“Hey, I think I saw you on T.V. last night.”
I’m in the midst of doing my favorite thing- browsing through the miles of books at The Strand- when an employee walks up to me. He starts by saying he saw me on TV last night.
I smile. Smiling makes people think I’m happy but my friends who know me know that smiling could also mean I’m nervous, or apparently even angry as I’ve recently been informed. Isn’t it cool how versatile smiles can be? And how much they can hide?
The Strand employee, who was very nice and whose name is Greg, told me he was watching Hulu’s Difficult People. On the show I play a crew member, HMU (hair and make-up) specifically. Right before the first take, before any rehearsal, the AD on the show thought he’d be funny by giving me notes on how I can just sort of adjust the hair a little, brush it a little- normal hairdresser touch ups. What the AD didn’t tell me, and maybe he didn’t know himself, but the actor who I’d be doing last looks on was Larry Wilmore. This is only going to make you laugh instantaneously if you know what Larry Wilmore looks like, because, well…
HE DOESN’T HAVE ANY HAIR.
No offense, Larry*
That was a fun realization for me to have on camera. To add to that, no one told Larry Wilmore that there would be anyone coming up to him and touching him. Hi! I’m just gonna get real close to your face now, hope that’s okay!
But hey, it was fun and I like improv, I’m great at improv, so I pull a powder puff out of my bag and I start touching Larry Wilmore’s face. He was really nice about it and I guess I was so good at pretend powdering that I ended up on two episodes of the show- last weeks and the episode the week before. I guess the last episode must have been so unmistakably me that Greg said, “Yeah, I mean, I recognized you from across the room so you’re pretty much famous now.” My first thought was oh, thank you! but really it was hmmm, can this get me a discount on books?
Is it horrible that I kind of enjoyed this? Is it terrible to want to be seen? Later a friend I haven’t seen since college sent me a message saying he was watching the show with his boyfriend the other night and he started screaming and scared his partner. Apparently he thought it was my doppleganger in the first episode but then last week it was no question that it was me. He congratulated me on my success.
I mean, I appreciate the appreciation and I’m thankful for people saying such nice things to me but let's be real… I didn’t even have a line. If I was smarter when I got out of college I would have been a blur in the background or a featured powder puffer at a much younger age when it would have seemed even cooler.
Or would it?
Would I have given up my crew days just so I would seem to some people as having this tiny appearance of success?
That day on Difficult People, there were a few BG booked to portray crew members and I guess the one I fit the mold the most was HMU. Another petite girl worked beside me as wardrobe, last looking hems and shirt collars. Others were grips, electricians, producers, PAs, etc. They all had walkie talkies and tins and gaff tape hanging off their pants; standard crew gear with the standard all black or dark colored clothes. These BG couldn’t look more like crew, and if you think that a giveaway could be that actors are "beautiful", let me tell you- actual crew members are beautiful too (there are these two or three PAs that I'm always checking out like yeahhhhh you make me believe in the man bun now, dude) so it quickly became difficult for people (pun not intended until just now) on set to tell each other apart.
As we scanned each other's faces we asked: Who is the real crew and who is BG pretending to be crew?
Because that's what I am now, I'm a pretender.
And it wasn't always this way and it wasn't always pretty, but would I have needed those experiences to be where I am now? I thought about when I actually was crew, my first crew job.
FLASHBACK! Curb Your Enthusiasm, Season 8, New York City! I was a 1st team PA, which on a show like that, was pretty glorious and even to this day that crew is the best television crew I have ever been a part of. One time, I remember running down two avenues and three blocks in the middle of the night just to get a guest actress a diet coke because the only ones available on set were regular cokes. I was really happy to do this, the joy propelled my speed. Honestly, if I ever become that important I don’t think I could ever be okay with anyone running to get me a diet coke. Why not just drink half a regular coke, it's the same thing. But I WANTED to do it because I was so happy just to be there. I guess it all depends on the moment, but every moment on that set felt like a great moment.
Much to my naïve surprise, some other crews I worked with afterwards were not nearly as wonderful, warm, and talented as the Curb Your Enthusiasm team and that is why the only crews I'm on now are ones where I'm directing.
The show that broke this bitches back was the NBC drama, Smash. Appropriately named, I wanted to smash everything, sometimes skulls. I can’t speak about the producers or the on-set crew because I was not part of that- I was the set shop PA and if there was/is a more miserable job, please message me because I can’t possibly imagine what could be worse than waking up at 3:30am Monday-Friday so that the doors would be open and coffee would be set for a group of carpenters that had the manners of a drunk pack of sloppy hyenas. Again, no wild animal comparison is in reference to everyone, there were some cool people. I remember one guy named Spider (a nickname, I think) who was probably the youngest there, and also the nicest. I thought that the older men would be more gentlemanly but they were the worst- they'd watch me struggle to refill the gallon water- the kind where you need to place the giant blue Poland Spring bottle into the dispenser- and they would just laugh. I got paid so that grown-ass men who couldn't even spell the word "license" correctly would laugh at me.
But Spider and some of the other young guys would help- they'd tilt the water bottle or would toss the trash bag into the big dumpster for me if they saw me having difficulty. I mean, come on assholes- I’m 5’2” and weigh about 104 lbs.; Laughing at me trying to lift heavy things or reach high places is just plain cheap.
I worked five days a week, sometimes six, surrounded only by men- not one single female in the entire shop (which would have been not awful if these men were respectful). I made them coffee and brought them food and cleaned up after them. I even signed their paperwork. I corrected the spelling of their "Driver's Lisense."
I don't miss being a PA but I learned a lot about a lot of things, things far beyond movie making skills. I learned how important it is to be kind and respectful and helpful when you can be and that sometimes literally stepping aside is the most helpful thing you can do. I learned to hold myself responsible for my mistakes (and I did make a few on Curb), and how to not hate myself for those mistakes (that's what happens when you are lucky enough to have Luke "Gingercat" Sherman as your boss). And I even learned from Smash- I learned that sometimes your job isn't meant to be your job.
I left Smash less than halfway through the season for another job (not a PA job). I found a replacement for myself- a PA who had just arrived in New York and wanted to get into film and TV, someone the guys in the shop liked, and seemed like he would be a good fit. He needed an opportunity and even though I barely knew him, having worked with him just one day on the NYC unit for a Tom Cruise movie called... Oblivion? I don't even remember. I don't remember his name or his face either, but I wish I did. Sometimes I see a PA or AD on set and I wonder if it might be him, if something I did has made a difference in someone's career. I hope it did, and I hope I see him again so we can laugh (and I can find out if people were dicks to him like they were to me).
Karmically, my last day was the day Emmy nominations were released and Smash didn't get nominated for a single thing. I said my goodbye's, I was leaving to work on an indie film and some people joked that they should start looking for another job too. No emmy nominations isn't a good sign for a big budget show less than halfway through their season. I joked along with them, because that's what you do even though in your head you're thinking I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU DO, I AM GETTING THE FUCK OUT OF HERE.
I'd rather be a pretend-powder-puffer any day, and on a show that's so easily enjoyable as Difficult People, a show where the cast and the real crew is just as wonderful as the pretend crew, man...
I'll puff my fucking heart out.
*Larry, I probably don't need to say no offense, you know you don't have hair.