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First Read : Booking a role on…Hawaii Five-O (Part I)
Monday: The big Five-0 audition.
At Hawaii Five-0 studios in downtown Honolulu, I play my lines to the casting director in a bare room. It’s one scene. I’m an assistant to two bosses (a dead one and a murder suspect) and I’m being questioned by the Five-O team. The casting director has me perform it several times, adding different direction.
Now I have two thoughts burdening my mind:
My favorite two-word phrase silences all tensions and neurotic chattering.
… Fuck it.
Tuesday: The result
My agent messages me. She is god! Good news, the director cast me. Now I need to wait and see if I clear network approval. Network could still say No.
But they don’t. I get the green light, so I shoot on Thursday!
In alternate worlds, there are actresses jumping up and down, screaming, foreseeing their imagined-rise to fame or star-crazed fans dying for these guys to tear off their shirts. I’ll tell you how I took it… I slept off depression for the rest of the day!
That’s my process. Ask me if I’m excited and I won’t say ‘No‘. Instead, I’ll avoid saying ‘Yes‘, because uttering the word “excited” will awaken jangly nerves. Silence is best. I love good news! But GOOD BIG NEWS overwhelms me. And when people believe in you enough to give you “a big break”, its additional pressure and responsibility you don’t want to fail on.
Wednesday: Wardrobe fitting at the studios.
I discover either, I’ve gotten chubby or the clothing sizes I gave were wrong. The size 6’s feel like 4’s and size 4’s feel like 2’s. Too late for a diet.
The wardrobe designer, Cate has me try on many ‘Assistant’ outfits so we can photograph 5-6 looks for the producer to choose from. I’m delighted to find Cate is a fellow traveler. I notice a Thai amulet around her neck, she’s from the hip hippie era and she’s been to India so many times, you’d call her an expat. Each outfit I try on, drives the topic of a new country.
Finally, the top six designs are selected. But as lovely as her choices are, there’s only one outfit with a skirt. I think the producer’s gonna go with the skirt. Skirts score higher network ratings than slacks.
Thursday: Day of the Shoot
It’s the big day. Time to step up to the plate and bat a home run!
The whole night my dreams played my five lines forwards and backwards. I’m not sure if I’m rested, but I’m ready. If I’m excited, I still don’t admit it aloud to myself.
All I can think is– Thank God for acting class! Went to acting class last night and working on different scenes with other actors, helped me work my nerves out. The more lines and scenes I have playing in my head, alleviates the pressure of this one.
Now, home rehearsal with my retired parents. Mom plays Mc Garret & Dad plays Dano in front of the hall mirror. Okay laugh, but my retired folks are my best and most confidential resource in Hawaii and I need to be comfortable delivering my lines in different ways. It’s only 5 lines, but I have a fear of blanking on them.
My secret goal: don’t blank.
At the Hawaii Five-O studios:
10AM: Surprise! I have my own lovely trailer room, labeled “Assistant” on the door. My costume is hanging on a hook for me above my couch. It’s the skirt. People come by to tell me that if there’s anything I want or need, to let them know. They’re very nice, but I wish they told me what options I had to choose from.
11AM: Welcome to Frankenstein’s Trailer
I meet Scott Caan and Alex O’Loughlin briefly in the hair and makeup trailer. Someone’s dog is in the trailer. Is there a dog on Hawaii Five-O? If he’s an actor dog, he’s very social. It’s actually Scott’s and it’s become the beloved pet on set. The boys go to set and now it’s my turn to sit in the chair to get my hair and makeup done.
In the U.S. I’ve never experienced a makeover, which has left me feeling well,…”beautiful”. It’s not anyone’s fault. If you’re an Asian American, likelihood is, you don’t even know how to tap your own beauty potential! You grow up having to force-fit it either, into a Caucasian look or a generic ‘Asian’ prescription. If you don’t believe me, walk into a Lens Crafter eyeglass store and you’ll find the only style made for Asian faces is a wire-framed pocket-protector look! Korea has indeed, spoiled me with its options for Asian glamor.
Makeup feels like mud on my face, in general. Only after Korea, did I start trusting BB cream foundation. Practically every Korean woman wears it and the look is radiant and flawless. But… I’m in the U.S., so more makeup goes on over my foundation. Now I’m tan. Eye shadow? Call me ‘Asian Dragon Lady’. Lipstick? My lips weld into a thin, crisp line of red. I’m glad I’m not playing a Hotel Street hooker. I don’t think I could take the makeup quantity.
My cool Korean perm? Whisked up into an semi-sumo girl do. U.S. stylists (even the most brilliant) never know what to do with my hair, so I’ve gotten a lot of updo styles and hair straightenings, which don’t match or… flatter my face. Do I have ugly hair or an odd-shaped face? Sitting in these chairs, tell me, I must have both!
Actor’s vanity? Sure. But human ones also. I’ll have to live this ‘unflattering look’ through re-runs; worse, I’ll have to act confidently in the face of feeling ugly!
When I get home, I’ll razor my hair into bangs. No stylist will give me a updo again!
On-location at the harbor and shipping piers
12 PM: Call time on set. No time for food. My stomach growls. It seldom growls. I’ve walked and trekked through 3rd world countries in burning heat and on less food, but today, it growls.
I’m driven to the shoot location: the harbor. There’s freight boats, rusted metal and all the seafaring stuff that makes a scene look gritty and macho. The crew is already shooting a scene and it’s taking longer than expected. It’s a scene where the Five-0 team is questioning my suspect boss. Off-set, Patrick Fabian, the actor, is gentlemanly and thoughtful. He offers me a chair; doesn’t seem like a ‘murderer’ to me.
They break scene to reload the camera. Alex O’Loughlin comes over to formally introduce himself with a handshake. In person, he looks nice and…. human-looking, like most actors do. I smile, imagining a throng of frenzied female fans behind me, waving hand-painted “We love you, Alex!” signs. It feels surreal to be my shoes. To think people might envy my ‘Size 9’ loaners!
Where do I sit? A crew person leads me over to a shaded area and points to a blue movie set chair, labeled “Cast”. At last, I get to sit on one! Not as a fool-around prop or some Universal Studios theme park set, but because I’m earning it… the real way.
My chair? Parked next to chairs labeled, “Alex” and “Scott“.
I haven’t been on a film or TV set for a while. I forgot how long it takes before you shoot a scene. I didn’t bring anything to occupy me, like my iPod Touch or a book. So I sit with my water bottle in hand, as the makeup lady welds more red lipstick on my mouth and as Scott plays on his iPad, right next to me.
This is the dream, where you wake up and realize you ARE naked on stage
2 PM-ish: My scene is up and the crew goes into warp-speed, moving equipment.
I love the look of the set! It has a nice raw and industrial appeal. Large open warehouse, some desks, architectural drafts and three background extras, who play my “engineers”. My engineers are a shy and quiet bunch; they’re real Hawaii folk working a gig, not actors. I try to break into ‘small talk’ with them to loosen up nerves before going into scene. I get a one-word answer here or there. The drought of conversation. New York extra actors? Different story. Everyone spins tales non-stop about their favorite subjects: acting and themselves.
The director stages us for blocking, camera setup and lighting. The two stars stand across of me.
The Director yells “Rehearsal!“. An camera assistant quickly drops X’s in front of us, before we leave to get into place. Mine is yellow. Whatever action I’m doing and wherever I’m placed, I’ll need to make sure I get to this ‘yellow X’ to deliver my lines.
I turn and quickly cheat a peek at my mark so I don’t overshoot. So far, so good. Then, I turn to Alex to deliver my second line, when my mind starts reeling for it. Everyone — crew, director, cast– leans forward, I imagine, waiting for me to deliver my line.
What was the line? The line? The lin…
O. M. G. I just blanked.
What kind of idiot would forget his lines if he only had five?!
My ‘inner umpire’ bellows loudly, “Strriiiike One!” My past revives itself in the self-torturing form of pressure-cooker college sports matches and old dance recitals,…
Everyone seems fine with it, though. The director, Steve Boyum, jokes reassuringly, “These things happen. These guys have blown lines the entire morning“. I dunno if that’s true, but I like Steve. Aside from being a genuinely interesting and good guy, he gets how I’m feeling and tries to make me feel comfortable.
Cameras are now ready to roll for real now.
Three takes wide, three takes (over my shoulder) on Alex and Scott, and then, three takes on me. Then we do a handful of takes on the Five-O guys leaving. Things are going smoothly. At one point, the actors’ stand-ins come in so the guys can take a break. Obviously, I don’t have “a double”. Not a problem. I stand with the stand-ins as the D.P. decides on the shot and lighting. I find the stars’ doubles actually more intimidating than the stars, themselves. They’re like presidential bodyguards with snarling eyes, which could easily burn a hole through you. I try not to make eye contact.
4:30 PM we wrap the scene.
Within this quick window of time, I’ve questioned how much I love acting?
Actually, the rewards of acting are many. It’s as much as traveling and living in Korea (and true, nabbing a role on a popular TV show doesn’t hurt either!). Yet there’s one differentiating challenge, a dark underlining, which forces questions. It’s something most actors, athletes and ‘creative types’, in general, suffer under:
Can you master (or even survive) you own ‘worst inner critic’?
What do you think my travel gut says?
P.S. I recently returned to the Hawaii Five O studios to record an extra line for my scene. Now I have SIX lines vs. only five! Getting there slowly– one line at a time.
Please join me on Monday, February 20th for Hawaii Five-O’s episode ‘Kupale’. 10/9P Central time. For sports fans, there are two guest appearances you might like: check out this press release.
Below is my scene. Hoping to do better next time!