The date was November, 2001. It was roughly two months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and I was going to do something I had never done before: I was going to audition for something. I was gonna try to get into a class on the art of acting.
The class was to be called “Lying For a Living” and was to be conducted in Los Angeles by the late and great Marlon Brando. The name of the class echoed what Brando had referred to his profession in an interview years earlier. Auditions for the classes, which were free, and which would feature guest instructors, big names from the film world, had been announced in a small item in the New York Daily News that same morning. They were being held at an off-off Broadway theater in lower Manhattan. I was visiting friends in Brooklyn, so it was only a 30 minute subway ride into the city.
It was a cold and wet day, the kind of cold and damp that penetrates to the bone. When I arrived the line went nearly around the block, with all sizes and shapes of future thespian hopefuls talking acting techniques and practicing soliloquies. It was interesting watching them all, since I had no experience at all in any kind of performance, except for a chorale gig as a small kid in school, where I soloed on “Edelweis” in front of a hall full of patient parents. As I stood quietly, I began to lose patience, and body heat. I Was not alone and after a while the recitations stopped and the slightly annoyed tones of voice began to get more annoyed. The doors were supposed to open at 11AM but it was nearing noon when the first applicants were allowed in. Once inside, we were obliged to fill out several pages of short autobiographical info, given a number and made to wait. As we were only allowed in three at a time, and were kept inside of a lobby, it was a mystery as to what was going on beyond the door that, one at a time, we were herded like lambs to an uncertain future.
I entered the door. Bright lights glared, and the unmistakable sounds of an audience were present through the lights and the nerves. I was also aware that a video camera was mounted on a tripod and pointed in my general direction, and that there was a man behind it. The more interesting man, though, was sitting in a cheap lawn chair, decked out with full beard and turban and looking for all the world like Osama Bin Laden, complete with a small American flag poking out of his turban. Two months post-9/11, I should have been offended but due to nerves was more confused than angry. I stared at him.
“What are you looking at?” he asked, in a British accent. I stammered some kind of dumb remark, which he ignored. He shook my hand, introduced himself to me as Tony Kaye, (director of the classic film American History X) and we were off. He asked me what special talents I possessed. I told him I played guitar, and within seconds a cheap Yamaha acoustic guitar was in my hands. Kaye told me that he wanted me to play a song. I thought, “This is gonna be easy,” since I am proficient on the guitar, until he said, and the lyrics to the song are, “Marlon Brando ate my car.” Those were the only words. My frozen hands weren’t as limber as they usually are but I began to fingerpick a folksy sounding pattern, and started singing the one line that he had provided me, changing the melody for each line, until he finally told me to stop. From the darkness there was a loud burst of applause from about 30 people who were sitting watching, unseen. Thirty seconds later I was out the door and back out on the street, shellshocked.
In the end, Brando didn’t use anyone from the auditions for his classes. He picked random passerby off the streets and that was that. Kaye’s video of the auditions and the classes is tied up in legal wrangling and might never see the light of day.
Weirdest day of my life, and one of the most fun.