By French actor Ivan Cori
Mrs. Y is a casting director.
Since the early '90s, she has cast numerous films, working internationally and with some of France's most distinguished directors.
I like Mrs. Y.
She's direct, honest and great at doing her job. Also: she cares.
If I don't get a part, she will send me an email to inform me. (That is already very unusual.) Sometimes, it will include a nice picture and some comforting words telling me to keep working, keep trying, and some better news will follow. I have never read any thing like that from another casting director. Ever.
When I left my first agent, Mrs Y was also the only one to tell me what a “moronic idea” it was. And, as it turned out, she was absolutely right.
Did I mention that Mrs. Y has quite a strong temper? Working in the cinema industry sure requires personality, but if you happen to be a woman, you need to be stronger than steel. That is why I respect her, and that is why she terrifies me. When she calls me for an audition, I never know which woman I'm going to meet. For if she can be the nicest, most benevolent person, she can also be so cold-blooded and withering that you will eventually lose any control of yourself.
I first met her 15 years ago, when she made me audition for the role of a secret agent in some thriller television series. I was not 20 at that time, and looked about 14. A small-sized, puny yet rotund body and a big lampshade of dark curly hair all around my baby face: more than a spy, I looked like a child in a Bob Dylan lookalike contest. Needless to say I did not have great hopes about getting the part.
But I was also young and confident, and I thought to myself: "you know who doesn't look like a spy? — a great spy." And so I entered the casting room, prepared to beat the odds and stun Mrs. Y with all my SeanConneryness.
- I know you, she said.
- You do? - I've seen your portfolio. The photographer is a close friend of mine, and she showed me your pictures. - And what did you think?
- That you need a new hairdresser.
I laughed, though it was crystal clear that she was not joking. I had already lost half my confidence. (I was my own hairdresser, therefore I was the only one to blame.)
So I did my scene. Or at least I tried. And you can only trust my word when I say that I tried my best. Was it any good? probably not. I can't remember a single word of it anyway. What Mrs. Y said, on the contrary, I can never forget.
- You're not the only one, you know. They're many others like you. Young men, cute face, wannabe actors, don't give a crap about anything. Don't care. Do you care? - Uh... Yes...
Sean Connery was out of the picture. He had vanished. I was no longer a spy, nor a presumptuous young man, I was an 8 year old boy trying to understand what the hell was going wrong while she was explaining to me how unwelcome are young actors who don't care about acting.
- Do you want to try again and show me you care?
And so I tried. I do not know if it was indeed better. It probably was: my experience is that actors are always better when they lose control, and lose control I absolutely did. Then she turned off the camera and simply said:
- That was better.
Nice to meet you too, Mrs. Y.
A few years later I had the great joy to star in a play directed by my beloved old teacher. Though I was not in the original cast, I got lucky: one of the actors got a better job elsewhere, I stepped into his shoes, everyone was happy.
Until Mrs. Y called.
She was working on a historical TV series: the tragic adventures of a French marquise who was accused and convicted of murdering her father and brothers in the middle of the 17th century. Along the road, she falls in love with a young priest - who could have been me.
Before filming my audition, Mrs. Y wanted to make sure I was available on the shooting dates. And, because of my theatre plans, I was not. And that upset her.
- This is not how I like to work. Why didn't I hear about this from your agent? I wouldn't have met with you and we would not have wasted both of our time.
- I'm sorry... - Well you know what? You're here, let's do this, but this is not how I like to work. Now, that priest. He's young, naive, candid. You must look young. He is much younger than the marquise, yet they fall in strong, forbidden love. Be young.
I went through the scene trying to be my youngest self. By the time I was done she was even more upset.
- This is not good.
- It is not? - No. I know the director, OK? And I know he's going to like this. This is exactly what he wants.
I tried not to smile, with poor success.
- This is good then? - No, it's not. Because you're not available. Why on earth would you come to an audition if you're not available for the job? - Well, I'm sure we can figure something out.. - I don't know. Can you? Can you give up your show to get this part?
I could and I did.
She called me a few days later to confirm me that, as she feared, I indeed got the part. I called my old teacher and told him I got another job, and would miss eight out of twenty shows, and that he could start searching for a new actor.
He didn't have to search for too long, since the actor from the original cast had his own job canceled, and was now available again.
And, to my great surprise, I was not fired: I got to share the part with him.
This way, he got some of his job back, and I got to do half of the shows AND star in my series. Everyone was happy.
Until Mrs. Y called again.
I was in my parents' living room when my phone rang; there is no service there, so I walked to the garden through the wide-open patio door and just when I said "Hello" my head vigorously hit the glass of the door, which was as clean as it was closed. Though the blow knocked my brain off, I managed to drag myself outside and use the little strength I had left to act as if nothing had happened while I was listening to Mrs. Y's voice on the other end of the line.
- I hate this. They bypassed me. So unprofessional. I hate it. Anyway, it is what it is. She doesn't want you. I'm sorry.
"She" is the leading actress. Not the world biggest star, still an award-winning actress in her late 40s. Oh, and she's also one of the executive producers of the show.
- She doesn't want you. - Why? - You're too young. - But you asked for young.
- I know. - So...? - There is sex involved, and she thinks it wouldn't be right, because you're so young.
- But you asked for young. - I know. - Can't we meet again, do another tape, and I'll be less young? - No.
The pain in my front head had somehow spread into my entire body. I told her once more that I didn't understand but I guess she had enough and her tone got harsh all of a sudden.
- Oh, come on. Wake up already. Don't you see she's just giving a part to a friend?
- What's his name? She gave me the name. - We're the same age. - I know. - I booked horse riding lessons. - I'm sorry. Listen, I will make it up to you, OK? I swear. I will make it up to you.
I hang up and looked at the glass door right in front of me.
I called back my old teacher. The other actor had not yet begun rehearsing, so he was laid off. I got my theatre shows back and he ended up with nothing.
I never learned horse riding.
As for Mrs Y. making it up to me, well... I'm still waiting.
But I have to say that she called me again.
She was working — again — on a historical series, medieval this time, depicting the Great Western Schism, the pandemic plague, and following the Grand Inquisitor, a mean, sadistic bigot who gives the hardest time to his poor and gentle squire... who could have been me.
I don't remember my audition. I just know that a few days later, Mrs. Y informed my agent that the director had chosen someone else. Sometimes you're just not the right person. And you have to accept it.
That could have been the end of the story. And believe me: I wish it had.
But Mrs. Y called back. They'd lost their actor. The right person in this case: great actor, strange face, handsome man, student in the most prestigious French theatre school, the same one that rejected me twice, but not all of this is about me, is it?
The school's director, well aware of its prestige, wouldn't let his actor go for such a long time, and miss so many classes. He just said "no". And the series production was now looking for a second choice.
40 days of shooting, big money, great work opportunity, nice experience and a good chance to shine. I did what many would do: silence my ego and try to be a fair second choice.
When I stepped in, Mrs. Y told me that they were not quite ready and she invited me to wait among them, in their office.
- That way, you will have a glimpse of what happen behind the scenes.
I really didn't need that. Behind the scenes, the director, who'd barely said hello, was railing against the school's policy, yelling how much he needed that actor and how unfair the whole situation was. Since no one had offered me a chair and I hadn't the nerve to sit by myself, I stood still in the middle of the room, trying hard to keep myself from finding this welcome highly inappropriate. “Stay calm. Silence your ego.” And I turned to Mrs. Y, my old friend, hoping to find in her eyes the tiniest sign of sympathy.
- Don't look at me, I'm not your mother.
And it was only then that I realised why I like Mrs. Y, why, no matter what she says, I feel like I understand her. She absolutely reminds me of my mother.
We were still listening to the director raging when the Inquisitor arrived. The actor was kind enough to come and help the production cast the right person — sorry, second-best right person to play his squire.
The Inquisitor is a huge, handsome man with a Russian name. He's a great actor and he's beyond nice. OK, I have a Russian name myself, but that man knows how to wear it, in his own majestic way, devoid of any greasy Mediterranean smallishness.
I’m sorry to have met him during what is probably my worst experience ever in this business. Again, I tried my best, but all I could hear from the director was:
- No, no, this is not it. This is not what I want. Why can't I have the other one?
- You're doing great, the slavic god whispered into my ear with the gentlest smile.
No I'm not. Please, please stop being nice, you’re making it worse.
Meanwhile the director’s anger was growing even more. It’s funny I cannot remember his face. I met him again many years later and though he had that feeling that we knew each other, I told him with great confidence that we never met before - and I meant it. His name, his face, it all had vanished from my brain. But that voice I will never forget. And I still hear it from time to time, whenever I feel that I don’t belong.
- You’re failing. You’re the wrong guy. Why can’t you be someone else ?
I remember making tremendous efforts to keep myself from firing back. Today I deeply regret I didn’t. I should have had the nerve to remind him, with strong and assertive calm, that I am not a dog. But that’s not what I said. I stayed nice and polite, I went through the whole thing and when it was finally over I waited till I was out of the building to let it go and burst into tears. I stayed a few minutes in that street, in front of that door, crying my soul out.
Then I dried my tears, and I went on. I’m resilient.
As for Mrs Y., I’m still waiting for a successful audition with her. After all, she told me she’d make it up to me. And who knows? maybe she will. I can wait. I’m patient. And confident, always.
That day, as I cried alone in the street like a child, I made a promise to myself. I swore that I would never, no matter what happened, let anyone treat me like that. Ever.
And you know what ? It worked.
Until the next time.
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