I worked this out at 2:30am on Wednesday night (or was it Thursday morning) when I was yelling at a famous Hong Kong actor in a faux Spanish accent on a television set.
I have done some acting in my time (or was it my prime), in fact, it was my 'one that got away' career: a dream of mine that I've never quite woken up from, even though some days it feels more vivid than others.
I gave up acting before I turned 25 because I liked food too much. Not in the sense of binge eating - just in the sense of any eating at all. It's a hard life. A labour of love. And food wasn't always an option. That sucked.
But I still do it from time to time as a hobby. It's safer that way. Sort of like falling for a bad boy. You know he's "bad" for you and not husband material. Sometimes he eats all your food and doesn't replace it. But, if you're single, here and there you can dabble in bad boy and still stay safe. So I dabble. In acting. Not in bad boys. Anymore.
Therefore on Wednesday (through a very long story that if I try and touch I fear will end up in a fifty-page blog post) I was asked to star in an episode of a new Hong Kong TV series. I won't name it, its stars, or even the TV company itself. Big business is notoriously private in Hong Kong and I don't want to give anything away that might get me in trouble.
But let's just say it was a major television studio, on a show that features some very well-known stars. None of which I know. But apparently they are well-known.
The weirdness began with the call-time (the time they give you to start work). It was at 6:00pm. Aren't people usually knocking off at that time? Since when did acting become a night shift job? Oh and this wasn't a night shoot. It was filmed indoors and an episode set during the day. No dark skies and witching hour required.
But this television studio churns out so much material, it's literally like a factory that operates around the clock. A production line of television. Almost a sweat shop.
So I was in wardrobe, hair and makeup at 7:00pm, and kindly gifted with a hairstyle that fell off a bus travelling from the 80s.
The makeup room, I decided, was the Chinese Garden of Eden. Gods and Goddesses floated through it with their elegant beauty. With at least 50 hair and makeup chairs (did I mention production line?) I shyly sat and swiveled, marveling at who was sitting in each of them. Girls dressed as geishas; quaint olden-day Chinese outfits; men dressed as samurais. And every last one of them was absolutely gorgeous. I hunted for an ugly face - male or female - I didn't care. But alas, only Gods and Goddesses were allowed in this room (with the exception of 80s girl - not sure who let her in). As I glanced up, I caught one of the male samurais staring at me. Sorry B, but I'm going to have to post this, for, after all, I am a mere human. He was beautiful. Remarkable, actually. He gave me a smile and I quickly looked away. This 80s girl is off the shelf.
Two hours later 80s girl was led to the set, which was a fancy hotel floor that had been recreated inside a massive sound studio. Someone's jaw dropped. I think it was mine. The set was elaborate and unbelievable, complete with two functioning hotel lifts in the centre of the room.
Now came the acting part. At this point I had gone from excitedly repeating my lines in a variety of impressive ways in my head that morning - to my dog-eared script scrunched somewhere in the bottom of my bag under two-week old cracker crumbs and most of my acting mojo. Sure it was fun to be on a set again - but it was hard to act well when my body was screaming, "Hang on 80s girl - this is brushing teeth time, closely followed by Edward Cullen, a bit of trash TV and then sleep!" But not tonight.
Tonight I had to deliver my lines - in Spanish. Apparently. Noone told me this when I was asked to do the job. I had been told I was playing a South American called Frida (with blonde hair I guess). Reading the hand-written script told me she was a gangster's wife. But when I was on set and asked to deliver those lines (opposite one of the makeup room Goddesses) the director said to me, "you need to translate these words and say in Spanish - she is Spanish." The same direction was given to my two male acting colleagues - one Australian, one British. We three looked like a herd of deer in headlights and said -
"We don't speak Spanish."
Director: "You don't speak Spanish?"
Deer: "Um, no, we don't speak Spanish."
Deer #1: "I speak a bit of Italian...?"
Director: (curtly): "Well Italian is of no use. These characters are Spanish."
Deer: " ...... "
So we offered to deliver the lines in Spanish accents, which is where my "Russian-with a dash of-Tanzanian" accent first made an appearance. Please let this TV series never air in Spain. But I was pleased with my performance - I was a suitably scary gangster wife (I was told) and the sour-faced director seemed to like it.
And then came the sitting around.
I warn every wannabe actor of this: acting is utterly, ridiculously, and hideously boring. Sure, if you are lucky enough to become major star material - even then - there is hours upon hours of waiting. I often envy the crew - they always have something to do. A next scene to get ready for; a set to fix; a scene to shoot; a problem to solve. Actors need to save their energy for their performances, so, when you aren't in a scene that's being shot, you simply don't exist. If you are lucky, you have a trailer with air conditioning, a DVD collection, and (insert your favourite item or person here).
But for three hours of non-existing I sat curled up on a fake hotel room couch, freezing my gangster wife butt off, with 80s hair and a book that I was too tired to read. At 12:30am I was somewhere between falling asleep and contemplating why I ever agreed to this madness, when my "minder" appeared at the door. I knew I only had one scene left so I was sporting a serious case of BRING. IT. ON. Let's get this baby DONE so I can get HOME to a BED and maybe even some SLEEP. Did I mention I had to be up at 7am for work the next morning?
But, alas, my minder had other news. "Are you hungry Natalie?" she asked.
If a bed is food, then yes. I am hungry. Very, very hungry.
"It's time for dinner - the crew are heading up to the cafeteria" she went on.
Dinner? Really? At 12:30am? When I only have one scene left?
Apparently. So, through bleary eyes, I followed miss minder across the massive television station complex, possibly passing through the centre of the earth on the way, and into a dimly lit canteen, where I chewed on cardboard instant noodles. At 12:30am.
Straight after dinner I was like a woman possessed. Get me on set. Let's do this scene. C'mon. No more waiting. I'm ready. I'm gangster. I'm Spanish. I'm 80s. I'm whatever you want me to be. I'm ready.
And as the director finally called me up, after having 24 hours to practice the lines for my longest scene in the episode, I went on set and - went totally blank. They rolled the camera. A famous Hong Kong actor was glaring at me in a white 'Smooth Criminal' gangster suit. Fake guns were pointed at heads. A beautiful woman was tied up with a rope and sniffling. I was on.
And I had no idea what I was supposed to say.
As the director turned and looked at me, I felt like yelling - I ONLY DON'T REMEMBER MY LINES BECAUSE IT'S 1 O'CLOCK IN THE MORNING YOU CRAZY PEOPLE! MY BRAIN HAS GIVEN UP! IT'S ASLEEP! IT'S HASTA LA VISA BABY! NIENTE! ADIOS AMIGOS! YOU ARE ALL LOCO!
But kind-famous-actor-man whispered my lines to me and my brain clicked back into gear. I delivered the performance to the director's liking, got changed like there was a fire, snapped up my things, made it through a 45-minute bus ride to the next big township, hailed a cab, and was home by 4:00am.
I had begun my Hong Kong acting career.