Look Ma, No Lines

The prospect of casting was harmless enough. A lark, really. Something we’d all look back on and have a laugh about, but nothing we’d ready for the night before — if we even showed up.

And then we showed up.

With some holding folded copies of the call for “foreign actors for a Vietnam War movie,” a dozen of us arrived in the early afternoon at a bar where we’d normally be found at night. A casting agent arrived an hour or so later (long enough for us to have a couple beers and speculate that the whole thing was an elaborate hoax to get us to spend money at said bar). Then we followed the agent in her taxi to the faraway studio: a trail of motley foreigners all mounted on motorbike, doing our best to pursue the taxi, revving engines and running red lights, drawing dumbfounded stares from locals along the street.

At the studio, some of us were immediately pegged for extras (or wanted nothing to do with actual acting), while others were given scripts and told to prepare. I tried out for Father Bill, the sensitive-but-hardened Army chaplain, but my dreams of stardom were usurped by another hopeful. Yes, my chance at 15 minutes of fame would later turn into 13 hours of quiet obscurity, passed in the background, carrying random items from one edge of the frame to another or pretending to hold a meaningful conversation with another of my line-less cohorts.

It was at some point during casting that someone figured out that the “movie” was actually a low-budget, made-for-TV affair that would eventually be dubbed into Italian — a compensatory revelation for those relegated to the status of extra, but a downer for the aspiring actors among us.

A few weeks later we found ourselves in downtown Saigon, eating pho and drinking coffee in the early hours of a Tuesday morning in the courtyard of a university once occupied by the U.S. Army, waiting for that day’s shoot to begin. Several scenes and countless takes later, long after the sun had gone down, we walked away exhausted: $100 richer, a little more famous than we’d begun the day and wondering if we’d ever see ourselves on screen.

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Night Bus to Saigon