A Miracle in Hollywood

TheKoechners.jpg

The other day my husband David came home from work and said, “Leigh, I suggested you for a role on my television show.” He is an actor on the CBS sitcom Superior Donuts. “It’s perfect for you because you don’t have to speak. There are no lines.” Now this comment could sound like Dave was being a jerk, but it was quite the contrary. David is aware of the one and only possible panic attack I have ever had. It was 1995 and my friend Gail Goldberg who was a casting assistant called and asked if I wanted to audition as a reporter for her boss, Ellen Lewis. They were auditioning for a feature film called Bird Cage with Robin Williams and Gene Hackman. She had assured me there were only a few lines, so I could head over now, look at the lines, and then audition. I had lived in Los Angeles for four years after being in a bikini since college teaching SCUBA diving on the island of Guam, Virgin Islands, and Tahiti. I had never acted before but was up for the challenge, especially because she made it sound like no big deal. I put on the red suit dress I wore a week prior for a flight attendant interview and jumped in my car.

Gail handed me the sides when I got there. I looked over them. At the top, I saw my name was Karen, or rather, the character’s name was Karen. I read over the sides and started to get some pretty big butterflies in my stomach because I have dyslexia and reading out loud has been a struggle my entire life. It started in the 5th grade when my teacher, Mrs. Craig with a big red beehive, made red permanent magic marker scribble notes all over the paper as I jumbled word after word. That scarred me for life. Usually I have a lot of time to prepare before I read aloud and get familiar with the words so when they jumble up, I know what they are supposed to be. To give you an example, if I read the word parents, I might see partners.

Gail told me I would not be reading, just memorize the few lines and say them aloud with Ellen. So I tried to memorize them. A few minutes later, Ellen called me into her office. She was sitting behind a big desk. Next to her was a guy on a stool with a camera. She told me to stand on the mark. I did so. All of a sudden, I couldn’t catch my breath. I was trying to take deep breaths, but I couldn’t. My hand started shaking and my heart was pounding so hard. They were talking to me but all I could think was, “What is happening to my body?” She said go ahead and start when you’re ready. I just looked at her. I wasn’t sure why I was there. Why am I standing here in my flight attendant dress? I couldn’t remember. “Are you ready Leigh?”. “Ready for what?”, I thought as I desperately searched around my brain for an answer? “Oh, shit the words I just memorized? It’s time to say them. What were the words?” I couldn’t remember. She just stared at me smiling. I whispered, “Can I sit down please?” She said “Sure”. I sat down, and she continued, “So how long have you known Gail?” I just looked at her as I tried to catch my breath. I still couldn’t catch it. I said “I’m sorry, can I leave? I hate this. I do not want to do this.” She laughed and said no problem at all, you can leave. I ran out. She yelled, “Thanks for coming in. You looked the part!” I ran straight past Gail ,out of the office door, all the way to my red Jetta, which was the first car I had purchased myself. I made the decision that day that I am not an actress. I can be anything else on the planet except be an actress. The moment I saw my name was Karen, I didn’t know what the hell to do. I can do Leigh very well, but not Karen.  

So when Dave said he recommended me for a part and I didn’t have to speak, I thought it was so sweet! What a fun treat. I’ve been bugging him to do something with me for years and he’s been avoiding it like the plague, but here he was, actually thinking of me. The next day Dave went to work, called me, and said, “Oh honey I made a mistake; there are a few lines. I was going to tell the producers forget it after the table read, but I forgot and now they are saying they want you to come in and audition. So, why don’t you come on set, you can work with our acting coach, and we will shoot you with my phone and send it their way.”

As David was telling me this, my phone beeped I told David to hold on and clicked to the other line. The gentleman said, “Hello I’m calling from Jeffrey Greenberg’s casting office. We would like you to head over and audition for the role of Paula.” “Well hello! When would you like me to head over?” I said as I threw up in my mouth a little. “Now or as soon as you could get here would be great!”Could you please hold on for minute and clicked back to David and said, “They want me to come in audition. What the fuck? What am I going to do?” David thought for a moment and then said, “Well honey, you can either say no thank you or you can go in and audition.”

I have been doing so much work on myself over the last 20 years; I have overcome so many obstacles, fears, and old thoughts. I have pushed through and done things that my spinning mind was screaming things like: You can’t do it! Who the hell do you think you are? And I did them anyway.

I took a breath, clicked back to the other line and said, “Fantastic. I will head over soon. Are there sides?” He sent the sides via email and when I received them, I recorded the lines into the voice memo on my phone, so I could listen to them while I was driving over the hill.

I got to the casting office and as I made my way to the assistant Jorge’s desk, I soaked in all of the actors faces adorning the walls. “Wow! How do you get your face on this wall?” Jorge said, “These are all the people who have been on Modern Family.” What? This guy casts Modern Family?” My stomach started churning. Jorge escorted me into the casting director’s office. The man looked at me and said, “You're David’s wife?” I said, “Yes, I’m Leigh nice to meet you.” We did a brief shoulder to shoulder almost hug and he said, “Are you SAG?” I thought for a moment, “I don’t know. I’m not sure if I am SAG.” Jeffery hit both hands down at the desk and said, “You are on an audition, as an actor, and you don’t know if you are SAG?” I could see as the flush color that rose on his face and by his hands hitting the desk that he was upset. I didn’t blame him. I got it. “How do you not know if you are SAG or not?” I just sat there looking at him wishing I could do something to help him with his frustration, but I couldn’t. So instead I said “I don’t know the answer to that. Do you mind if I text my husband and ask him?” I sat down and texted Dave. I knew that Dave was working, and he probably wouldn’t see my text, but it was all that I can do. Dear Dave, am I SAG? I hit send and then the casting director and I just looked at each other. Then he said, “We’ll get up and let’s just do this we’ll deal with that later.”. I thought how interesting that I am here trying to overcome my fear of auditioning and this is my set up! As I got in place and the casting director chatted with the camera guy, I realized I never read what lines came before mine. I only listened to what my lines were. So, he started talking, I didn’t know when to go! I just watched his mouth waiting for him to slow down long enough to know it was my turn, but not too long that would be awkward. He took a pause and I said my line. He just looked at me then said, “You are meeting someone for a blind date, for the first time, shouldn’t you smile?” “Why yes, I should smile.” and did my line again with a smile. He started talking again and once again I watched his mouth until he slowed down long enough for me to know it was time for me to go again. He paused, and I belted out a laugh. I mean I belted out a laugh. The sides said extra loud laugh, which I knew I could do that. When I stopped laughing he said, “Could you please bring it down to about a fourth of that?” “Ha ha ha.” He smiled at least I think it was a smile and went on with his lines while I once again watched his mouth waiting for it to stop moving long enough to get my cue.

When he paused I said my line. He responded, “You’re meeting a guy on a date, don’t you think you should flirt a little bit more, be more playful, have some fun?” I said, Yes, I do think that.” So, I flirted a little bit and I was a little more playful. Yes. I did it. Then he said, “Okay let’s take it from the top.”

Oh shit! Oh, my gracious, what in the hell did he tell me at the top? What were the last words of his lines where I am supposed to start mine? Shit. “Sure, let’s take it from the top.” I tried to lick around the inside my mouth because it felt so dry. He said his line then I smiled and said my line. He said his line and I laughed, but not too hard. He said his line and I said my line kind of flirty. I did it! I completed the lines for the audition! I auditioned without a mild panic attack!

After I was done Jeffery looked at Gorge and said, “You think we got it?” “I think we got it” he replied. I reached down to pick up my purse and I saw my phone had lit up, so I picked it up and saw Dave responded. “I am SAG!” I shared. I turned and walked out of the office. I was so happy to be heading home over the hill to my safe space in the valley. I was so happy that I said yes to doing it and I was so happy that I faced my fear and as he was frustrated with me, I just observed him instead of falling and weeping. I showed up, took the notes, got through it, without rehearsing with another person or having any training, or really knowing what I was doing at all. I did it! I could audition. Was I great? Hell no. Did I do it? Hell yes! With a little training and preparation, I  can actually do it better next time, I deduced.

The following day I got a phone call informing me I got the job! I couldn’t believe it. I was going to work with my husband and be on a sitcom? My bucket list was growing by the day. I kind of write my bucket list as I go. When I have an amazing experience, I haven’t really thought about having, it goes on my bucket list. Like chipping pieces of the Berlin Wall as it came down or like the time that I fronted a band with Slash playing behind me or sitting front row as the Lakers played the Phoenix Suns during the playoffs because I was dating Charles Barkley, or like the time I was smoking pot with Willie Nelson on his tour bus (I am not a pot smoker per se, but when I heard the little voice in my head, which I think was my father’s, tell me if you are ever going to smoke pot, it should be with Willie Nelson on his tour bus), this experience could go on that Buck As I Go List.

I had no idea what a blessing the experience of being on that sitcom would be for me. My husband and I have been going through a rough patch. We’re on each other’s nerves more than we are enjoying each other, but him thinking of me for this role, started to change that. The day of the shoot, I felt nervous and a little embarrassed when I sat down at the makeup ladies chair because I thought she’s probably rolling her eyes she has to do one of the actor’s wife’s makeup. As I was getting ready to apologize for taking up her time she said, “I am so happy you’re here. I normally do Katy Segal’s makeup, but when I heard you were coming I called dibs on doing your makeup too. I get to do your makeup! I just went to this Beauty Expo over the weekend and I got these eyelashes aren’t they amazing? I got them for you.” Huh? Me? “Wow thank you.” In that moment I let go of the unworthy thoughts my mind was spinning and decided to enjoy the experience. I closed my eyes and she touched my face for an hour. She made me look smashing. Then I went to the guy's chair to do my hair and he put on some sort of a hairpiece in the back and made me have giant country singer hair. It looked amazing. I was having the time of my life. Then it was wardrobe, which was equally as fantastic. They had so many different options for me. They really cared and took their time. It was dreamy!

During rehearsal I took a pause to look around at what was happening, what was before me, and let it all soak in. I was on stage with Katy Segal who I was in love with in the show Married with Children. I thought she was about as cool as it gets. I was on stage with her AND the legend Judd Hirsch from Taxi. And then I looked up at my sweet, sweet husband, David. Wow, this was amazing!

I did my part pretty well, although they gave me one line to tweak, and I kept doing it the same way. It was stuck in my head that way; I couldn’t help it. After I was done with my scene, I was hanging out in Dave’s dressing room as he was typing on his computer. Someone knocked on the door and said, “David, five minutes” and David said, “Thank you, five minutes.” and kept typing. Then the guy knocked on the door and said, “David time to go to stage.” He replied, “Thank you” and he stood up and started changing. I sat there with my mouth open. This is what he had done with me our whole marriage at home. I’ll say it’s time to go in five minutes and he just sits there. Then I say it’s time to go he starts getting ready and we are always late! And like clockwork, every time I get mad at him. I take it personally. I thought he was doing it to say screw you to me! Wow, he wasn’t. He does it at work too. It has nothing to do with me. It’s just how he’s wired. All these years I’ve been mad at him for something that was not directed against me.

As I watched Dave in the rest of the scenes I watched how professional he was, how kind he was to others, how good he was, and how everyone interacted with him on the set. I was so proud of him, proud to be his wife and I was also very attracted to him. I’ve learned it’s powerful and important to watch someone you love in their element.

I was really aware of how shitty I have been to Dave and what a blessing he is in my life. When it was time to go we gathered our stuff, said our goodbyes, and started to walk out the door. Dave was going to hold the door for me, but there was a man I had never seen before standing there holding it. He had a gray ponytail and a mustache. Dave walked passed him and he said, “Good night, Sir.” And then he turned and looked me right in the eye and said, “David is a good man. He is a kind man. The best.” I looked right back in that man’s eyes and smiled. As I got in the car I thought, “He is a good man. He is the best.”

That night was magical for me. Not only did I get to work with Katy Segal, Judd Hirsch, my husband, and crush my old limiting belief, but most importantly, I got to see my husband at work. I got to let go of the story that him being late is something against me. I got to remember how much I love him and how important he is in my life. I am so grateful for this experience, for my husband, for Jeffery Greenberg, Jackie Burch, Gail Goldberg, Mrs. Craig, Charles Barkley, hair, make-up, wardrobe, the gray-haired stranger, and all of the players involved. It takes a village to teach us our lessons and an open mind and heart to learn them.

Leigh Koechner3 Comments