Since I was a little kid, I've been obsessed with zombie movies. I distinctly remember watching George A. Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead at a middle-school sleepover, imitating the zombie’s limp on my way to pizza after the screening in Alex Rose’s living room. I sat in the front row in the movie theater for Dawn’s 2004 remake, and when the gas tanker exploded as the zombie apocalypse hit Milwaukee, I literally couldn’t contain myself: I stood up and screamed “Yessssss!!!” as the titles hit the screen.
So, when I came across a listing for zombie auditions for the new Walking Dead attraction opening this summer at Universal Studios, I knew that I may never get another opportunity to indulge my passion to amble like I did when I was 13, scare the shit out of some visitors from Milwaukee, and become a zombie without, like, all that eating-someone’s-brain stuff.
And, more importantly than that, it'd give me insight into a part of Los Angeles culture I’ve never really delved into. Like everyone else in town, I certainly have plenty of friends who are working actors in various levels of success in the industry. For me, though, outside of playing Tevye and Snoopy in 30-minute summer camp versions of Fiddler on the Roof and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and nailing member-of-the-chorus status in high school musicals (but not, like, High School Musical), I’ve never really, y’know, acted.
So, I signed up for a time slot to have my first professional (zombie) audition, hoping to figure out what actually is up with an activity that it seems like most of the people you meet here count on for their passion, their business, and their phone calls back home to tell their parents how it's going.
It quickly became clear who the pros were and who was, like me, a tourist in the audition circuit.
Leading up to the audition, I practiced my slow-motion menace to my girlfriend (“I don’t think you’re gonna get it,” she told me. “It looks a little too flamboyant”), and two weeks later, found myself walking up to the Globe Theatre, hidden in the corner right by the Minions ride at Universal Studios. I gave a man with a clipboard my start time and was in a holding area when a dude with frosted tips started chatting me up:
“Hey man, you ever done anything like this before?”
“No, not really.”
“Me neither. My boyfriend was trying to be an actor, but he broke up with me, and I saw this, and was like, ‘the best revenge is success,’ you know, so then I was like, ‘I’m just gonna go for it,’ I mean, I did move to LA to be an actor, but, like, I was helping him, so I’ve just been doing odd jobs in the meantime -- did you know that there’s a place that’ll pay you to be in the audience of talk shows -- anyways, yeah, if I get this, it’ll show him... ”
Oh. Right. THIS is why I’ve never wanted to be an actor. As I looked at this guy -- who clearly thought that his road to superstardom was going to start with a little face-latex and a guttural growl, I felt sorry for him, and also felt a bit guilty: after all, he clearly WANTED this. I merely thought it'd be fun.
We were called into the theater -- essentially, a huge, circular room -- where they immediately took our height measurements and gave us a form to ask basic questions about our availability. I lied and said I was always available; putting “yeah, I write most afternoons, but, like, I’ll try to make room to be a zombie when I can” would presumably put me out of the running. The room filled in a bit, and I got to size up my competition, which was about as diverse as you can imagine -- a built black man with a mohawk, a plus-sized woman who looked like she had just come over from the muscle-car convention, a dude in his 60s with a Sons of Anarchy-style trucker beard, a girl that may have been my barista earlier in the day, and -- most notably -- a guy in head-to-toe black makeup with a wig, who looked like he literally had just gotten off of work as a walking statue on Hollywood Blvd and hurried up to the audition.
One group was pulled into the audition room, and through the walls I could hear an extended version of the Walking Dead theme. It took all the willpower I had to not yell “CAAAAARRRRL” and look under tables for a crossbow in case one of them actually turned.
Clearly he thought his road to superstardom was going to start with a little face-latex & a guttural growl.
While I was still thinking about which of my cohorts would be best to side with in the apocalypse (I decided on frosted tips: he seemed set on putting himself ahead of other people), my group was called. After a brief orientation (“there will be a group of people behind a table who are entertainment professionals who’ll be making the decisions. Some of it has to do with height and build, so if you don't get picked, don't take it personally”), we entered a much larger room, with five people with name tags behind a desk. They asked us to get comfortable. And then we auditioned.
They asked us to keep the details confidential, but I don’t think it's any breach that the auditions involved, well, acting like zombies, first as a group, and then individually. And though I'd been practicing my amble for years (Look straight ahead, but dead-eyed! Drag your feet, but not too much! Make gargling sounds while gnawing your teeth!), it quickly became clear who the pros were and who was, like me, a tourist in the audition circuit.
The rockabilly woman looked like she was trying to be a zombie, while barista girl was a zombie. All of a sudden, her body language changed; her legs drooped; her arms moved effortlessly. Bearded Sons of Anarchy man’s amble was practiced, pronounced, and, frankly, not good; painted guy, however, meandered in a way that suggested that, yes, his hunger for your neck was real and merciless and true. And black mohawk guy? One glance and you knew he meant business, and his business was eating human flesh, and holy hell, you better grab a nail-abetted baseball bat, because if not, your business and his business would soon be one.
By the time it was my turn, I tried to take what I'd learned and go with it. But even as I did my first audition, I knew I wasn't going to get it: my legs were not limp enough, my head was not tilted correctly; I kept wondering if my zombie was too flamboyant. And it also became obvious to me WHY I wasn’t going to get it: I hadn’t worked at it, forever, like these people had, and I hadn’t put in hours to a passion for acting, whether it was playing Macbeth or, well, committing to scaring the shit out of tourists at Universal. It didn’t matter to barista girl or mohawk guy what the audition was for: they had spent years in improv classes, and dance classes, and possibly zombie-walking classes, perfecting the way to make their body move just right to get the part, whatever that part was.
We heard about callbacks immediately afterwards. I was not picked. But, for sure, when the attraction opens this summer, I'll be one of the first in line. And I'll be looking into dark corners for a man who used to make his money as a human sculpture on Hollywood Blvd. And I’ll be scared as hell.
And I’ll also respect the shit out of him. Well, more than before, at least.
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