When you work long hours for low pay, it’s hard to pass up the chance for easy money. That explains why a dozen farmers were sitting in an office on a beautiful Spring-like morning, when they should have been out in the fields planting like mad.
Astro Original, a Canadian yogurt company, was updating its national ad campaign and a local talent scout had sent out a casting call, offering union wages for a real farmer to play a bit part in a TV commercial. The man they wanted would be “male aged 35-40, ruggedly handsome, weathered, strong. Think ‘Mike Rowe’ from Dirty Jobs. NON- SPEAKING.”
When the call went out over our Growers Alliance of Central Texas listserv, I knew there would be some fun responses. “We’re weathered, talk too much, and too old,” one seasoned farmer wrote back.
Arriving early at the film studios, I waited in the parking lot in my mud-spattered truck. A stylish, attractive woman, obviously a model, walked out to her car. Was she auditioning for the farmer’s wife, I wondered? I started to do the math. My age minus 35. I was old enough to be her father.
I hate commercials even more than fast food; I don’t even own a TV, and I have no idea who Mike Rowe is. That didn’t matter. We have bills to pay, and it sounded like easy money. I might add that the scout said I looked perfect for the part, but I’m guessing the other 11 farmers in the room had heard the same thing.
“You get dragged in here, too?” asked a farmer friend looking over at me as he signed in.
“Yeah, Erin encouraged me. She said it would be fun.”
We both looked slightly embarrassed as we took a seat and sized up our competition.
“I don’t know what I’m doing here,” quipped the guy next to me. He wore a pony tail and a ring in his lip. He didn’t know who Mike Rowe was either.
You get farmers sequestered in a room – even a film studio – and you get a lot of farm talk. Real models might have shared their worries – to shave or not, what kind of boots to wear, whether to wear old jeans or new. We could see the real models out in the lounge, waiting their turn to audition for the other parts in the commercial. They had glossy portfolio shots in hand and looked cool, calm – and very clean.
The night before my audition, I looked over the storyboard the talent scout had sent. “We open,” it began, “on a 35-year-old woman standing by the kitchen window in her cottage-like home. She is holding a tub of Astro Original yogurt as she raises a spoonful to her mouth, closes her eyes and savours it.” The next frame was where I would come in: “She looks outside the window, where her husband – a farmer – is seen sitting by a group of cows in a barn. Suddenly, the camera quickly moves through the window, revealing that we are on a dairy farm.”
No worries here. I grew up around dairy farms. I carried enough milk pails to give me curvature of the spine. Okay, so I was a few years older than the requested 38-42 age range for the husband, but the scout had seen my photo. I was a perfect fit, but who else was, too? An imaginary parade of other farmers I knew walked by me: younger, stronger, more rugged.
After too much talk about vegetables and a half hour past my 12:05 audition time, I was up. Our scout opened the door for me and inside were at least six other people, sitting behind tables covered with computers, cameras, notebooks. All eyes were upon me as the room began to shrink – and get warm.
I tried to follow their instructions – stand behind the tape on the floor, look into the camera and say your name, hold up your hands next to your face. The last command threw me. Why did they care about my hands? Did they want to make sure I had all my fingers?
Then I was asked to smile. I’ve smiled a million times for the camera but suddenly my lips were frozen, contorted into what felt like a terrified, lopsided grin.
Next I was asked to carry the plastic bucket from one table and pour its invisible contents into an invisible bottle on the opposite table. All week I had been carrying buckets of potatoes effortlessly across the field. This one felt like a foreign object. It was plastic and odd sized and had nothing in it. Slow down, they said. They made me do it twice, in opposite direction, to show off both profiles of my contorted face. I notice my hands as I slowly poured my imaginary milk: wrinkled and cracked as an old squash rotting on the compost heap.
Finally, they asked me to do it once more “but this time, take off your hat.” I could feel their eyes upon me – or more precisely, my naked head. I could almost hear their gasps. Oh, my, what a receding hairline, and did you see that huge bald spot when he leaned over? Add these features to the sagging chin and you have – I was quite honest with myself at this moment of naked truth – not a husband but a grandfather. Fun!
As I left the studio, I poked my head into the waiting room. “Good luck guys,” I said. “Be sure to pour the milk out slowly.”