Satan’s Casting Call, by Lisa Maliga
Duncan Smith-Holmes is a struggling young actor who is in desperate need of a paying gig or he has to leave Hollywood. But a bizarre casting call and an opportunity to land a major role in a high budget movie is something he can’t pass up — no matter what the consequences.
Duncan Smith-Holmes was running late for his casting call. He rushed into the kitchen and almost threw his cup of instant coffee into the chipped porcelain sink. Tina, his fiancée, was sitting at the tiny breakfast table with a short stack of freebie weeklies. She was reading the Daily Variety as she sipped her coffee and circled ads in the classifieds section. She was disgruntled with the small selection of assistant positions. One of them was in Beverly Hills and the rest were scattered between the San Fernando Valley and Santa Monica.
“Interns wanted, no pay, great experience,” she read quietly, contempt showing on her freckled face. Why doesn’t it just say, “We need slaves?” She shook her head. “Junior administrative assistant, long hours, work for executive … I know what that means.” She paused. “Morning, Duncan,” she said, not bothering to look up at the slender young man who resembled a surfer with his wavy sun-bleached hair.
“Hi honey,” he glanced at the calendar on the wall above her, right next to the clock. Time was ticking, he thought. The June calendar had one date circled on it in bold red ink, the 25th. That was D-Day for the couple. It was their agreed upon deadline for both of them to find employment within the entertainment industry. It was also the day the rent was due. Her chances were greater than his as she was looking for any type of secretarial or clerical work.
He glanced at the laptop sitting on the cluttered coffee table in front of the loveseat. On Monday a virus had shut it down and the recovery disk had been lost. The Dell had to be repaired or replaced—neither option affordable right now. The nearby Hollywood Regional Branch Library opened at 12:30 so neither one of them could do any online job searching.
Duncan wasn’t opting for that office work route; he wanted to be an actor and he would accept nothing less than a role in a movie [he wished!], TV, video, cable, anything that involved him being in front of a camera. Duncan needed the glare of the limelight. He thrived in it. And if he didn’t find some sort of acting role that was either long term or leading to bigger and better parts, he was going back to Iowa.
“Break a leg,” Tina said. She watched her future husband, dressed in office casual attire of khakis and a blue shirt, rush towards the open front door. Already the sun was glaring down at ten o’clock and she knew that it was going to be unbearably hot in the old, un-air-conditioned apartment. Why did she always have to be out of work in the summertime? As soon as she got up she opened the door to allow some of the Pacific breeze that traveled east down Sunset Boulevard to assist in cooling off the one bedroom apartment. All the neighbors in the eight-unit building were at work and she was alone with nothing to do but look for a new job. Craving a cigarette, she sighed, knowing she was out of Newports and would be until she found steady work.
Inside Duncan’s weather-beaten red Mustang he cranked up the radio and listened to some fake new age guru answer questions on the afterlife. He couldn’t call in like he sometimes did as his cell phone was broken and he couldn’t afford a new one. He hated those tiny plastic things anyway as they couldn’t hold up to his temper and he’d methodically gone through several of them. He remembered how they’d become useless. One was thrown into a pool, another sailed over the wall at a backyard wedding, two of them had been crushed by his feet, and he’d hurled that first generation iPhone out of his car on the 405 when traffic had stopped due to a car chase that he didn’t get to see.
He despised open calls but since his agent had retired he had to fend for himself. Not that old Harry had done much for him, a few sitcoms and some extra work in three low budget horror films, yet it was better than what he was coming up with which was exactly zip. His headshots were over a year old and his hair had grown a lot since then plus his face was thinner. Tina said he looked sexy; his mother said he resembled a corpse.
Duncan looked at the address he’d jotted down on a blue message pad that Tina had stolen from her last office job. He looked at the cross street. Yeah, he was in some shitty part of the San Fernando Valley. Universal Studios was only a couple of miles away but the heavier pedestrian traffic and the seedy buildings meant one thing – off the Hollywood map. He passed a boarded up store with spray-painted gang signs and rolled his eyes. Super high class. He turned off the radio and looked for the last two digits of the address. 38, 40, 42…there it was.
The gray prefab building looked new. A uniformed guard sat on a folding chair, looking ominous with his mirrored sunglasses, his tanned bald head glistening in the relentless Valley sunshine. Before Duncan had a chance to park in one of the half dozen “G.G.K. Productions parking only” spaces, the guard hurried over, almost giving himself a heart attack in the process. The older man leaned on Duncan’s convertible and panted before addressing the youth. Duncan watched the sweat rolling down the hairless head and the dark stains spreading from underarms to chest.
“I’m here for the audition,” Duncan told the man.
The guard nodded as he wheezed, then gestured towards the lot. “Park…” was all he was able to get out as he struggled to breathe. His hand slid away and Duncan watched with concern as the man turned and slowly went back to his post. All that fuss over a lousy parking space! There was plenty of room. A couple of hand-lettered WE WILL TOW signs were clearly displayed. One car was parked in the corner, a forlorn looking white bottom of the line Mercedes that was spotted with bird crap.
Once inside, Duncan approached the empty reception desk in the small tiled lobby. The light was dim and the air was stuffy. He looked around, not seeing anyone. He checked his watch. Weird. The audition had been scheduled for eleven o’clock and it was 11:10. Where was everyone? Usually open calls were packed with dozens of hopefuls. He clutched the manila envelope containing three of his portraits with the requisite resumes stapled on the back. For an instant Duncan wondered why he wasn’t back in his father’s Iowa cornfield taking care of the family business. The corn would’ve been planted by now, he thought, recalling the thick humidity of the air and the tall bamboo-like stalks with the sagging leaves scraping his arms and face as he rushed down the narrow rows.
Now he was in some bottom of the barrel production office that didn’t have any employees. He looked at the doorway on his left and saw an empty nameplate holder. The wrong address must have been put in the trade publication. People made mistakes. But, he reflected, lately he’d made just a few too many…
The door opened and all he saw was a slit of darkness. Duncan felt sweaty in the air conditionless lobby and the ominous vibes he was starting to sense. Nervousness was a common feeling at auditions; outright fear wasn’t. There was no gust of wind, no circulation to open the door. Suddenly a man stepped out of the office and the look of surprise that crossed the broad Scandinavian pale features was quickly replaced with a grin.
“Hi! I’m Monty Cross! I’m the producer.” He strode over to Duncan and eagerly shook his hand, dispelling the nervous fear.
“Hey, I’m Duncan Smith-Holmes and…”
“This place is usually a mob scene.” Monty looked around at the starkly empty lobby with only a dingy old couch and some thrift store reject tables and chairs. A dog-eared issue of Vanity Fair magazine was the sole reading material. “Can’t understand it. The ad ran today, I checked it.”
“Maybe it’s a full moon,” Duncan joked.
“Could be the reason,” Monty said as he walked back to the door. “Let me see those head shots.”
Duncan quickly pulled the black and white glossies out of the envelope.
The producer grabbed them and looked at the photos and the resumes. He nodded.
“You want to see the script?”
“Sure!” Duncan replied. He was feeling optimistic. But he felt that way whenever he went on an audition. There was always a chance, he thought.
Before Duncan got to step inside the office Monty returned holding a thick script. Duncan’s nervousness had kicked in and when he saw the size of the screenplay only one phrase popped into his head…feature film.
“The hottest script in town!” Monty began.
Satan’s Casting Call, by Lisa Maliga