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May 28, 2004

Casting about for a second career

From: Monterey County Herald, CA - May 28, 2004

So there's this long line snaking down the hallway leading into a psychologist's office in Monterey the other day.

The line was populated with middle-aged big guys with mustaches. Many of them seemed quite normal, while others certainly could use the rational assistance of a licensed psychologist.

The group of big guys showed up for what was advertised as an "audition" for a couple of roles in a feature-length film that will soon be shot on the Monterey Peninsula. The longer I stood in the line, the more certain I was that the psychologist, Rita Steele, was simply trolling for clients.

As it turned out, Steele's son Eli wrote and is directing the movie, titled "What's Bugging Seth," and her office was appropriately being used for the auditions.

Eli Steele was born profoundly deaf and had a cochlear implant four years ago. The movie is about a deaf man trying to navigate his way in the world.

The casting director, Michelle Foumberg, was casting her net over a large area, since the casting call was actually published as a notice in the Monday newspaper. Predictably, a wide variety of wannabes showed up.

A couple of guys in the line -- like Alec Murdoch, Howard Hinckley and Rob Foster -- are grizzled veterans of the audition process, so of course frazzled rookies like me were pumping them for tips and hints.

"Just be yourself," Foster said. "Don't try to be what you think the casting director is looking for. They know what they're looking for. You can look around and see all these people who you think might fit the role much better than you. But you can never tell. Your idea of what's right for the role and the director's idea could be completely different.

"Auditions are like a human experiment."

Hinckley has had quite a bit of luck capturing face-in-the-crowd extra roles in Hollywood productions that have been shot in Monterey County. He can be seen wandering in the background in a scene from "Basic Instinct," throwing a bucket of water in the face of Timothy Reid in an episode of "Simon and Simon," and attending a wedding in "Turner & Hooch."

His favorite extra role was when he was cast as an Arab sheik on a tour at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in a scene from "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home."

"I was the one who could fit into the headdress," Hinckley said.

He says he has his own collection of the films at home. If he times it right, he can stop the movies with his remote and catch his fleeting visage on the screen.

He showed up at the audition Wednesday because he believes it's time to take "the next step up" in his film career, which would be a speaking role.

After standing in the hallway line a good hour, my name was called and I stepped into the psychologist's office.

I was reading for the role of Adam, a large man with a mustache who owns a pest control company. The man, not the mustache.

I'm sure I nailed the role. I read the lines flawlessly. I looked more like a pest control guy than any pest control guy I ever saw. The casting director thanked me and I was out the door in three minutes. I was that good.

Meanwhile, I wonder if Rita Steele can help those other delusional would-be actors in line. The Oscar Becomes Me column appears on Fridays. He can be reached at 753-6753.

© 2004 Monterey County Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.