The young actor is on Riverside Drive when the traffic starts to get bad. He brakes, goes ten more feet, brakes again, slams the wheel, curses. What is he doing out here in the east Valley, anyway? The audition isn’t anywhere an audition should be- somewhere off on the godforsaken edge of Griffith Park. But what the hell, it’s three lines in a feature, and they all started somewhere, right?
When he finally finds the place there’s nothing there. It looks like an abandoned lot- the young actor can’t believe it. He stands there feeling stupid until someone says his name and a millisecond after he gets out “Yeah” he’s being blindfolded and put in a car. “Just relax, we’ll be going underground,” they tell him.
The Actor does his best not to freak out. “What would Vincent Chase do?” he actually thinks to himself, without irony, and what he comes up with is that Vince would play it cool. The Young Actor has never met Vince of course, although he saw him across a club once, getting bottle service and head in a curtained booth at the latest place on Yucca. They hadn’t spoken, but through the haze of the dance floor he was certain that his destiny had been communicated.
So he keeps cool as he is driven a good four of five miles underground. He keeps cool as he is lifted and his blindfold removed, as he finds himself in a fluorescent-blue underground chamber as long as a football field, like something out of a spy movie.
There are men here- efficient men wearing uniforms and carrying clipboards, and one of them says, “We’ll have to get you into the armor,” and the young actor smiles like it’s a great joke, like it happens at every audition, and he hopes they can’t smell the nuclear-strength flop-sweat that’s forming already as he tries to figure out what the hell they mean by “armor.”
Eight minutes later, he’s found out at least that much: Four short, swarthy, smelly men are strapping him into a suit of armor: a leather breastplate, with heavy chain embellishments that almost cause the nervous Actor to collapse under their sudden weight. After that it all happens very fast:
He’s hustled out of the armor room, a short sword is pressed into his hand, he’s led into another tunnel, this one sloping gently upwards until a hatch is opened, and he finds himself in a forest clearing. He knows he must still be in the city, in the park, but it feels a hundred miles from anything. A man walks out of the trees and the Actor knows him at once- it’s none other than Billy Walsh, the infamous maverick director, the demigod of the true independent spirit, the man who recently walked off the set of a 120 million dollar fantasy epic (starring his old friend and collaborator Vincent Chase) because he, Billy, had been dissatisfied with the to-him-obvious falseness of the “Gnomes” and “Unicorns” used. Billy, like always, had been completely unwilling to compromise, delivered a profanity-laden rant about “suits,” and then walked off, leaving his old friend Vince in the hands of an autocratic French replacement director, and on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
But Billy had his principles, and so here he was, in the woods. The Actor stands in awe, waiting for words from the Oracle. Finally:
“Hey. I’m Billy.”
The actor mangles to gasp out a strangled reply, the least-casual “hey” in the history of the world.
If Billy Walsh even notices the young actor’s nerves, he certainly doesn’t care, or feel any urge to put the young man at ease.
“We’ll have you read with one of the Gnomes. That cool?”
Before the Actor can begin to formulate an answer, before he can process the question, actually, a Gnome emerges from the trees. The Actor looks at him and he knows, as sure as he knew his destiny when Vincent Chase looked at him across that dance floor, as sure as he knows anything, that this is not a small man in a costume. Somehow, some way, deep in the woods, a few miles west of the 5 freeway, Billy Walsh has created a race of Gnomes.
The audition goes OK, all things considered. The Actor reads his lines, the Gnome reads with him- he’s quite good, actually, and very polite- Billy watches in silence, the actor has his armor removed, is blindfolded again, and delivered back to his car.
Driving home, the young man thinks back on eight years of embarrassingly small theater, of not getting callbacks, of busing tables, and he thinks about Billy Walsh, and Vincent Chase, and the strange little creature who’d read lines with him, and the actor thinks to himself that he gets it now, this town, this industry, finally. He’ll stop for an iced coffee in the hot Valley sun, and then he will go home and wait for the call.