TESTING WITH LISA BONET

The morning of my screen test, I chose my wardrobe very carefully. From my closet, I pulled a pair of tan linen slacks and a bright yellow Polo shirt. And yes, I took my time planning a wardrobe that is the very definition of plain. I’d been working out all summer, so I felt that my arms and chest looked good. The yellow shirt looked good against my dark skin and the shirt sleeves accentuated my biceps. I chose the tan pants because they were plain and wouldn’t be a distraction. They also hung well on my hips, showing off my flat, (well almost flat) stomach and making my butt look good. Because the slacks were neutral, the producers eyes would be drawn to the rich yellow around my neck and thus show off my face.  My look was stylish, but understated. Most of all my look was appropriate for an Annapolis graduate. My ensemble was, in my mind, well planned. 

I got ready early, hopped the train into the city, and arrived at the casting office with time to spare. I had a good 15 minutes that I could use to go to the bathroom, settle my nerves with some deep breathing, and run the scene in my head several times. As the moment approached, I was primed to go.

Lisa was an hour late. Lisa was not twenty minutes late, nor half an hour late. Lisa Bonet was an hour late for my screen test.

I didn’t know anything about Lisa other than what I had seen on television and movies, and read on the cover of supermarket magazines. So, basically what I knew was that she was beautiful. There had also been some talk that she was difficult to work with. Given this limited information, I just shook my head. “Typical,” I grumbled to myself, “But what the hell? This morning is about me, not her. She already has a job. I’m trying to get a job. She needs to get her fine, little ass to the office on time!”

According to the casting director, her plane had landed late the night before and she’d overslept, or there was a problem with the baby, or the hotel burned to the ground, or…something. I didn’t really care what the reason was. I was sitting in a casting office, preparing for the biggest audition of my life, sweating the armpits out of my beautiful, new shirt. The longer this took, the more my stomach hurt, and the more nervous I became. I paced the floor to keep my blood flowing. I did relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, and visualization exercises to calm my nerves. I went over the scene in my head. I went to the bathroom about a dozen times. I recall a long time of just sitting. And waiting. And watching the time pass.

There are some actors who thrive under such circumstances, who can relax and chit-chat without their nerves taking over. I have seen guys talk and laugh right up to when the casting director calls them into the room. That is not me. I’m the guy sitting in the corner, by myself, looking like I’m holding in a big fart. Prior to an audition, my stomach fills with butterflies. I can’t eat. I rarely speak to anyone. I get terribly anxious. My entire career, I have suffered from horrible — sometimes crippling — audition anxiety. There were times I would became physically ill before an audition. Just hearing that I had an audition was enough to make my stomach queasy. In fact, in the years following my departure from General Hospital, my anxiety got so bad that I began to beg off of auditions, or find excuses not to go. You can imagine this didn’t make me very popular with my agents, or with my wife. But that summer of 1989, when I auditioned for The Cosby Show, I was able to control my anxiety enough to get through the audition process. But waiting on Lisa was pushing the limits of my stamina. Whatever anxiety I hadn’t had before began to creep in at the edges of my mood. As I sat on that sofa, waiting for the biggest audition of my career, I was hot, the walls felt as if they were closing in on me, and there wasn’t enough air in the room for me to breathe.

At long last, Lisa walked through the door. Lisa Bonet! Lisa Boner! Lisa (Fine-Ass) Bonet! This WOMAN walked through the door. NO! This VISION walked through the door. This beautiful WOMAN/VISION/CHARACTER walked into the room. Lisa isn’t much over five feet tall. She had dreadlocks down to her rear end, with sea shells woven into her hair. She had a ring in her nose, some sort of loose-fitting, hippie-looking outfit on, and a pair of square, granny sunglasses hid her smokey eyes. Following her was her (then) husband, Lenny Kravitz. Lenny also had long dreadlocks, piercings, tattoos, hippie clothes, and sunglasses. The two of them strode into the room looking every bit the definition of bohemian, rock and roll chic! I looked down at my plain slacks and polo shirt — the outfit I had taken so much time to plan — and felt so very, well, lame. More than that, I felt wrong. My heart began beating like crazy. I was all wrong! “Look at me,” I thought. “I can’t play her husband.” My mind began to replay the conversation with my agent. “RON AND HIS STUPID HOUSE IN THE COUNTRY!” I was screaming inside. “OhmyGodohmyGodoh MY GOD! I chose wrong. I rolled snake eyes. I am so screwed!”

I was utterly clueless, completely without self-awareness. The whole idea was that Denise and Martin were opposites. That being the case, there was perhaps no one more opposite from Lisa than myself. What I was viewing as a weakness was actually a terrific strength. If square was what they were looking for, there was no way they couldn’t hire me.

There were some hasty introductions; Lisa and I read over the scene once or twice and were then ushered into the room to begin my screen test. Unlike other screen tests I’d had, there was no big audience in the room. I can only recall the two casting directors, and someone to run the video camera. The camera operator turned on the camera. I slated my name, and Lisa and I began the scene.

From the beginning, our rhythm was off. We didn’t have a feel for each other. To make matters worse, Lisa began to drift upstage, so that when I turned to address her, I was turning my back to the camera. “Is she really upstaging me?” I thought. I had only worked with one other actor who upstaged me and he did it because he was insecure and trying to disrupt my performance. “But why would Lisa want to upstage me?” While I am auditioning, I am also having this conversation with myself as I observed Lisa slowly drifting upstage. “Will you look at this? My back is to the camera.” I was so busy observing her and commenting to myself that I was completely out of the scene. I don’t think Lisa was doing anything on purpose; what did she care who got the job? I am betting that she was unfamiliar with the material, unfamiliar with me and simply began to wander because she was just uncomfortable. Whatever the reason, she was messing up my audition!

Between the lack of rhythm and timing, and Lisa drifting upstage, and the ongoing conversation in my head, the scene was torturous. The entire thing was a disaster (God damn Ron!) and as hard as I tried, I could not get the scene on track. I had no choice but to commit the cardinal sin of stopping in the middle and asking if I might start over. I was taught never to stop an audition in the middle. As bad as things were going, I figured the audition couldn’t get worse, so, “I’m sorry. Can I begin again?”

The casting director smiled. “Sure.”

We began the scene again and this time I put my arm around Lisa’s waist and locked it tight. I had been working out all summer, so my arm was strong; she wasn’t going anywhere. Every time she began to back up, she met the iron resistance of a summer of barbell curls. Oddly enough, the scene felt more intimate, as if we actually knew each other and were perhaps a couple. We both relaxed. Our voices lowered and we began to actually speak to each other and suddenly we were hitting bulls-eyes with the punch lines.

After I left the office, I had so much energy I could have run all the way back to Brooklyn. I probably should have. Instead, I stopped at the first pay phone, called Ron and then got on the F train and went home. I called Corey to let her know how the audition went and then got on with the rest of the day. All I could do now was wait.

Casting told my agency that they would let us know before the weekend. The next day was Friday. Less than 24 hours and I would know if my gamble paid off. Or I would know if I had to hire a few guys from Bensonhurst to go to Ron’s house in the country and break his knees.

Friday came and went. You have got to be kidding! Those cruel SOB’s were actually going to make me wait through the weekend. Okay. At least Corey and I now had something to distract us from how miserable we were.

…Next, the call comes and my life is never the same.


About Author

Joseph C. Phillips

Joseph C. Phillips was born on January 17, 1962 in Denver, Colorado, USA as Joseph Connor Phillips. He is an actor, known for General Hospital (1963), The Cosby Show (1984) and Strictly Business (1991). He has been married to Nicole since 1994. They have three children.

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