT! They actually liked me! They might pick me! However, I've learned to not get excited about anything until you're literally in your trailer, waiting to be called to set. And to tell you the truth, I didn't fully allow myself to get excited about my first network appearance until the night it aired. There was every chance in the world that they could take me out of the episode.
We don't need that scene.
Just cut it.
It happens all the time. I know someone who was in a major motion picture, took her whole family to the premiere, and her role had been cut entirely. It's a cruel world.
Thankfully for me, they didn't cut my part! Here are some little moments throughout my day on the set of "Being Mary Jane":
Fun fact: I was directed by Adam Shankman! I have always been a huge fan of his since the days when I binge watched "So You Think You Can Dance?"
You guys, I had a trailer! For the very first time! I will never forget it!
I played Lindsay Carmichael, NSTN reporter interviewing the baseball player, Orlando, about his new monogamous relationship with one of the series regulars, Kara Lynch!
It was also my first time in a real hair and makeup trailer. I'm used to getting done-over in a makeup chair in some corner of the set. (Hey, I'll take anything, I'm just happy to be here and to have you making me look half-human!) It was incredible, and they did such a great job with my look. Soon, after sitting in the HMU trailer for about a half hour, I met Nicholas Gonzalez, who would be playing Orlando. He could not have been nicer! He actually received his sides that morning! He wanted to run the lines over, and I was so happy because I was beyond nervous. He had what seemed like 20 scenes that he would be shooting that day, and had only a few minutes to look everything over! He was flown out from Los Angeles on a red-eye and his wife was 7 months pregnant at home. I was so impressed by how calm and collected he was. I suppose, when you do this as much as he does, you just DO IT. Or at least, you fake it until you make it.
I was terrified that I was going to forget my lines. I usually pride myself on my memorization. Whether it was speech contests in elementary school, high school church plays, or memorizing the ingredients of the pan-seared scallops at the restaurant I worked at.
We were taken to set, and it all became so real! They had built this fantastic looking ESPN set out in the middle of nowhere, GA.
I sat in my anchor chair, met Adam Shankman (holy wow!) and the nerves really began to set in. Nicholas finally joined me and we ran our lines over and over again. Mr. Shankman startled me when he finally announced,
"Alright, rehearsal's up! Amber, why don't you start from the top?"
I drew a complete blank. I managed to get the first line out and then I looked down at my sides. I felt my whole body stiffening. How was I blanking? I have done this a billion times! Now is not the time to forget Amber! Look up, look UP! I looked away from my sides and finished the rest of the rehearsal. And thank God it was only a rehearsal.
"You second guessed yourself there for a second. You know the lines, don't worry!"
He could not have been sweeter. And he was right. I did know the lines. I just had to trust the work. We managed to get a ton of takes in. Nicholas was even kind enough to announce at the end of our scene that this was my first network show and everyone clapped.The MVP had her cheerleader, and it was awesome. I finished! I did what I came there to do and I didn't totally fuck it up! Now, I just had to wait 3 months for it to air, and then I could see how truly silly I look and sound on camera.
Here's my clip from Season 4, Episode 9 of "Being Mary Jane:"
I learned a lot from watching this! Look at how smart Nicholas was to face outward toward the camera. This is literally LESSON ONE when you start your first rehearsal for your first play when you're in kindergarten. Cheat to the audience. Show your face, don't hide. I hid. I blame it on the nerves, but I'm grateful to have this first network experience so I can learn the hard way early on. Now, I can't wait for my next gig so I can be totally relaxed. (Will I ever really relax...?)
Since this aired, I have been lucky enough to book a second network show and I cannot wait to share this! It airs this summer, so I have to wait a bit to blog about my time on set. I will give one hint: I was royally humbled to play this character.