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Remember to Smile
by SEVEN MCDONALD
Behind a pair of burgundy, oversize Armani shades, 29-year-old “Alex,” as she’s asked to be known here, is navigating her way through Ventura Boulevard traffic. Audition sides and scripts line the floor of her SUV. Beer caps, receipts and a bottle opener clutter the center console; on top is a stuffed letter-size envelope, held shut with a rubber band and scrawled in Sharpie with the message: “Rent money, motherfucker. Don’t spend!”
The trim actress is apt to write such reminders to herself around her equally cluttered home. “Buy jeans for girls with no hips” ... “Vitamins” ... “Remember to smile.”
She was out late last night, woke up this afternoon at 2, got her Starbucks,threw on some jeans and a black T-shirt that says, 'I like dirty boys with no money,' and is now rushing to pick up her new head shots, plus a money order from the post office to pay her rent, which is a week overdue. Her bank account is overdrawn, so she can’t write checks and has taken to doing all her business in money orders.
“I don’t even give a shit,” says Alex in reference to the fact that another pilot season has come to an end without her getting on a show. She did book two pilots this year, which is impressive, but neither got picked up.
“I just want to be happy,” she says, sipping from her grande soy latte as she approaches the post office on Laurel Canyon and pulls into the center turn lane.
“Basically, when it comes to the Hollywood shit, and the agents, and the managers, and the TV, and the movies, I just set low expectations. Because you can’t rely on it. I know brilliant actors who are 50 and nothing ever happened, so it’s like, ‘Whatever.’ I haven’t thrown myself on the bed and cried in over three years.”
Behind her, a guy honks for her to make the left turn. “Okay, guy! I see you!” she yells, pushing a sexy mop of bed-head hair off her face and furrowing her brow into the side mirror.
Things might be a whole lot more relaxed on this Monday afternoon if Alex’s marijuana prescription hadn’t recently lapsed.
Originally from Northern California, Alex has an impressive theater background. She studied formally at a prestigious school in San Francisco and earned critics’ awards. When she first came to Los Angeles, three and a half years ago, she booked a low-budget show for one season. Since then, she has been auditioning, occasionally landing work, and settling into her job at a popular nightclub.
“I remember when I first moved here, I thought it was horrifying. And the clichés . . . I used to meet people, and they would be doing some job that had nothing to do with the industry, and I would think, ‘What a fucking loon. They choose here?’ They’re breathing this air, fighting the traffic and hanging out with the dumb-dumbs for no reason!? Now L.A.’s grown on me and I get insane anxiety when I leave. I don’t know what it is. I always fly back, and I am like, ‘Ahhh.’ Relieved. Which is so weird, because it’s toxic and gross and yet somehow it becomes... home.”
Alex had a serious boyfriend when she first moved here, but for the past two years she’s gone through a couple of relationships.
“It’s supposed to be the worst city if you want to get married and have a family. Everyone talks about it,” she says, as if this were common knowledge, like Sharon Stone’s plastic surgery.
“They say if you want a husband and kids, don’t look for it here. I think it can happen, ’cause clearly it does. But I have noticed that compared to other cities, it’s true. It’s because life is so hard here. Everyone is pursuing their individual dreams-slash-career. You have to put so much of yourself into yourself, there is not much left to give to someone else. Even the people having success are afraid of losing it. Everyone is kinda neurotic and nuts and selfish. You’re just looking out for your own ass.”
Though she hasn’t cried herself to sleep lately, Alex does admit she’s resigned herself to a certain type of malaise that maybe comes with having the first few waves of youth and optimism beaten out of her. Yet with that resignation has come a willingness to play the game a little better. She dropped some of her theater haughtiness and has started wearing short skirts and tight tanks, and has even mastered the skill of artful eye makeup. No matter how good the acting, she has accepted that it really comes down to sex appeal. After too many notes from her management saying that casting agents felt her hair looked greasy, she came to understand that truth.
For the MTV-style pilot she filmed a couple of months ago, the natural comedienne was originally cast as a funny tomboy. But once the producers got on set, they were like, “Uhhhh... the MTV audience isn’t really gonna get this. Can you dumb it down?”
They also asked, “Can you put your shoulders back?”
Which, she explains, really means, “Can you push your tits out?”
“I was working with another, very reputable actor, and we were praying, ‘Oh Lord, please don’t let this get picked up it’s so humiliating.’ But then it ended, and I went back to my other job of mopping up vomit and urine on the dance floor, and I was like, ‘Please let it get picked up! I don’t care! I don’t care! Put me in a bikini, I don’t care!”
Inside the post office, she just pulls out a dollar from her purse, which she somehow accidentally rips in two. She pushes it to the side and purchases her cashier’s check. After she drops off the rent, she’s gonna call it a day. No more driving. Except she’ll work out at the gym and stop by Sav-On to look through the new tabloids. She can’t wait. She heard, “probably on Defamer,” that Tom and Katie were on the cover of Us Weekly, and it’s all about Scientology, and the baby, and that they might be breaking up!
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