This is a Writers' Other Jobs piece by Ruth Clare about being an actor.
I know many writers who spent their childhoods scribbling in notebooks, dreaming of the day when their words were finally encased in Penguin Classic orange. I was not one of those people. My dream, my passion, my burning ambition, was to be a world-famous movie star.
In high school I was as regular a feature on stage as the lectern. I was the lead in every musical and won the prize for drama each year. I competed in theatre sports, did extra acting classes outside of school and even sang the national anthem at a major football event, not because I had a good voice, but because no one dared drag me from the stage.
On the cool of the concrete slab underneath my house in Queensland, playing to an imaginary audience of thousands, I scripted, acted and endlessly refined the way my future life of acting glory would unfold. Though the location and costume choices evolved over the years, the basic scenario went like this…
I was walking along a street. Somebody (sometimes a man, sometimes a woman, but always with big hair and shoulder pads – I grew up in the eighties) did a double take as they passed me. I continued on my way, pretending I hadn’t noticed, but they rushed after me and blocked my path. “I can’t believe it. You are the exact girl we need for our film. I don’t suppose you can act?’
I looked down modestly. “I could try.”
In the audition I unleashed my amazing talent. Their minds were completely blown. They immediately handed me a contract and whisked me off to dine in a fantastic restaurant, plying me with French champagne and telling me over and over again how incredible I was. My first performance (sometimes as a brave young girl dying of a terrible disease, sometimes as a Joan of Arc type) was so mind-blowing I won an Oscar. Movie roles flooded in from people desperate to pay me millions of dollars. I was a red-carpet darling who became the most sought-after actress of my generation. The end.
The reality was somewhat different. Over my seven-year acting career, spanning ages 21-28, I landed a few roles as a presenter for a low-budget production company did a lot of free short films.
I acted in some profit-share stage productions (there were no profits), had small speaking parts on Blue Heelers, some daytime children’s television show I can’t remember the name of, and a film called Stiff. Most of my acting income came from commercials. The highlight of my career was a stint on Neighbours that lasted a few months.
The role I played was a “tempting temp” called Serena Lucas. Yes, that was the actual character description they sent to my agent. Serena was a fill-in receptionist at the doctor’s surgery. She initially tried to seduce Doctor Karl. When he wasn’t into it, she went for Doctor Darcy, who was more than willing. All of this seduction, however, turned out to be a clever ruse to achieve her real end-goal of stealing prescription pads, which she went on to sell at Lassiter’s nightclub.
The months I played this role meant driving down the Chandler Highway in my second-hand Honda Civic to Channel 10’s Nunawading Studios in Vermont South. The green room contained no glamorous fruit platters or snacks of any kind that I recall – though in those days I was on a permanent diet so I probably wouldn’t have noticed if there was food.
During my brief time on Neighbours I hung with the show regulars, met the producers and clung to a vague hope that through the sheer force of my awesomeness (read: desperation) I might convince them that they should write me into the show as a permanent character. It is true that never, not even once, during the fantasies of my childhood, had I envisaged acting success involving me as a permanent character on a soap opera, but by then my ambitions had been chipped away to Please, please, any job that stops me having to be a waitress.
When the compromise job of my thwarted ambitions failed to eventuate, I sang my swan song in a commercial. In many ways it was my best ever job. I was paid a sum beyond my wildest imaginings. They shot the ad in a double-storey terrace in North Fitzroy that was an exact match for the kind of home I was desperate to acquire once my ship came in.
The guy playing my boyfriend was a hot model who spent a lot of time with his shirt off. Wardrobe presented me with an outfit of Alannah Hill clothes I would have chosen for myself. And the woman who did my make-up said the main reason I landed the part was because I looked like the girl in the movie Amelie. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.
The only problem was, the commercial was for a pharmaceutical company. Specifically, Glaxo-Smyth-Kline. Even more specifically, the division of Glaxo-Smyth-Kline that makes preventative medication for the treatment of genital herpes. Yes. The last paid job I had as an actor was a role where I played someone suffering from genital herpes. She doesn’t have a headache. She’s not on the pill. Like one in six Australians, she has genital herpes.
For the record, I don’t. I do, however, now have a memoir detailing many of the moments in my childhood when I wasn’t pretending to be a movie star. It’s called Enemy: a daughter’s story of how her father brought the Vietnam War home. It is going to be the launching pad of my new life. I am going to be flown to all over the world to speak about it and whisked off to boozy lunches with famous authors. In mere moments someone will be offering me a movie deal.
As I sit with the producer in an elegant restaurant toasting our future success, the director will arrive. He will do a double take as he sits down, but I will pretend not to notice. As I bring my champagne flute to my lips he will place his hand on mine. “I can’t believe it. You are the exact girl we need to star in the film version of your book. I don’t suppose you can act?”
Ruth Clare's Enemy is our Bloc Club book for June. Join her live on Tuesday 21st June at a special Live Bloc Club event at the Emerging Writers Festival for a Q&A with our Video Editor Bri Lee. It's FREE and you can find out all about it by clicking here.
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Ruth Clare did a “sensible” degree in biochemistry/ journalism before pursuing her dreams of being an actor.After years of bit parts and cruel rejection, Ruth found solace in the world of words. She has been a professional writer since 2004, writing for magazines, creating a range of educational materials as well as copywriting for business clients. Her memoir, Enemy – a daughter’s story of how her father brought the Vietnam War home was published in March 2016 by Penguin Books. She is now working on a young adult novel.