On Aug. 18, a strange and irresistible ad aired on local radio and television stations: “Extras needed—major Hollywood movie in town! You can star in the movie with Ice Cube, Samuel L. Jackson, and Willem Dafoe!” Although the ad went on to invite “anyone and everyone” to try out for the flick, XXX: State of the Union, it specified that the Carlyn Davis Casting agency was on the hunt for some particular types, including, according to the transcript, “Mechanics, Prisoners…NSA types, Tactical NSA, FBI agents, Cops…SWAT team, Bouncers, Tough Gangster types, Hoochy Women, Tourists, Business Types—Capitol Hill Suits, Senators, 1 baby, BAMA commandos, teachers, Secret Service, News reporters and news camera/sound teams, Reporters, SHARP SHOOTERS, Military Soldiers (must be fit and have military hair), Dog Walker, Joggers, Bike Courier…etc.”
Today, the afternoon after the ads aired, almost 2,000 D.C. types hoping to play, well, D.C. types, are lined up outside the ESPN Zone downtown. They include a real-life CIA agent, a Metro worker, a nonprofit director, a teacher, and a secretary, among others. According to the casting agency, some hopefuls have been waiting here since 6:30 in the morning; their constant shuffle has managed to irk the shop owners around the block so much that they’ve been trying to shut down the casting call early, complaining that they’re losing business. The crowd is being led through its paces by a handful of employees of Carlyn Davis Casting, plus five unpaid interns. Some are marching around outside, handing out application forms, maintaining peace and order, and promising haste. The rest are inside, helping with the casting process, which, at this point, is largely mysterious to the patient swell of people standing outside.
Confronted with an application form that asks them to check off boxes beside “types you can play,” people are blinking in the bright sunlight, trying to size up their own potential. But as they check off the boxes on the casting form, it seems as if no one wants to play himself. One woman, who works at the CIA, expresses no interest in the many government-official types. Instead, she wants to be “tourist, shopper, business person.”
Adams Morgan resident Pete McCall, 32, wants to play a law-enforcement or military role and claims that all he cares about is ending up as a dead body on the floor. He is, indeed, muscular—but not because he’s a real-life military or law-enforcement type; rather, he trains personal trainers. It turns out that McCall already has his acting chops, having appeared in Scorned 2, a Showtime production in which he played a college student who slept with his male professor. “It was straight to video” he says, a couple of times. He thinks he has a good shot at getting the tough role he wants because he’s “one of the few clean-cut, all-American white guys in line.”
Others are less choosy. “I’m a tourist, I’m a teacher, I’m a dog walker, I’m a prisoner…” says Manassas, Va., resident Joan Duszka, 66.
“I’m everything except a commando and a mechanic. I don’t want to get my nails dirty. Even hoochie women have to have nice nails,” says her pink-cheeked best friend, Kat Wosina, 55, from underneath her hat.
Unlike McCall, Duszka and Wosina don’t have traditional acting experience, but they claim that they are qualified to be extras because they are seasoned role-players. And they’re not talking about sorceresses or dragons: For the last few years, they’ve been simulating victims during FBI training sessions.
“We play feeble-minded old people who have Alzheimer’s. The police find us in our cars and realize we’re birdwatching, not casing the house [across the street],” Duszka says.
“We do the rape scenes, too,” Wosina solemnly reveals.
Calvin Chapman, 29, is also less discriminating when it comes to breaking into showbiz. An African-American man with a pear-shaped figure and dreads, Chapman is the head of a nonprofit called Young Scholars Making Dollars. “I would play anyone, even hoochie mama. I would, if I had to,” he says.
But Brookland resident Robin Smallwood, who is here with her daughter, is adamantly against the hoochie role. “I know I can do that, but I just wouldn’t,” says Smallwood, a unicyclist, usher, and sometime street performer.
Her friend, Katrina Ingram, 36, is a custodian for Metro. She came in uniform, she claims, because the radio told people to come out as hoochies or in uniform. Ingram says she’d like to be a tourist or a business type, but she wouldn’t want to be a prisoner, because she’s been in a holding cell before.
Around 4:45 p.m., Duszka and Wosina make it inside the building, one step closer to their silver-screen dreams. They find themselves in sudden darkness, surrounded by neon lights and massive television screens broadcasting every kind of sporting event. There’s a deserted bar, long and shiny, and a crowded restaurant-cum-arcade are visible from the floor below.
Upon a stool near the head of the line, there’s a casualty. Jalesia Busch, 16, is fanning herself and talking to an EMT. A few minutes ago, Busch passed out in the lounge due to heat exhaustion. Her mother and little sister are now at the front of the line, unwilling to leave now that they’ve come so far.
Wosina stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Duszka, while Lillian Burch, a brusque casting associate, snaps an instant photo. Wosina shakes it at a leisurely pace; after the picture has developed, per Burch’s instructions, she snips it in two and hands Duszka her half. The women staple their pictures onto their forms, upon which they’ve crammed their biographical information and their assessments of the types they can play. They walk up and hand them to a dais of interns. “Check back on our Web site. We’ll call you if we need you,” the interns say as they drop the applications into a pile. And that’s all.
Two hours after they arrived, the two women emerge from the building and ready themselves for the long journey, through the typical D.C. rush hour, back to Virginia. CP