Getting in the door is the hardest part. I have the kind of cold that has a rodent living in my lungs and he is threatening to scramble up to my ears. I lay in bed fantasizing about not going. My agent told me I needed to make up a little dance for this audition, information that fuels the not going fantasy. This job will shoot in Tokyo. Booking this gig will be like riding the bullet train. Audition Friday, casting that Monday and off to Tokyo on Tuesday.
I choose my favorite Motown Jackson five tune. Certain music gets me in touch with my inner crazy girl and the bass line in “I Want You Back” never fails me. The man putting me on tape looked up from his camera and said in a combination of admiration and shock: “You can really dance.” I get in my car where I continue to either cool off or break a fever. I call my agent to ask what the per diem would be if I got the job. Then I do what I always do: tell myself I won’t think anymore about it, and then masticate till my brain aches.
Just before 8 am Monday morning the phone rings. The small-voiced woman on the phone tells me that I am to be in a commercial with one of Japans biggest stars. I have less than 24 hours before my plane takes off for Asia. An eleven-day trip; two days of work with nine days to sushi away as I please!! I am flying business class which I now know has its own lovely little waiting room at the airport, complete with booze and chips. I wish that Chivas and Freetos held appeal at 8 am. Business class is truly what you become a businessperson for. My free booties and eyeshade sleep mask are lovely with my new gray velour hoody. Yesterday I was picking cat hair off my toast and in hours I will land in Tokyo.
People are waiting to collect me on the other side of the world. The producers have decided that for the commercial I should be a blue-eyed blonde. They cast a Spanish Semite with auburn hair and brown eyes. They have a wig, but getting me contacts is not easy. The third optometrist wants to administer a glaucoma test. It is amazing what a jet lagged meltdown can accomplish. We leave with my new baby blues in a bag.
First day of work the studio is bright shiny and new just like my blue eyes. I am starring with Papaya (yes the fruit) Suzuki. He has an endearing smile and an afro that orbits about 7 inches above his scalp. He is of medium height and sports a Sapporo gut not quite as large as the American Budweiser version. He is one of Tokyo’s biggest TV stars, a singing-dancing heartthrob to the teen set. He started off his professional life as a choreographer and is still very much in demand.
They whisk me into a changing room that is sectioned off by a hanging curtain. Within minutes the costumer’s hands are places that would make us legally engaged in other countries. The curtain is whipped open and there I stand, in front of eight or so men and a few women, some bowing some refraining. I am in a bright red sparkly leotard. The leggings have footies. Baby Huey meets Spider Man. This is not the high-end spandex, the heavy gauge stuff that holds you in and acts like a girdle. This just clings and lovingly caresses the roundness of the flesh. Did I mention the luminous reflective quality? I am a round, light reflective, red orb. I am Mars.
The creative team is now standing around studying me like a bad science project. Something needs to be done. They swap out the leggings for fishnets and decide the leotard should be cut lower to show cleavage. Time is very tight and the costumer cuts thru the fabric while it is on my body. I let out a fake yelp and punch it up with a sad “you cut me” face. Not the right time to be a smart ass. There falls a silence that is as ugly as my outfit. My attempt at humor might have been a mistake. Am I on the next plane to Los Angeles? Then, Finally, big laughter I am staying.
The concept for my look I am told is Cabaret/Chicago. After hair and make up they get Geisha drag queen meets Dolly Parton. They seem pleased I am confused. I turn to my translator and point to my overdrawn orange pink lips. “Is this attractive in Japanese?”
The photo shoot is going nicely. “Hey Big Spender” comes swinging thru the speakers. I gyrate. It’s a nervous system response when you are born with a dancers’ soul if not her metabolism. The Japanese suit men love my reaction so the song is put on repeat mode. I am crooning: “Hey Big Spender!!” The photographer is getting what he wants. All appear entertained. The Japanese suit men cover their mouth when they giggle. I have ugly murmurings in my head. Me, spandex and laughter, a horrible combination.
After it’s all over, I’m walked out of the building. One of the Japanese suit men is on his cell phone. He stops and takes a bow so deep I think he might fall. This bow is slow and deliberate. I pause and I am overwhelmed. I smile back. I am honored.
The next time we work we are shooting the commercial. We start right off with a scene that requires me to nuzzle the neck of Papaya Suzuki. The next few shots are all about my spandexed body and his spandexed body becoming entwined. It is all done with great care and Papaya is very professional.
Between takes, Papaya likes to play his tummy like a set of bongos. He even pushes it out to achieve different tones. That tummy of his has helped make him a star and he embraces it. I am sure there is a lesson in that for me but I am too busy looking for my robe.
Papaya is not only the star of this commercial he is also the choreographer. It is now time to see what the production company has brought him to work with. Translation: sure she can wear spandex but can she move? The Japanese suit men seem to have multiplied and they are on top of us. Papaya rolls his hips forward in a Fosse style walk. After I finish mimicking his moves he looks at me with an appreciative smirk and growls: “ARRGGHHHH SEXXXAAYYYYYYYY!”
The reserved Papaya has been replaced with a more talkative one. Apparently my hips and I have broken thru. He says a foreign word but it’s not Japanese. I prod him into telling me what it is. A naughty boy look takes over his features. It’s the Turkish word for horny. Apparently Papaya knows more English and Turkish than he lets on.
The shoot ends with lots of applause. Everyone’s hands are above their heads clicking off cell phone photos. I pose with Papaya and the bouquet of flowers they have given me. I run to take off the thick make up and I am bent over a sink in a dressing room. I can see in the mirror thru soapy eyes one of the Japanese suit men is standing at the door. He doesn’t fully open the door he stand their taking up as little space as he can, bowing several times almost frantically. His smile is amazing. I have no reactions that are appropriate I do small head bows back because I am soapy and confused. I am dropped off at my hotel with a gift from the producer, a beautiful tea set.
Back home a rather plump woman asks me “Come on there had to be a joke” She couldn’t believe that the humor was not at my expense. I explained to the shocked woman that they wanted someone to play the love interest to a national chubby heartthrob. They wanted: a big funny dancing girl, so they would have a matched set. American males stars—whether they are fat, older or just average looking get paired with young beauties. Whatever they are missing in their countenance can be borrowed from a thin beauty.
Some great experiences are on my resume. One year I danced at the Oscars on my birthday! I was a prostitute for Steven Spielberg. (The movie Hook, I swear.) I have not had to do self-deprecating fat chick work. It isn’t that I work enough to be selective; It’s just that I can’t dispatch my soul for rent.
The getting in the door is the hardest part. For this job, I got in the door and I was thanked for coming.