Commercially Speaking


“Hi, Jacqueline,” the message began. 

“A Commercial Pays $800 is looking to cast a role With your Specs. Call now XXX-XXX-XXXX.”

I have no idea when or where I signed up to do commercials, but heck, $800 sounded a pretty good rate. I have a Walgreens card, so I must like something about them. How hard can it be to go into the store, fill a shopping trolley and walk out again? I’ve done a lot more for a lot less. Human chess piece, scullery maid, and I was even an extra in Kenneth Branagh’s Frankenstein. 

None of this experience has enabled me to get through the doors of Central Casting in the States, where my attempts to sign up for work as an extra have been doomed because there are never any spaces available to complete the process in person.

I was, by the way, Top Extra in Frankenstein. Originally cast as a grieving widow in the warm church, I was demoted to one of a hundred starving peasants in the freezing January cold outside when they saw how short I was (no one under five foot five is allowed to suffer a bereavement, it seems. That’s the movies for you). Ken (who had kindly arranged the whole thing for a feature I was writing) saw me lurking among the other peasants and moved me to the front row, resulting in 99 seething peasants behind me and later having to eat my lunch alone, ostracised from the madding (literally) crowd. 

Hating the stain the make-up department had put on my teeth intended to make them look rotten, I’d been to the toilet and wiped it off. I featured three times in the movie and also in the front row in the publicity material – the only peasant boasting a perfect set of white porcelain veneers. 

The commercial sounded a little more glamorous, although there were things that were already worrying me about the Walgreens message: not least, why they felt the need to unnecessarily capitalise Commercial, Pays, With and your Specs. And was that Specs as in specifications, or Specs as in spectacles? Should I mention all these concerns to them before discussing what my role would be? I thought it best to put my grammar pedantry on the back burner and, having mentally spent the $800, called them.

The young man (I could tell he was young – and anyway, everyone is 12 these days) seemed very thrilled at my having made contact. The only problem was, I had no idea how he had my details. “Do you remember signing up to XX?” he asked. I did not. 

I’ve signed up to a lot of things here, so much so that I live in fear of the FBI breaking down my door and finding me wearing no clothes watching Law and Order: SVU (not that going commando is a prerequisite for watching the show; it’s just how I roll on occasion). Sometimes, I think I worry too much.

Anyway, having established that I had no idea who he or his agency was, Calum (I at least established his name, but have changed it to protect his innocence), could barely contain his excitement at touching base. “You’re SIXTY?” he squealed, reading out bits from a form I had no memory of filling in. “That’s amazing!” Then the conversation went like this.

“Why is it amazing?”

“Well, you sound as if you have so much energy.”

“I do.”

“You’re not ill?”


“You’re not retired?”


“Are you thinking of retiring?”


“That’s amazing.”


“You really don’t sound 60.”

“Tell me what you think a 60 year old should sound like.”

“Um, well, er, I’ve been talking to a lot of people from 50 to 67 – 67 is the oldest – and you just sound very different.”

“How old are you?”

“I’m 22.” Dear lord, he’s barely out of the womb. 

Having established that I was not infirm, heading for the scrapheap of life or, in Calum’s mind, possibly the grave, I enquired about the commercial.

“The Walgreens commercial is looking for a confused older customer…”

HANG ON A MINUTE! Maybe it was too soon to be asking about my character’s motivation, but for a rather generous $800, my mental state might have to be deteriorating at quite a rate. Was I just confused because I couldn’t find the aisle where the Corn Flakes were, or did I have amnesia following a car crash (being way too old, obviously, to be behind the wheel of a car)? These were important questions.

“Calum – I’m sorry, I have to stop you there. Why am I confused?”

Bless him, he had no idea. “I don’t know. Walgreens just said they wanted a confused older person.”

“Why would Walgreens assume that a 60 year old out shopping would be confused? And if they are assuming that, they should at least tell you the level of confusion I have to convey. Am I mentally ill?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know.”

“Okay, let’s talk numbers.”

Calum sounded relieved to be back on the right track. It was possibly three days’ work for the $800 and…  

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to stop you there again. The contract would have to go through my agent.”

“You have an agent? That’s amazing!” (Why is everything “amazing” to 12 year olds these days?). 

I actually don’t have an agent, manager, or any other kind of representation at the moment (any takers, please?), but if I’m going to make a living from wandering the aisles of Walgreens being chased by men in white coats brandishing strait-jackets, I think I’m going to need one.   

“Of course. I’ve done several of my own TV series.” (Ok, now I was being mean).

“Really? That’s amazing!”

“Calum, I’m going to go now. This really isn’t going anywhere.”

I know that instead of chasing minor roles as a background artist or a demented old lady playing Grand Prix with supermarket trolleys, I should just be getting on with my writing. But it’s been a tough year, filled with death, personal injury and relocation, and I’m finding it hard to get motivated again. On the plus side, my local Walgreens is doing three for the price of two on certain cosmetics this week. I just can’t find the store. Too confused.