“I have always relied on the kindness of strangers.” – Blanche Dubois Every opportunity I have ever gotten was because someone believed in me. Usually, almost always…my Pop (R.I.P.), but second women. And almost ALWAYS, a stranger. Yup, complete strangers often believed in me WAY more than friends and family I have known for decades. Life, it’s a real mystery. Usually it was women I didn’t even know. Every single acting gig, was because some women I didn’t even know, with the exception of Cyndee, said to the director or producer. Choose him. It’s happened 4 times. Once with a fellow actor, once with a set seamstress, and one with a production assistant. All on the very first day of meeting them. Now mind you, these were not powerful people. Just kind people looking out for a fellow artist. Damn. That’s amazing if you think about it….still can’t figure that one out.
OK, so way back when I was a teenager, Cyndee actually came to my editing suite at AIFL and said: “There’s an audition downstairs and you’re going now! I filled out the paper for you!” That was the film below. She only knew I dabbled in acting in High School. But that girl loved and believed in me. In hindsight she was a very good friend. But I got NO breaks, if I got the job it was because I earned it, and if I got into SAG, it was because I knew the AFTRA bylaws. How to get in Taft-Hartley. I could not rely on being “picked” because I was an oddball. Let me explain. To join SAG, it was pretty weird. The only way to get into SAG was to get three waivers on a SAG job, the only way to get a SAG job is to be a member of SAG. The infamous Catch 22. And not fitting a “Boston type” my chances decreased. This was a lot of travel and work for a “chance”. Not tenable.
Usually the director would have to choose you to work on a production for some unique trait of ability….or whatever. Waivers were being passed around like candy, but none ever landed on me, the fat kid. BUT there was another way in, few if any knew about. Taft-Hartley. I’m not even sure if it still exists because of the merger, so take my experience with a grain of salt from 2005-2006 when I joined. How it worked. When you joined AFTRA which had open enrollment. If you had a pulse and could pay the fee, you could join AFTRA (the American Federation of Television and Radio Actors). Then, the way Taft-Hartley worked, IF you are called to work ON ANY SAG Production (this was before the merger) they HAD to waiver you. No IF, ANDS OR BUTS. 🙂 “Sign please, thank youp!”
When those two wonderful young ladies, on the set of Showtime’s Brotherhood, said to the director and production team. “Make Edmund a regular Task Force agent.” I was in…had waivers every time. I learned how to do precision driving, my cousin taught me how to raid a house, hold a firearm….and I got plenty of work. All because I read the bylaws when I was 23 or so, never dreaming I would make it in. Read the rules, ya’ll. Yes, that meant I had to pay twice and join both unions, and it was lot of money for me, but well worth it. No picking me out of a crowd required. Why not just wait to be picked? Well, some people wait a looong time to get those three waivers. In LA, decades, I was told. Back then anyways, and racially ambiguous people, at that time in Boston were not first choice. White actors were central (think about the films shot) Southie Accent, Big Teeth, Big Hair…white, wink wink. On the rare occasion a Black actor could get a little line, they had to be serving Wayne Brady vibes…meaning, a Black that looked mostly white, pass. Meaning my little bit of Native American would not get me cast for Broken Arrow, but a Portuguese person with tan-in-can could. BUT I was stil a 3fer, meaning, I was welcomed to travel 200 miles round trip to fill the audition numbers for every race. I just really would never be hired. Not for realsies. See, most monoracial people don’t get that. Let’s do the math. If a role would require….a 200 mile trip, and you would need to audition 2 to 3 times. That’s 600 miles per part. Tolls, gas, time memorizing lines, wardrobe. And you were never really going to get that part anyways. So you see, this is why we need to tell our stories.
I digress, anyone beige or off-white were essentially beige wallpaper against which white actors could shine. Don’t believe me. Look at Kevin Spacey’s 21. Set at MIT (holler!) In reality the people in the real-life heist were almost all Asian. When it made it to film, presto, chango…all the main characters were white, with the exception of all but one or two (if memory serves correct). It was a forgettable film and became even more forgettable after Spacey was cancelled for his shenanigans. That film had one lone Asian kid who was more concerned with his white friend getting laid than getting laid himself; and that’s so-oo completely believable. Hollywood. And by all things good, every role I was called for out of Boston was for a Latino…usually a victim, drug lord or gang member. And not being Latino, and being told “Can you sound more…Latino?” or “We need Latinos like you.” It became clear, this was a party I wasn’t invited to join. At first I was completely conflicted if I should even go for Latinx roles. But my Latinx friend said something like: “If they call you for the part, go. Get that money and sort it out later.” I had mixed feelings then, but the only way I will play Latinx is if it’s a part that paints the Latinx community in a positive light. So many roles were negative when I was active.
But there were some shining lights in the industry.. I will hand it to Anne Mulhall at LDI, she was way ahead of the curve of inclusion and she cast me as Portuguese and had me read for an Italian part. She struck me as a lot more progressive and inclusive than other casting agencies in or around New England. But the fact remained. I would NEVER be called to audition for what I was, not for a Black role and not for a white role. But If I return to acting, I will return as me. Now that I have some age on me, and I’m more confident in who and what I am, and since…one would hope, casting has evolved, maybe….just maybe I can be myself, and get casted for what I am. Imagine such a world, it must feel great to have that freedom. Imagine. And for those who are biting at the bit to tell me what I look like, or say, “What about Trevor Noah, or Jessie Williams, or Halle Berry.” Those are exceptions to the rules, and arguably super-talented and super beautiful outliers, not the norm. And please don’t be crass by saying what I look like. I’ve owned a mirror most of my life, and I know who and what I am. Thank youp! . 🙂