So I Was In a Movie- Part One

by dpreyde

Two years ago, I performed in a movie. My therapist showed me a flyer which said that some organization called The Hawkins Institute was casting a shit-ton of Aspies for an instructional video about how to develop social skills. I thought, what the hell, auditioned, and got cast.

Some highlights from that experience:

At the audition, the director Gail Hawkins decided to put us at ease by getting on her knees and doing her best Munchkin impersonation while singing The Lollypop Guild. “I like this woman,” I thought. I understood immediately that it was an attempt to charm and disarm us, but out of all the ways she could do it, she chose that.

She picked good people to help make the movie. I don’t just mean talented, I mean decent. A bunch of us went to a local diner one day during lunch break. The cameraman- who was around my age- noticed an old man approaching the building from outside. This guy looked like he had stopped for a quick bite to eat on his way to the morgue. The cameraman got up, held the door open for him, helped him find a table, and- a few minutes later- helped him find the bathroom.

The work was surprisingly easy, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. We stood in front of a green screen in the basement of a café in a run-down corner of town (so glamorous), and read lines off a teleprompter. I remember being concerned about my memory problems. “You won’t have to memorize anything,” said Gail. So for several hours over the course of June, I hung out in a basement with some cool people, read words off a screen, and got paid for it.

I remember walking home from the film shoot, which took me through Greektown. That’s one of my favourite neighbourhoods in Toronto: it’s down-to-earth, and pretty, and always makes me feel grounded. It was early summer, which is a beautiful time in Toronto, and Hannah and I had only recently started dating. Everything felt like it was coming together.

The day after we officially started our relationship, I was scheduled to work on the movie. I was completely distracted the entire day, but fortunately nobody noticed. I remember looking up at a clock at one point and realizing that Hannah and I had been in a relationship for precisely twelve hours.

So last year when I found out that Gail Hawkins was casting another video, I immediately filled out an application.

Eventually, Gail phoned me, which caught me off guard. The previous year she’d sent a mass e-mail.

“I was wondering if you’d like to be involved in the new movie I’m doing,” she said.

“Yeah, of course.”

“Great. The thing is, we’re running a little behind schedule, and you have to start on Monday.”

That was two days away.

“Yeah, I can do that,” I said, while figuring out in my head whether or not I could indeed do that.

“Great,” she said. “We’re doing something a little different this year. Instead of a documentary, it’s going to be more of a narrative with characters and a storyline. And you’ll be playing one of the most important parts.”

I wasn’t sure if she was telling everyone that their part was one of the most important, or if she was actually giving me one of the lead roles.

I decided it didn’t matter.

On Monday, I followed the directions she gave me and ended up at her house.

Her personal fucking home.

The previous year, Gail had worked hard to build an atmosphere of trust and collaboration on the set, but this was some next level shit. She didn’t know me all that well, and now she was inviting me to her house?

She led me in, I greeted her dogs, and sat on the couch.

“We’ll be shooting most of the movie right here,” said Gail.

Oh, so she was inviting everyone to her house. A whole bunch of near-strangers would be hanging out and working in her living space. I wasn’t sure whether I was more in awe of her trust, or of how much money she stood to save from this arrangement.

She showed me the script; it was an enormous bastard.

“Like I said before, you have one of the main roles. You’ll be playing a guy named Demetri, who has Asperger’s.”

I flipped through the script. I had lines on almost every page.

Jesus Christ, I thought.

“I have kind of a short-term memory problem,” I said.

“I’m more interested in conveying the spirit of the words rather than the words themselves,” she said.

I didn’t have the heart to point out that I probably wouldn’t even be able to remember the title of the movie.

She’ll find out soon enough, I thought.

“Today you and I are just going to read through your scenes and talk about the movie and your role a little bit,” said Gail.

And we did. As we walked through my scenes one after the other I started to feel more confident about the movie.

Maybe I can actually pull this off, I thought.

The movie was about three guys with Asperger’s who have to find dates for an upcoming wedding. But they have no idea about dating, or about interacting with women in general. With the assistance of (I swear to God) a sassy, magical fairy, they figure their shit out.

I was surprised at how much I liked the script, written by local playwright Hope Thompson. I’m really picky when it comes to representations of Asperger’s, but aside from a couple of poorly chosen phrases, the script was perfect. It was funny, honest, unsentimental, and refreshingly weird.

“On Thursday we’ll be meeting here again and you’ll be rehearsing with the woman who’s playing your sister,” said Gail.

She told me that all the Aspie characters are being played by Aspies, but the female characters were being played by professionals.

This should be interesting, I thought.