When I was 11 years old, I had just finished the national tour with Les Miz for two years as Young Cosette, and after that, I found myself struggling to get acting jobs. I was at that awkward age when you’re not really a kid, but not a teenager either. A struggling actress already at the age of 11? How special. It always seemed normal to me, though. I had acted for so long at that point, that the in’s and out of showbiz were nothing new to me. I was accustomed to being treated like an adult, and it never bothered me that I was not a normal kid like all my friends at school. I distinctly remember not wanting to be normal. I can remember receiving very candid criticism from casting directors at a very young age, and I learned to take the kind of critique that most people don’t experience until they’re starting their first jobs out of college. I was this little pseudo adult in a child’s body, dealing with real adults, in a very grown up showbiz world.
My dream was to be just like the childhood star Shirley Temple, but even Shirley Temple struggled to get work once she reached adolescence.
Me on the right as Young Cosette. Yes, that is dirt all over my face.
NY, New York, 1994. Some apartment somewhere in Manhattan:
I’m wearing my favorite pea green dress, with pea green tights, with a pea green cardigan, pointy toe brown ankle riding boots, and a matching beret (because hats were my signature.) All from Gap Kids, naturally. I have been sent by my agent to visit a dialect coach, so that I can polish up on my English accent for my Secret Garden callback. It’s for a replacement for the part of Mary Lennox in the Broadway production. I have wanted this part so bad for the last year, and I have listened to the soundtrack in my Walkman for months and months. I really want this part. Bad.
I am sitting on an old, musty smelling loveseat in a smoke-filled room somewhere in Manhattan. My parents are waiting for me outside, my dialect coach is shuffling around some papers while a ciggy hangs out of her mouth, and I am taking inventory of the room. She has headshots of different kids she’s trained before me wallpapering her apartment. I am looking at them, and wondering which of the kids got the roles in whatever they had auditioned for, and which kids did not. I am searching the wall, which at the time resembles the Great Wall of China to my 11-year-old perspective, trying to look for some clue, when I see a little girl that catches my eye. All the pictures are in black and white (because that’s how they did headshots in the 90’s), but I can still tell that the little girl in the picture I am looking at, is blond. I think she is really pretty, and I decide that this b*tch has got style. She is wearing an open jean jacket, with her hair pulled half up and half down. Classy broad. I scan for her name. Laura Bell Bundy. Hmmmm. Who is she? Well, whoever she is, I decide that whatever she was auditioning for, she probably got it, because she is pretty, and because I like her jean jacket. Just as I am about to drift farther into my own thoughts, I am abruptly halted by the dialect coach, who from here on out I will refer to as That Old Wench. Please take note, that I do not mean “wench” as in the Old English sort of way when they speak about fair maidens. I mean wench, in the most unflattering way possible. Ok, thanks.
Don't ask me how I found this picture...
So, my daydreams are interrupted as That Old Wench is suddenly standing right in front of me. She is short and stout and resembles the kinds of Humpty Dumpty.
She says, “Well well, little girl what are we working on today?” She is speaking to me in an English accent, but I know she is not of the likes of the English, and that she is indeed American, because I had listened to her speak to my parents before they left me to wait outside. So, naturally I am confused.
“Well, I am working on my audition for The Secret Garden,” I manage to spit out.
“And? And?????” That Old Wench demands.
“And I really want to get the part,” I finally concluded relieved and satisfied with my answer.
That Old Wench looks me up and down and pulls another ciggy from her pocket, lights it, and slowly saunters to the couch opposite to me, plops down, and says in a very cavalier way, “When I speak to you in an English accent, I expect you to speak back to me in the same way.”
“Okay,” I say in my American accent. Wait, thats not it, “Okay,” I correct myself in an English accent. She looks somewhat pleased with me. Wow, she’s a gem (<–sarcasm.)
She looks me up and down again, “You know, plenty of kids come in here, and sit right where you’re sitting, and before they even open their mouths, I can tell if they are gonna get the part,” she boasts.
For some reason I find this very intimidating…Wait what am I talking about?! Of course I find it intimidating, I’m 11 years old. I really don’t say anything to her at all, but I smile and nod nervously.
She looks at me plainly and says, “You, little girl, just don’t have the sparkle I am sad to say.”
Well, eff you too, lady. Okay, that’s not what I said…or thought. I was 11, but I am sure I thought something to that effect as she attempted to squash my dreams. It’s okay, even at 11, I could take care of myself.
“Really?” I said in my English accent, “That’s not what I’ve heard,” I said without skipping a beat.
To be continued….
Photos courtesy of stars-portraits.com and laurabellbundyfans.com