I’m done with it. I’m done with playing the game. I’m done.

I’m not even sure who invented the game, but knowing what I do about actors, I’m going to say we did it to ourselves. We love to punish ourselves. Well, if we made it, we can break it. And I’m willing to lead the charge.

It’s time to start high-fiving each other at Spotlight

You’ve been there. The audition comes in. You delight. You print out the sides and dutifully learn your lines. Think about character, accent and perhaps practice something physical in the mirror. Maybe you do some research online, watch a few YouTube videos and thank the internet gods that somebody out here has enough time on their hands to upload otherwise forgotten documentaries about Kaiser Wilhelm. You pick out your most Prussian t-shirt and trousers combo for the next morning and head off to a shift serving poor quality steaks to the office monkeys of Balham content in the knowledge that you are prepared. You are going to nail it. So long, Cow Shack.

You wake up tired, probably later than you anticipated. By the time you have some coffee, you decide to forgo toast in favour of some extra time with the script. But then you get distracted by a video of a 7 year old Korean kid who can play Bohemian Rhapsody on a comb and before you know it… “Don’t you need to leave soon?”

Arrrghhhhh. Why do they always say that ten minutes too late? I do need to leave. Ideally in the past. You search YouTube for documentaries about time travel and then realise this is the real world and you have an audition and you need to leave immediately or you’re going to be late and your career will be over and you’ll be working in Cow Shack until you die or someone from Environmental Health sees where they defrost the meat.

You grab your script and run to the bus stop. Then you stand for ten minutes waiting for the next bus and resolve that you must start checking bus times on TFL before you leave the flat. It’s a short bus journey, so you don’t think it’s worth looking over your script. “Save that for the tube”, you think. That’s a good twenty-five minutes. Even with the change at Kennington, there’s plenty of time to refresh your memory and maybe, if the carriage is empty, practice your salute. You get the tube. No delays. Things are looking good.

But there are people on the carriage. Not lots. This isn’t rush hour. You didn’t become an actor to put yourself through rush hour. You take your sides out, but something about the gharish pink highlighting makes you inexplicably self-conscious. You don’t mind people knowing you’re an actor, but you don’t want them judging you because you’ve only got one scene. Much less, that you apparently have very few lines. “It’s from a longer script” you want to shout. “I’m actually quite busy right now”, “And this is a great part”. The guy opposite can see it too clearly. Okay it’s upside down, but it’s still obviously only two lines on each page. He’s smiling. You’re not sure if that’s a proto-laugh or he’s just having a good day. Maybe he’s thinking about that rocky bit from Bohemian Rhapsody on that Korean kid’s comb. You smile. In fairness, it was amazing. A comb! Bugger. You zoned out and now there’s someone sitting beside you and she can definitely see. She knows the part doesn’t even have a proper name. It’s numbered. And you’re not even the number 1. You put your script away and silently mumble your way through “Kaiser’s Retenu 2”. German accent?

You arrive at Leicester Square, by some miracle of TFL wizardly, early. Too early. Too early to just go into Spotlight. You don’t want to bump into the other candidates. You might know them. Not from the TV, from life. You might get talking. They might look more Germanic than you. More military. Fifteen minutes is too long to sit up there, being judged. It’s marginal, but you need to kill five minutes. A coffee you think. But you don’t want to waste the money. You’re just back at Cow Shack after doing that profit share for 3 weeks for £70 and you’re in the midst of a bit of a fiscal shambles. So you sit on a bench in Leicester Square and try to make your brain slow down just enough to pass five minutes. You try to enjoy the crisp autumnal sun. You look to see what’s on in the cinema. You try to focus. You momentarily think you’ve sat on something wet and unpleasant but then realise that the bench is just a bit cold. You try to focus. You look at your watch.

Four minutes to go.

The time passes slowly, but eventually, the pre-audition countdown is at ten minutes and you make your way to Leicester Place. You push the buzzer at the hallowed gateway to employment. You wonder whose finger has touched this very same button. You feel special for making it this… BUZZZZZZZZ. They’ve buzzed you in immediately. No name check. No grand introduction. Nothing. You buzz, they buzz. You wonder, is this an autobuzz scenario?

You make your way up the stairs, deciding once again not to use the lift and wondering “who the hell uses the lift at Spotlight?”. Then, “why does it start at the top of a flight of stairs?” But you don’t have time for such mysteries now. Now you must enter battle.

You walk in. Up to the desk. Say your name. You try to see if you can read any of the other names on the list and then resolve to practice your upside down reading next time you’re waiting for a bus you forgot to check online beforehand. They’re running behind, she says. Twenty minutes. You sit, dreaming of the cold hard benches on Leicester Square. The guy beside you has his script out. Another “Rentenu 2” (“2B” we’ll call him, for the purpose of the story). If 2B has his script out, you don’t want to get yours out and reveal your hand. You have notes in the margins. What if he steals your stress? No. He looks good. Germanic. Military. “I’d cast him”. You go to the bathroom, to make sure you look as best you can. But there’s someone else already in there. 2C, you assume. It’s all getting too much. 2C will think you’re vain if you just stand in front of the mirror. You go into the cubicle, wait two minutes, flush and leave.

And then it hits you.

You are living the dream.

It’s time we started high-fiving each other at Spotlight. I’m done with the game. Lets stop being soliders and start being an army. Or something. You get the point.

It’s an achievement that we’ve got this far, so high five at the front desk. High five when you sit down. High five when you get called. High five on your way out the door.

We are all winning.

*High Five*

Series 3 of the podcast is coming soon, including interviews with Adrian Lester, Joanna Scanlan, Tom Riley, Kate Fleetwood and Jonjo O’Neill. Series 1 & 2 are available free on iTunes, along with a special live episode for Equity recorded in November 2018, and follow-up interviews with all seven of the emerging actors, conducted in October. Go have a listen

Jonathan Harden

Actor. VO. Director.

Former barman, waiter, cook, labourer, ‘tugger’, security guard, dish washer, removals man, bouncer, office manager, Wendy’s ‘Crew Member’, Costa ‘barista’, snooker table maintenance guy, shop assistant, usher, boom op, golf buggy driver, and one-time pretend bank robber.

Started this thing thinking nobody would listen.