Russian 'actress' in Canada
By Olga Campbell
This story is about my new experience, and what impact it had on me. My life in Canada began two and a half years ago after yet another marriage of mine. I was not a bit apprehensive when I moved to this country. After all, it was not the first foreign country I landed in, but I was not a ‘spring chicken’ any more, as they say. So, I had to think about what I would be doing in these new circumstances.
Being a language instructor and translator, my previous experience could be used here professionally. But I told my Canadian husband that I would prefer to pursue my other interests. He didn’t mind, though I didn’t reject the idea of doing my usual job whenever the opportunity for that would arise.
The process of exploring this new country and challenges and options it provided was exciting. By mere chance I encountered a new magazine. It was called More and was about women and for women whose age was ‘over 40’. It was a real eye-opener for me.
I am Russian and know very well WHAT the attitude to women over 40 in Russia (and some other countries) is. They are considered old and unattractive in all respects – your typical “babushkas” (old women or grandmothers), no matter how they really feel or look like.
I had lived and worked (before relocating to Canada) – for almost 10 years – in Dubai, the UAE, and that experience has also added to my sadness about growing old (the typical requirement for prospective female employees: Age – under 35). So, it was only in Canada that I realized that I was actually in the happiest period of my life.
First – several women that I met here, just after my arrival, were planning to study, or were already studying in colleges and universities, and they were all way “over 40”. That was a good surprise. The fact that anyone can go on with their studies (and is willing to), even in their ‘middle age’, was refreshing.
I was always thinking of becoming a real writer but never had enough time or courage for writing a book. It’s here – so far in the Russian newspapers (based in Toronto and elsewhere) - that my stories have been published. I am thinking now to enroll in one of the courses for creative writing, as I think I need to be tutored in how to write successfully in English, too.
My other passion – dancing. It was another amazing discovery here – people, those even over 60, have abilities, desire and talents to dance. And what is more important – there are special places intended for ‘senior’ dancing!! I have met a lot of enthusiastic dancers – practicing ballroom dancing, salsa, belly dancing, and so on - in Toronto, with people in their 80s among them. So, I can say my ‘Fist After 40’ (one of the section titles in the More magazine) experience in this department – I am dancing Hawaiian Hula (hadn’t had the slightest idea what it was before I met Monica, a 40-something professional dancer) with other like-minded women and enjoy it a lot.
With the encouragement of my friends here, I even became bold enough to try myself in something absolutely new – took part in auditioning for a TV commercial. That was a big deal! It would never occur to me that I could be good enough to be chosen for the ‘role’ (however small it was) among many other applicants. So, this is the story how I became ‘an actress’.
One day I read an advertisement saying that men and women with different accents were required for a TV commercial. No acting experience was needed, and it was supposedly a well paying job. One more detail that was interesting caught my eye – the prospective applicants’ age was indicated as between 20 – 70.
Well, I thought, I would fit the description – I am Russian, without any acting experience whatsoever, and my age is exactly within the range mentioned (and whose isn’t?).
So, I decided to try it though didn’t have much hope that I’d be the one chosen for this commercial. My Canadian husband’s first reaction was, “You don’t have this Russian accent!” No, I don’t. But is it so hard for me, as a Russian native speaker, to make it? - I thought.
There were quite many people at the studio where auditioning took place. It is no wonder that in Toronto, the city famous for its diversity and multiculturalism, many aspiring candidates with all types of accents decided to try their luck, just like me. We were all given the script of the spot, and I found out that I had to play the inner voice of the male character. With that, I was supposed to actually play a small role and say a few lines. At first glance, the whole thing was a bit weird, but funny, too. It was a spot designed to promote one of the internet websites – Ask.com. and was entitled Nagging Questions. However, when it was my turn to display the abilities to impersonate the ‘inner voice’ of my male partner, right in front of the camera, I wasn’t very successful. That’s what I thought after I heard how the casting director characterized my efforts.
Never mind, I was thinking when leaving the studio. Deep inside, however, I was frustrated, upset and regretted that this idea, to participate in this auditioning, came into my head in the first place. Truth be told, I feel unconfident quite often. With all my seemingly apparent “brazenness” (my husband’s word), it’s not rare that I have moments of insecurity.
You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, I was thinking. I was not rail-thin, wrinkle-free, and Hollywood-style beautiful, so what did I expect?
The next day my cell phone rang and I was told that the crew, with directors and producer at the head, wanted to see me at the second auditioning.
- No, it must be a mistake! – I tried to convince the woman, who was talking to me, that she had called the wrong person.
- They liked you! Come over and be on time! – She said and hung up.
Still unsure that it was my acting (or whatever it was), that somehow got me for the second attempt, I found myself the next day with another male partner in the same studio. This time there were about a dozen people there, looking and gauging me, and I felt nervous.
“ Whatever happens, I wouldn’t be disappointed”, I was saying to myself. I was already glad that I had managed to make for the second auditioning. Which was some kind of achievement, for all I know.
During auditioning, I tried to do everything that I was asked to do – screaming, behaving like a child, being sexy and coquettish, and in the end heard all the people in the studio burst into laughter, approvingly, when I started winking. With the auditioning finally over, I felt really exhausted.
When I came home and told my husband how I had impressed the director of the future spot – I was just bragging and kidding, he remarked, “That’s not a surprise to me, you ARE a good actress”. Now, I was sure it was he who was kidding.
Later in the evening the same voice that I had heard in my phone before informed me that I was booked for the commercial. I was listening to the production assistant describing how it would work and still thought it was a mistake or a joke.
- It’s time you start believing in yourself, - my husband said when I broke the news.
Well, it’s not that I was thinking of myself as a hapless and miserable creature. I did have some accomplishments in my life. But something as ‘glamorous’ as being involved in a TV commercial was like a miracle to me. Especially at this age.
Now I can say that the whole experience was tremendous. The people on set were very encouraging and friendly. They were treating me like a real “movie star’. During the wardrobe call, when we were choosing the proper outfit for the spot, one of the wardrobe artists repeated several times that the crew “just love, love, love the way you dress”. I was flattered and a bit embarrassed. One of the directors, Ian, also said he liked the way I did my hair and asked me to keep it that way. The other director, Michael, paid attention to my make-up (which I apply daily) and said there was actually nothing for their make-up artist to do, as far as my face was concerned. Yeah, I was thinking, we, Russians, know all the tricks even not being professionals in these fields.
When the director told me that I would be doing something like riding a horse (which I never did before), I wasn’t a bit concerned. By that time, I knew I could do it. That was just another challenge I had to rise to.
It turned out I was not supposed to ride a horse. The male character, my partner in the spot, was. As for me, on the day when the shoot started, I was hanging on the ropes attached to the huge crane and was ‘impersonating’ the process of riding - like a ghost following the rider. I was playing someone immaterial, after all.
And all that was happening the next day after I celebrated yet another birthday of mine. What a nice birthday gift this life arranged for me, I was thinking.
If somebody ever told me that I would be doing a TV commercial which is to be broadcast on several TV US channels, I would consider it a bad joke. What I learnt from this experience is - you have to believe in yourself and never to be afraid of trying new things. No matter what your age or looks are.
The amount on the paycheck, which I received for that delightful and enjoyable gig, was the biggest I ever earned in my life for the three-day work.
My family and friends are happy for me and proud with my accomplishment, and my son (from my first marriage), who is in Russia, says that with every birthday celebrated, I am becoming even younger. And that’s exactly how I feel. I actually have to remind myself, every now and then, that I am a mother of a grown-up son and grandmother of two wonderful kids.
Just like one of the authors in the latest issue of the More magazine, I would say (and very seriously) – “At my age, I can conquer the world”.
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