I was not one of those kids who started young and never stopped working—there are many pathetic tales in these pages to prove it. But I’m glad I got my foot in the door at an age when some of the scariest people had to take it easy on me, because I was Just A Kid. If you are expecting to find advice, I will be no help at all. I have no advice. I do have a truckload of opinions, which I will happily prattle on about to anyone who gives me an opening. I’d just like to add the “for entertainment purposes only” disclaimer to everything in here, like I’m a psychic hotline or a bot on AshleyMadison.com.
I don’t know what my parents anticipated happening once I got a fancy agent four states away. Maybe they knew that supporting the larger dream while I was a kid was easier than praying it was a phase and begrudgingly supporting me later on. Maybe they only hoped I would book a commercial and get the kind of money that starts a solid college fund in one swoop. That would have been fine with me—I couldn’t differentiate between the prestige of a Broadway show and a regional commercial, so I would have been just as happy about becoming an underage corporate stooge.
The agency that took me on lined up a few auditions for Broadway shows—the very first one was for Annie (I don’t know what to tell you guys, it’s just what happened). Then they lined up a handful of commercial auditions. My first auditions for commercials were weird. As were all the ones that would follow.
Commercial casting directors were looking for either preternaturally beautiful children or children who were willing to cheese it up so hard they went blue in the face. At that age, I never thought about being pretty. That’s not because I was enlightened, it’s because I was a little kid and “pretty” seemed like adult criteria. (I did think about whether or not I would GROW UP to be pretty—all the time. I asked to see pictures of my grandmother as a young woman, I asked to see pictures of my mother as a young woman. I found out my mother’s side of the family was universally flat-chested, so I asked if my deceased paternal grandmother had anything better goin’ on back in the day. I was a ladylike and sensitive child.)
As for the cheese factor, I was no better off. This was the origin of my aversion to child actors. Most of them were fucking weirdos—a bunch of precocious extroverts who were learning to kiss adults’ asses and say things like “How old do you want me to be?” I was a loud, hyperactive loser, but I was self-aware enough to know that would make me look like a dick.
Perhaps because my family’s emotional range spanned from composed to stoic, I was not trying to play ball. For all the trouble I’d been in in my life for having “too much energy,” I could not figure out why I was supposed to be so excited about tangle-free shampoo. My hair was always tangled and I was doing just fine, thank you very much.
Kids in these audition waiting rooms were unlike anything I’d seen before. They would make a big show of running up to other kids they knew and say things like “I haven’t seen you since we outgrew the Music Man tour!” They would humble-brag about the last commercial they’d booked or how they’d screen-tested for a TV pilot last week, and their sleazy managers would say, “Our little Portia is a booking machine!”
Usually my mom or my dad was with me in these waiting rooms. My mom was always kind and wonderful, but, like me, my mom is a people pleaser and a rule follower. We were at a professional audition; I would go in with my headshot and résumé and try my best, and she would be the supportive parent who accompanies (but does not pressure!) her child.
My dad had far less patience. He was my stoic life vest. He’s the smartest person I know. Not the smartest person I’ve ever met (I’ve met Dr. Oz and Dakota Fanning) but the smartest person I can call on the phone. He’s an incredible resource but also very frustrating. It’s like having Stephen Fry for a father. He makes you feel like an idiot just by breathing.