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MIND THE GAP AND YOU MIGHT GET THE PART

16-08-2007

Laurence Inman on why day dreaming is good for the soul.

I wasted a very pleasant few hours in London the other week, as I often do, auditioning for a part in a film. But this wasn't for half a day's work in Camberwell as part of a student's end-of-course project. (Not that they aren't huge fun; I once had to eat a blood sandwich in one of those crumbling catacombs in Warstone Lane Cemetery.)

No, this promised much more: a scene with two very famous Hollywood stars, filming in Berlin, all expenses paid. I turned up at the casting agency (a proper one with a studio in Soho) and went through the procedure.

You're given half a page of the script to learn while you sit and wait with the other actors who are up for the part, your part, and who, disconcertingly, all look a bit like you. Most of them are vaguely familiar. You wonder if you are just as vaguely familiar to them.

Then you go in and do the scene to camera, the agent's assistant (invariably a young slender woman in her mid-twenties) doing the other character's words. I always learn the lines properly and try to look the part.

They say 'Top man! Brilliant!' as you leave, stroll in the sun down Old Compton Street, pop into St Anne's Church round the corner in Wardour Street to have another gaze at William Hazlitt's grave, and amble on towards Piccadilly Circus tube station to get the Bakerloo Line to Marylebone for the journey back to Moor Street and home in time for Eastenders.

Then you don't hear anything. Nor will you ever. Because they gave the part to the assistant's uncle. Probably. That's the only explanation I can think of. They wanted somebody with a 'characterful' face, mid-fifties, to play a traffic-warden called Mr Dourface. That's me! Why couldn't they see it ?

Anyway, back to the point.

I got on the tube and this bloke looked at me and smiled. Then the voice on the tannoy said 'Mind the gap!' and this bloke also said 'Mind the gap!' in an Australian accent. A number of small people, his children I guessed, sniggered at this. A woman (his wife ?) looked on indulgently. So, he was just a dad putting on a clownish show to make his kids laugh, not a nutter at all.

So I said back to him, in an accent identical to his, 'Mind the gap!' and his kids exploded into snotty, spluttering guffaws. Then he said 'Mind the gap!' back. Then I said 'Mind the gap! That could be the motto of every great writer' - still in his accent.

They all looked at me blankly. I should say that during the previous exchanges no one in the rest of the carriage had even looked in our direction.

So I went on, still talking in an Australian accent, 'I mean that's what it's all about isn't it? The gap between what we think we are and what we really are. Between what we think the world is like and what it's really like.'

I'm glad that journey was only three stops.

The Aussie bloke (maybe he wasn't Australian at all!) his wife and kids all looked away. The nutter on the tube - it was me all along!

I think I'm doing this kind of thing more and more. Blurting things out. Sitting on the bus, having a conversation in my head and then not being sure if I haven't said my half out loud. Walking down the street and saying 'Oh yes!' for no reason. Looking in the fridge and finding a screwdriver. Just the other day I was being driven home by my son and began talking to him about something which had happened the previous day, as if it were new to him, and he had been with me when it happened. I'm not even going to start telling you about my conversation with the policeman at the gates of Downing Street last year.

But I don't really care. If I'm very, very lucky I might have thirty years of activity left and I'm not going to waste any of it worrying about what other people think.

Daydreaming, running through ideal arguments in your head where you always win, using the most elegant and condensed language, is such a joy. It's why people become writers and actors. It's what gets me up every morning. It's what makes me realise ever more keenly that the way we thought and felt in childhood is the ideal to which we should aspire always, until gravity calls us in at last.

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