Trying Out for a Part in 'Zabriskie Point'
How I Slipped on the First Step to Stardom
by Steve Lerner
When I learned that try-outs for the male lead in Antonioni's new film "Zabriskie Point" were being held at the Electric Circus last Friday afternoon I couldn't help thinking "why the hell not?" Apparently some 1300 other would-be-movie-stars in the city think the same way I do.
To join in the mass hallucinations of grandeur all you had to be was a male, between the ages of 19 and 23, and five feet 10 inches or over. I had the first two qualifications through no fault of my own, and i figured I could fake the last by stuffing balls of Kleenex in my shoes.
Some of the most unlikely potential movie stars imaginable were loitering around the entrance to the Electric Circus. Hope was written on every face and you could almost hear people pray that they had that mysterious quality of soul that the part demanded...
Words of advice were passed down the chain of aspirants, some of whom had been waiting for hours. "Look tall and serious," one rejectee advised me as I waited my turn. "If you smile they'll bounce you," another warned when I asked him what they were looking for...
I aimed for the chair directly in front of assistant producer Leo Garen. To my chagrin it was occupied by the time I reached it and I stumbled to the one at the far end of the table. No sooner was I comfortably seated than our ranks were decimated by half as Garen told two of our group that they just weren't right for the part. Slithering over to the (still-warm) center seat I braced myself for the coup de grace.
"What are you doing these days?" Garen asked me.
"Well, I'm GOING to be working for The Voice," I explained lamely, having decided moments before that it sounded better than "unemployed."
...I pretended to examine the floor as Garen strained his neck to scrutinize my profile...
"Why don't you go have your picture taken, Steve?" Garen finally offered, triggering a whole new set of fantasies....once again my grasp on reality was wrenched loose as Garen made an appointment to see me the next morning.
...Once in Garen's apartment things immediately started going wrong. To begin with, I sat in his chair and he had to rearrange the apartment to seat himself. Then, in an effort to demonstrate my unique French inhale, I lit a cigarette. Second mistake. There was no ashtray in sight...
Garen...asked me whether I thought I could project a sense of anger if I was surrounded by a dozen actors and cameras in the middle of the desert. I allowed that I wasn't exactly sure whether I could, never having been in the desert with a dozen actors, and he allowed that he wasn't sure either.
"You know, Steve, it's a funny thing, you look older today, more experienced, more 'together'," Garen said with a final sigh.
"I still have trouble getting a beer in New York sometimes." I tried as a last, rather unconvincing jab.
Garen looked at his shoes, told me that he'd be calling some people in for screen tests or interviews with Antonioni later this week, and ushered me to the door. I saw my name rapidly vanishing from the credits of "Zabriskie Point" and said goodbye.
[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]