So I got this audition for a “Choice Hotels” ad. You know, the conglomerate behind your local Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, Sleep Inn (damn, I wish I’d been able to do that this morning). Their principal claim to shame is this series of ads featuring a glib bastardization of the Johnny Cash song, “I’ve Been Everywhere,” in which stereotypically-portrayed families of 4 (always 4, always a younger sister and older brother, dad is always fat) insert verses about their middle-American travels between the Man in Black’s refrain.
Commentary aside, I figured this was another one of those, and I figured I was a shoo-in, as my musical skills are well-documented.
Turns out, however, that even that low level of Quality (ha!) is not lame enough for the folks at Choice Hotels, and so they are embarking upon a bold new ad campaign: the “Comfort Zone” series. The premise is this: different folks find themselves in awkward situations, expressed via a “hilarious” vignette, and then the image freezes as text reading “Get back to your Comfort Zone” appears. Then, presumably, the viewer is advised of some amazing promotional rate package, available for a limited time only.
I read for two of these. The first one, entitled “Wave,” was relatively benign. In it, a young woman sees a young man (played by me) eagerly waving to her…or so she thinks. Whoops! Turns out he’s actually waving to someone directly behind her. How embarrassing! Looks like someone needs to get back to her “Comfort Zone!” (A quick aside: this is among the aspects of the acting business that I find the most idiotic. I only got this audition because I am fortunate enough to be freelancing with a “talent agency.” Ten years of ongoing acting training in emotional resonance and the vicissitudes of the human experience to convince some dudes behind a desk at an agency that I have enough talent to convincingly wave at someone for the purposes of encouraging people to stay at a modestly-priced motel.) So they had me wave a couple times, without comment (thankfully–I’ll have to tell you about the Best Buy ad in which they had me try about 14 different grimaces in another post).
Next, however, we moved on to the ad entitled “Flicker.” Here, only very slightly paraphrased, is the “script” for this ad:
We see a 20-something guy seated behind the wheel of his car, waiting at a stoplight. We see that his arm is hanging out the window. Suddenly, he flicks his wrist. After a moment, he looks over to see the woman in the car next to him glaring at him. He smiles apologetically. Text appears, “Get back to your Comfort Zone.”
So, if it’s clear to YOU what’s going on in this scene, I’ll punch you in the face.
What?!? He “flicks his wrist?” Okay, fine, I figure. Time to access the Acting Skills. Let’s imagine a set of Given Circumstances in which this behavior might logically occur. The obvious choice (as usual) is boogers. So, when I do the scene, I pretend to be nonchalantly flicking a booger out the window, then look over to discover it on the window of the fictional woman’s car, and smile apologetically.
“Stop!” shouts the casting director. “Okay…Sam? Did I SAY you were flicking a booger?”
“Um, no, I guess not,” I replied.
“Okay, so then, why are you doing that? I mean, for Christ’s sake, you’re just flicking your wrist, okay? You just…you know, you have something on your hand, and you’re trying to get it off. Can you just do THAT for me, please?”
“And also, don’t apologize to her. You’re Mr. Cool, you’re slick, you’re trying to play it off.”
“Got it,” I said.
What I had failed to understand, of course, was that when the script said “smile apologetically,” what it meant was “do something else entirely, which we will not specify.”
I finished the scene and sat for a moment in the silence of the casting director’s response to my work. Of course, since this is the real world, no text appeared saying “Get back to your Comfort Zone,” and I was not whisked away to the cozy confines of a modestly-priced room with free HBO and complimentary “deluxe” breakfast, all set to the tune of a pepped-up Johnny Cash number as a voice chirped about promotional room rates. Rather, I gritted my teeth, grabbed my bag, and hopped on a train to Long Island City to rehearse for an Off-Off Broadway play about underground theatrical revolutionaries in Weimar Berlin.