A teen actress has to wonder: In the cutthroat world of commercial modeling and acting, can a happy family be reality?
On camera, it’s easy to be part of a perfect family: A director has hand-picked your parents after a week of callbacks, and the right things to say are printed on cue cards. Off camera, reality is a bit more complicated. Cassie Herold knows her parents are having problems. Her dad basically lives on the road and sees her more on TV than he does in real life. Her mom, a math professor who would rather balance an equation than get a manicure, is nothing like the energetic, perfectly groomed f.m.’s (fake moms) she sees at auditions for everything from snack cakes to energy water. If only Cassie could get her real life to be a bit more like her commercial life, then maybe she could get a date with Rory Roberts—the cutest boy in both the commercial and the real world. But will her family ever get back on track and be picture perfect?
Picture Perfect CHAPTER 1 I pick up the dishrag on top of the stool, look at it quickly, and smile broadly, making sure my face is not turned too far away and that my eyes are not squinting. I look at the pert blond woman standing next to me and say, “Mom, you did it. You got those grass stains out of my cheerleading skirt.”
Ashley, the pert blonde, picks up the water bottle on the stool next to her, smiles as broadly as I am smiling, looks straight ahead, and says, “I didn’t do it. Nature’s Way did it. And it didn’t hurt the environment.”
That’s my cue, so I say, “Now that deserves a cheer.”
I am about to actually start my cheer when from behind the camera Neil says, “Dang. This dumb camera has been giving me problems all day. Can you hold while I try to fix it?” And as if someone has pricked the surface of a balloon with a needle, our version of an ideal world immediately collapses. Our commercial audition has paused, and reality creeps back in.
I am not a big fan of reality. Why would I be?
In commercials I’m the captain of the cheerleading squad who lives in a immaculate suburban home and has a clean skirt without grass stains, a perfect routine, and a gorgeous mother who laughs and smiles on cue.
In reality my mom is a math professor who thinks prime numbers are fascinating, and when I auditioned for the middle school cheerleading squad last year I tripped over my own shoelaces, knocking down the school mascot so Marty Pinker-man’s furry squirrel head rolled off his human head and across the gymnasium, ending up at Principal Conner’s feet. Needless to say, I did not make the squad and have little chance of even being allowed to attend future cheerleading tryouts.
But here in the cramped casting studio, or in a commercial on TV for thirty seconds, my life is picture perfect.
Neil takes the camera off the tripod and starts fiddling with it. “Sorry, this will just take a second,” he says. Ashley and I both nod, and then she bends over into some kind of yoga pose that she say helps her focus. Ashley is my absolute favorite fake mom in the world. She has straight blond hair that just brushes her shoulders, a small, perfectly symmetrical nose, and bright blue eyes that dance when the camera is rolling. I met her during a shoot for a commercial for an office supply store about a year ago. I played the daughter who couldn’t decide if she wanted a sparkly pink notebook or a glittery purple one. She played the mom who let me buy both.
My dad saw the commercial last week while he was waiting for a flight at an airport in San Diego, and he actually called me right from the terminal. Even though it was about two o’clock in the morning, I was thrilled to get his call, since I hadn’t heard from him in a while.
Ashley changes her pose and stretches her arms toward the ceiling. As she arches her back, I notice that her necklace slides around and dangles behind her. I know she’ll want to be camera-ready when we start rolling again, so I tell her about the runaway chain.
“Oh, thanks, Cassie,” she says, coming out of her pose. She moves the chain back to her chest, and I notice the necklace is actually a beautiful gold heart-shaped locket.
“That’s so pretty,” I say.
“Oh, this?” she says, fingering the jewelry. “Well, I got it at the place on Eighth Street next to the bookstore. I had to. Jennifer was wearing almost the exact same necklace when she booked that cat food commercial, and Miranda was wearing one in that car commercial, so now everyone is wearing them.” She opens the locket and looks at the picture inside. “I guess something about this locket screams ‘young mom.’ I dunno.”
Sometimes I forget how supercompetitive the “young mom” category really is.
“Well, it’s pretty,” I say.
“Okay,” Neil says. “I think we’re rolling again. Let’s take it from the top.”
In an instant we are back at it. I pick up the dishrag pretending to be my cheerleading skirt, and we run through the lines, this time without stopping. I do a short cheer and Neil yells, “Cut!” Ashley picks up her bag, and I grab my backpack, and we head out of the tiny casting studio.
The crowded hallway is full of fake moms and daughters reading through the lines we just finished. We are each just slight variations of the other. As always, there are a few new faces among the crowd of the usual girls.
“It was great seeing my favorite fake daughter,” Ashley says, and gives me a tight hug. I delight in the fact that she thinks of me as her favorite fake daughter, but whenever she says it out loud and hugs me, I get this terrible feeling in the bottom of my stomach. The truth is, sometimes I wish Ashley was my real mother and that I was her real daughter. I feel like a terrible, evil person when I think these thoughts, since my real mother is a perfectly normal, mostly average mom who, for some misguided reason, believes that what you have on the inside is more important than what you look like on the outside—which explains why her wardrobe makes her look like an extra for Woodstock, the movie. I give myself a mental slap across the face to try and shake these thoughts from my mind.
“It was great see you, too. I really hope we book this one together,” I tell her.
“That would be fun,” she says, pulling off the headband she was wearing during the audition, sticking it in her bag, and letting her bangs fall over her face. “I’m off to my Pilates class. See you around.” She glides through the crowd and makes her way out of the studios.
I decide to fix my hair in the bathroom before my next audition. The casting office I am going to for my next audition shares a bathroom with a couples counseling office, and more than once I’ve had to deal with mildly hysterical women while I was brushing my hair.
I walk down the hall toward the bathroom around the corner. As soon as I turn the corner, I spot the one person I am trying to avoid.