She flashed a smile like a glowing row of meticulously organized Tic Tacs and smoothed her ponytail with her perfect mani, gently flipping it over her shoulder as she greeted a similarly pint-sized friend, took a selfie, then pet her Pomeranian, “Fluffy,” for good luck.
…OK, who is this bitch.
I was at a popular commercial casting office in Hollywood, auditioning for a national cookie company. I had parked far away and worn my favorite Jessica Simpson booties (haters gonna hate) with completely worn out soles, so instead of gliding along the sidewalks like a movie star, I clomped along like I was slow-motion jack-hammering the cement with metal spikes.
My role was: Mom. Nice casual, not too sloppy, “FYI, client leans toward pretty.” And by the looks of the waiting area, I was going to be auditioning with a daughter character. My tattoos were covered, I had my nails did, I spent a kajillion hours wrangling my hair, and, c’mon, I was wearing my J. Simps. I was ready.
“OK, Lauren Bair? You’re gonna be reading with McKenzie Davenport.” (*I changed her name. I’m not a monster.)
For me, the waiting area outside a casting room is by far the most treacherous part of the whole audition process. It’s where you will be asked to ride a rollercoaster of emotions that drops you off in a wasteland of self doubt, and you must not — you cannot — ride that ride.
Imagine if you went to a job interview, had chosen your power outfit, had prepped all your questions, your answers, and done your research, and when you got to the interview, 10 other model-versions of you — dressed in your exact clothes, with your exact qualifications — were already there, telling jokes that made the boss laugh really hard.
There’s the actress who will basically do a stand-up routine for anyone unable to tune her out. The one who knows everyone, including the casting director, as if they are long lost besties. The one who will be taking business calls in front of everyone — she might even ask to go in earlier than her appointment time, because of course she has to jet to her next audition across town. The one who’s sooooooo great with children and is literally teaching a random kid the basics of American Sign Language. And then there’s me. Just tryna hang in.
That’s when I met my “daughter.” The con is simple: Get to know everything about “daughter” as quickly as possible, crack some jokes, prove I’m not a scary bitch, go into the audition, SEEM LIKE YOU’VE KNOWN EACH OTHER FOR DAUGHTER’S WHOLE LIFE, book audition because — chemistry! Done.
“Heeeeeey McKenzie!” As soon as we are paired up, I’ve got blinders on to every single other “mom” and kid in this place. It feels like we’re going on America’s Got Talent and we don’t know what our talent is.
“Kenz, say hi!” McK’s mom breaks the ice, since McK is playing Donut Dazzle with her younger sister on someone’s iPhone. OMG, there’s a dog in a bag.
“OMG! Who’s this?”
McK: “That’s Fluffy.”
The little sister gently touches Fluffy’s open eyeball with her tiny pointer finger. Fluffy doesn’t react. He doesn’t even blink.
McK’s Mom: “Stop touching the dog’s eye, Sophia. Geez. She’s tired. We drove from San Diego.”
That drive can be 4 hours in the car. One way. That’s some fucking stage-mom-level dedication. But time to get to work.
“Your name totally reminds me of this character from [(Netflix series) that makes no sense now because I changed her name]. Did you see it?”
McK: “YEAH! I watched it all in four nights! And that’s with school, too!”
“SO good! I watched it in one night, but I don’t have school. Or a bedtime.”
McK: “I don’t have a bedtime either! I’m eleven.”
“No way. How long have you been doing this?” (She knows I’m asking about acting. Can you hear my manual can opener cranking open that can of worms? I hate this ride, but I’m just gonna get on it for one stop.)
McK: “I just started last year! I booked the first audition I went on.”
McK’s mom: “Yeah, that one was a Target one…and then there was…”
They list the gigs in unison, remembering the past year like we’re at McKenzie’s office holiday party: “Walmart, McDonald’s, Nickelodeon, a couple for Disney…” McK interrupts, “Well, Disney parks, and then Disney studios. But then I couldn’t do a different one of them because I had another job on a TV show.”
I was clawing my way through my feelings. “Wow! I guess that’s a good problem to have, right?” Did I mention that I used L’Oreal root spray on my grays an hour before this? Because I definitely did that. And also this girl has already made more money than maybe her parents did last year.
McK is adorable. A-DOR-A-BLE. She had beautiful dark features, olive skin, and a kind personality. She was a shoe-in for this cookie spot — and all of the spots. She was perfect. And I was feeling totally jealous of her. AN 11-YEAR-OLD. I mean. WHAT?!! I just want her career is all! Is that so bad? Can’t I just book a couple baller-paying national spots so I don’t have to worry about money so much —
“McKenzie and Lauren?” The casting director called us into the room.
“Let’s do this, girl.” I was 95 percent back from my downward spiral. Ok, a solid 75 percent.
“I hope you both like chocolate chip…” The director placed two giant cookies in front of us, telling us we’d be eating them on camera. Y’know, the commercial way, where somehow you can take a healthy bite, smile big, and not have anything in your teeth, like a goddamn magical wizard.
McK and I shared our cookies, while I looked at her lovingly, as if we were actually sharing the world’s greatest mother-daughter moment. Nailed it.
As we walked out together, I was asked if I could audition again — with another daughter.
With my mouth still full of cookie, because I was breaking all the rules of L.A. and eating my entire audition prop on my way out, I said, “YATHF!”
Standing in front of the camera, lining up our feet with the taped marks on the floor, I quickly whispered to this new freckled beauty, “What’s your name?”
“Olive? I’m Lauren. We get to eat the cookies.”
“Oh, I know — I can’t wait!”
I didn’t book that job. And at least one of those girls didn’t either. But two cookies in, I was ready to let go of some of that comparison crap. I mean, at least with the 11-year-old crowd. At least for the rest of that day. Afternoon. Possibly a whole hour. The 20-minute drive home. Whatever. Working on it.