by Gerese Axalan
|Acting, like any form of art, has its own cloistered society that sometimes seems to be impenetrable and off-limits to outsiders. Without screen credits, you are virtually nothing.
I met Stuart at an audition in the busy, buzzing streets of Los Angeles, California. He was the epitome of every casting agent’s dream of a leading man: tall, tanned, dark-haired, dark-eyed, broad-shouldered, with mean, lean hips that could have put Brad Pitt in early retirement. Now, imagine that awesome package paired with an Irish lilt peppering his voice and you’ve just knocked Pierce Brosnan off the 007 franchise for good.
Okay, I exaggerate. But Stuart Du Temp (sounds like ‘do tempt’—and this is his real name!) is Hollywood’s next poster boy.
He was the first to approach me inside the cramped, humid waiting room. The overwhelming scent of anxiety hung in the air as there were about a hundred or so aspirants lined up, each hoping they would not come home empty-handed. I could overhear some of them brag about the roles they’ve had on TV or the silver screen. Acting, like any form of art, has its own cloistered society that sometimes seems to be impenetrable and off-limits to outsiders. Without screen credits, you are virtually nothing. “You’re here for the audition?” he asked, his dark eyes searching me up and down.
For a moment, his action made me so self-conscious that I wondered about the chances of a twenty-four-year-old theater arts major from a reputable university in the Philippines making it big in Hollywood. Darn, I should have auditioned for a small role in local soaps where Judy Ann Santos or Angel Locsin heats up the primetime TV spots, and who knows, I might be lucky enough to snag a Ryan Agoncillo or Richard Gutierrez leading man in the future.
I snapped back to Stuart’s expectant gaze. God, I could stare at those brooding eyes all day long. “Yeah,” I answered softly, smoothing the olive green cashmere turtleneck sweater I ‘borrowed’ from my roommate. I sat down beside him and crossed my legs. From the corner of my eye, I discreetly caught Stuart checking its length. The cheeky charmer.
“There’s a stain in your skirt.”
“Huh?” I asked, disoriented, then saw the tell-tale spot. This also happened to be my roommate’s expensive black Armani skirt—now, I am positive Margie will rant and rave at me the moment she discovers this unfortunate mishap. Panicking, I frantically dabbed at the spot. “It’s from the spaghetti I’ve had for breakfast,” I deduced and saw that Stuart had handed me a tissue. Now, here’s a metrosexual bloke who carried with him the essentials. “Thanks.”
“So,” he started, after I cleaned up my little mess. “Where are you from? You do not look like an American to me.”
“Asian,” I corrected him. “I’m from the Philippines.”
His amused dark eyes twinkled. “You don’t look Asian to me—perhaps Spanish or Portuguese even.”
“Well, that’s because Spaniards first settled in the country in 1521.” Thank you, Philippine History 101. For the first time, I felt so proud of my Filipino heritage. Nationalism becomes more fleshed out when one is in a foreign land. Despite economic, political instability, endless traffic and poverty that is increasingly rampant, iba pa rin kapag ‘asa lupang tinubuan. Only in da Philippines, wika nga.
“Is that so?” he said, touching his chin thoughtfully. “Stuart Du Temp, by the way.”
I could not help but let out a giggle. “Is that your real name, or some sort of stage name? Because it sure sounds all racy to me.”
“I know. It’s Irish.”
“Ohh-kay. Tonie Ruiz,” I said, saying my name.
He raised an eyebrow. “Sounds like a guy’s name.”
“It’s short for Antoinette.”
“I think I’d prefer Antoinette better.”
I shrugged, because rarely do people ever call me that. It is the name I use for legal and business functions. As we waited, we talked about our lives, like two old friends catching up on lost time. He spoke of rainy gloomy days in Dublin, while I shared hot summer days in Boracay.
Then the inevitable came. “Next.”
|I mean look at you, I wanted to scream in his face, you look like some Greek god while I look like a prancing worshipper beside you.
I looked up and saw that I was next in line. Instinctively, I glanced back at Stuart for encouragement. “Wish me luck.”
“Luck,” was all he said, in his impeccable Irish accent.
So much for the luck of the Irish. It was clear that the leprechaun did not bless some my way, but he sure did bestow it on Stuart.
He was glowing, all smiles as the other aspirants shook his hand and said their congratulations. He looked around and spotted me as I was about to leave. “I thought I’d miss you.”
“I knew you’d bag it,” I told him honestly.
Stuart appeared surprised. “You did?”
I mean look at you, I wanted to scream in his face, you look like some Greek god while I look like a prancing worshipper beside you.
“Yeah.” I replied instead.
He took my hand and held it. “Let’s celebrate.”
We went to his apartment a few blocks from mine. Since we were both struggling actors, we had to make do with what he had in his kitchen. “Macaroni and cheese?” I asked, peering into his cupboard. Is this what the poor guy eats?
“I have frozen pizza—we can heat it in the microwave.”
I opened his freezer and was welcomed by a collection of frozen food—frozen pizza, frozen teriyaki, frozen fries, frozen pasta. Not really healthy. I opened the crisper and eyed some fruit and vegetables. At least, that’s healthy. I looked up and saw Stuart looking at me. “Let’s go to the market.”
So there. The perfect dinner. Stuart even bought red wine and some candles to lend a romantic aura to blend with our food. With pork chunks and spices, we whipped up an amazing adobo dinner. Since rice was virtually impossible, his stock of lettuce leaves and tomatoes sufficed.
“What is this dish called again?” Stuart asked, helping himself to another serving.
I smiled. The wonders of Pinoy adobo—one can never get enough of it. Adobo was also one of the main reasons why my roommate could not afford to evict me. “Adobo,” I told him slowly so that he’d catch it.
“Adobo,” he repeated. “I love adobo.”
My skin tingled over how he intoned the well-loved Filipino dish. “Good for you. Now, eat ‘em all up.”
That night, we sat in his living room, watching black and white movies. Casablanca was playing, and I never found a movie more romantic. “I wonder how it is going to be in the future,” he said, his dark eyes darting away from the screen and into mine, “us grabbing parts for movies, and one day, kids will watch our onscreen feats the way we’re doing now with Bogie and Ingrid.”
It was such a sweet thought, but I had grave news to tell him.
I said softly, “I’ll be leaving next week.”
That fateful encounter was three years ago, but how it all happened still washes me with awe. I went back to Manila with both a heavy heart and a sense of relief knowing that I was finally home. It was a deal I made with my parents — that if I didn’t pass that audition, then I would have to take the plane back home. There was no sense in chasing an elusive dream, especially if that dream belongs in the realm of Hollywood.
I said goodbye to Stuart and wished him all the luck in the world. He faced me with sadness glinting in those dark eyes of his. “You are my lucky charm, Antoinette.”
Today, I still continue to act, getting gigs from local theater companies and even landing a minor role in one of the soaps. So the quest to snatch a hot leading man is not far from the equation.
As for Stuart, I had foreseen his potential the moment I laid eyes on him. I watched with pride his debut on a Cameron Crowe film as an extra; and another where he brushed elbows with Brad Pitt in Troy as one of Achilles’ loyal minions.
A chunk of Hollywood may be too enormous for the likes of me to digest. Adobo definitely suits my taste buds any day.
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