In Mid-2007, things were winding down for Aural Salvation, I wasn’t doing much comedy (hell, I performed maybe once a year from 2003-2008), and I was gettin’ the old acting bug. When you’re non-union, have no agent, and you’re unsure if you actually can act, your source for acting gigs is Craigslist. This means it’s a crap-shoot. Sure, student films are fine, but sometimes you end up making weird movies with people you know nothing about, and you question every decision you’ve made along the way to a film that never gets released.
This is a story about one of those.
Based on what little I could glean from the archived email I found where I replied to the posting — the gig was “looking for Italian or Italian-esque actor”. They wanted someone who looked (or could look) like a classic 1920’s Italian actor, and looked good in a suit. I figured “well, shit, I got this”. What I should have done is sent photos of myself in a suit (perhaps with actual hair and not a mohawk), but instead I just sent off some recent flattering photos of myself. I also included a link to a short film I made with some friends where I played a classy-dressed vampire, but I suspect the person I e-mailed never watched it. The email reply I got was this :
I like your look. I value the uniqueness of it. Actually, you would be perfect for the younger lover of our leading character, who is a lovable hick. She lets this “young leach,” so to speak, hang out in her trailer, spend her entire Social Security check — you know, that type. Let me know if you’re interested. It’s a funny part: two meaty scenes, but they’d be shot in Arizona, and as this is a guerilla style project everyone is responsible for their own transportation. Cheers to you!
Okay, not a lead role, but “meaty parts” is promising. And, shooting in AZ wouldn’t be an issue. My sister lives out there – so it was a quick drive, I’d have a place to crash, and she’d be happy to see me. We exchanged a few emails, I asked more about the part, what I needed to bring to the part (which is… I think the right question to ask? I still don’t know), and then when/where auditions would be held. This was the reply :
Actually, I am not situated in LA, so the only audition we can do will be over the phone. However, I have come to trust my instincts on most matters, so . . .
In any event, the shoot will take place one of the following days: Sept. 7 8 9. One of those days. In one of the scenes, you imitate a goose — so can you do a funny goose voice?
If you’ve ever acted in anything, you probably saw several red flags in that reply : looking for actors in LA while not actually being in LA (and no plans to be there for even the auditions, much less the filming), over-the-phone audition, an entire movie shot in 3 days (or, perhaps worse, “two meaty scenes” taking 3 days to shoot), and a confusingly specific request for “a funny goose voice”. But, see, I’m an unrelenting optimist who takes just about any gig thrown at him and I love a good story. So, naturally, I was like “fuckin’ sweet. I can audition from home in my underwear”.
We set up a time for a phonecall, I read the sides he sent to me, and he gushed “ohhh great! just great! this is gonna be great! ha ha! you’re wonderful!”. The guy — I’ll call him Andre — sounded exactly like Woody Allen. So, whenever I quote him, picture a young Woody Allen saying it. The film was to be called “Doris’ Mouse Earrings”1. He told me a bit more about the plot : a mentally disturbed woman lives in a trailer with her deadbeat mooch redneck boyfriend, finds a pair of grotesque mouse earrings in a jewelry store, she thinks the earrings are whispering messages to her, and she starts falling for a guy who works at a restaurant and thinks he’s the reincarnation of 1920s-era Italian actor Rudy Valentino. Y’know… pretty standard stuff. And I’d be playing the redneck deadbeat live-in boyfriend, instead of the suave Italian guy. Whatever. Bring it on.
Throughout our conversation, I came to be curious about these mouse earrings Andre spoke of. I asked him if this script revolved around having found a pair of taxidermied mice as earrings in a pawn shop, and that’s why it was such a big plot point. The conversation was something like :
Andre : ohh.. no, no. I just think the idea is funny. I’m going to use those little mouse toys they have for cats. I think they’ll work well on film
Me : did you find a specific mouse-shaped cat toy you like, that looks realistic?
Andre : uhh… no, I just… I mean, you know, those mouse toys they make for cats. That’ll work on camera
Me : I’ve seen a lot of cat toys shaped like mice, but they never actually pass for mice, doubtful even on camera
Andre : oh. oh. what… what would you suggest?
Me : Well, I’d get some taxidermied mice and make ’em into earrings with a little wire and earring hooks like you can find at the local arts & crafts shop
Andre : Where could I find those? Do you know a place I could find them?
While on the phone, I hunted around on eBay and there weren’t a lot of good options for taxidermied mice. What little I could find was either mounted and posed, way too expensive, or looked worse than Andre’s original idea. I then said “well… you could just do it yourself. I’ve seen tutorials about making LED mouse throwies, which would work perfectly for your purposes. And you can buy frozen mice at the pet store — I used to buy them for my ball python when he was just a baby”. He hemmed and hawed and told me he didn’t think he could do that. So, I sent him the instructions and several backup articles that were similarly detailed. That’s just how I am. Almost everything I know is a result of being faced with a challenge and then researching a way to overcome that challenge. Fucking anyone can do everything I know how to do, if they just applied themselves. I don’t possess any preternatural skills, or crazy “how did he do that?” talents. I’m an average guy with an above-average confidence in tackling new skills. Where I’m a fucking asshole is that I unfairly assume everyone has the desire to learn new shit, and/or the confidence to at least try it if given the steps to accomplish the task, and I get frustrated when people throw their hands in the air and say “well… I can’t do it” instead of giving it a shot in the first place.
And that’s how it came to be that I learned taxidermy.
Andre called me and said “I … just don’t know anything about all of this. It looks like a lot of work. You seem to understand the steps involved. You’re handy. You know how to make earrings out of things found at arts & crafts shops, and you know how to get the frozen mice. Do you think you could … maybe you could make the earrings?”.
One day, all the hard work I put into bullshit projects that don’t go anywhere will pay off for me. Meanwhile, back in reality, I spent the better part of the next evening with a bag of frozen mice, some sawdust, face masks, cotton balls, and everything else one requires for taxidermy and cut open about 6 different mice to try and make at least two that looked reasonably decent. The two I picked looked pretty good in the face and body, but running wire through the inside of a tail of a mouse is a bitch, so wire stuck out in parts throughout their tails. I then wired them up and stuck them onto some dangly earring parts I found at the local A&C store, and voila! Grotesque mouse earrings!
With the mouse earrings out of the way, Andre worked on getting together a crew and a location. Somehow, throughout this process, the location changed from the simple 4-to-5-hour-drive-away of Arizona to “get on a plane and then rent a car” of a border town in Idaho. I truly can’t tell you why I went through all of this trouble, or even agreed to do it. I mean, sure, I love a story but a man’s got his limits. And it’s not like this was gonna be some wonderful cult-film that would sweep the nation. But, I guess I just figured… what if? Y’know? Like… what if this weird little film became some kind of deeply underground smash hit amongst weirdo film nerds (and weirdos in general)? I’ve seen a lot of fucked-up art-house films over the years, and it gave me that confidence. I think. Or maybe I am just a slave to the story afterall.
As the filming date approached, I put together a costume for my character, booked my flight, figured out my itinerary for getting to some tiny-ass border town in Idaho from the airport in SLC Utah, packed my bags, and hoped for the best.
obviously it should be spelled “Doris’s Mouse Earrings”, but he — like many people — assume anything with an “S” gets the plurality treatment when you put possessive apostrophes on it. For the record : no, that only applies to actually plural words ↩