You acting at me, punk?

Wrestling with your inner-Eastwood? Fancy yourself as de Niro? Movieoke could be the answer. Nicola Behrman sets the scene
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The Independent Culture

We all have to have somewhere to live the dream. After Wimbledon, we go to the local tennis court and pretend we're a Williams sister. After the marathon, we monopolise the running machine. But what do you do after the Oscars? Where can you soothe the frustrated starlet within?

We all have to have somewhere to live the dream. After Wimbledon, we go to the local tennis court and pretend we're a Williams sister. After the marathon, we monopolise the running machine. But what do you do after the Oscars? Where can you soothe the frustrated starlet within?

Created in New York, 'movieoke' is karaoke for the movies. Every Wednesday night, wannabe screen legends flock to a small club in Manhattan's East Village with one aim: to stand up in front of a crowd of strangers and deliver their idol's words in their own unique style. And faced with a captive audience and a microphone you've got to ask yourself a question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya punk?

Movieoke is not for the faint-hearted - unlike karaoke, there isn't a backing track to hide behind when you fluff your words. It's just you, a big screen and an audience waiting to see if you can out-Nicholson Nicholson or put Holly Golightly to shame.

I'm one of the first to arrive at Two Boot's Den of Cin where movieoke plays each Wednesday. It's much smaller than I expected and the vibe is vintage. Little bistro tables and chairs are set up, cabaret-style, and there's an old sofa at the front for the really daring.

In a city second only to Los Angeles for actors per capita, one would imagine that movieoke would be a haunt of frustrated thesps dying to show the world that they're up there with the Pacinos and the De Niros. But I couldn't be more wrong. Tonight's audience is as eclectic as the city itself. There's a couple on a date from Jersey who keep going out to check on the car; a double-dating duo who surreptitiously dare each other to go first; a group of Chinese girls up for a giggle; an odd looking fellow with thick glasses and a pot belly; and me, with a glass of wine, trying very hard to lose my sobriety before I make my way to the sign-up sheet.

First up we have Michael and Matthew, who don't know each other, but both have a penchant for Kubrick. Michael is short and stout and looks like a mole. He has a high-pitched voice and a lisp that voiceover artists would kill for. Matthew is a regular twentysomething up for a laugh and the contrast is simply divine. They start us off with their very personal rendition of a scene from Eyes Wide Shut, which is truly extraordinary in its unorthodoxy. But as they ad lib, bumble their lines and giggle at us, a very un-New York-y thing happens: we start to bond. The more they giggle and fluff their scene, the more we giggle alongside them. By the end of the evening, we will have become friends, but for now, the movieoke virgins in the crowd are still apprehensive. I bide my time. Some would call it cowardice. I call it research.

Next up are Matt and Matt, the geeky-looking academics in the corner. They're both skinny, bespectacled boys and look more like computer nerds than young wannabe starlets. But, lo and behold, the second they get on stage and take on Adam Sandler and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Punch Drunk Love, the audience erupts. If you've not familiar with the film, it's worth seeing just for this scene: Sandler rings Hoffman, the boss of a sex line, to inform him that he is stealing his credit card number and blackmailing him for all his money. The exchange that follows made me laugh more than I've laughed all year. These two geeky-looking types sitting in the corner are suddenly delivering obscenities with the best of them. They totally own the scene. It's like seeing your grandma singing The Smiths.

How did they get hooked, I ask, as they tumble off stage buzzing from their victory? "We'd do karaoke every once in a while for a laugh, but it gets a bit tired. And we were always doing scenes from Seinfeld. You know, just walking down the street bantering lines back and forth. And then we heard about this, came to check it out and it was a slam dunk."

Do they rehearse? Of course they rehearse. "We watch the scenes a few times through in preparation, try out some variations on tone, pace, but you never really know what it's going to be like till you get on stage," says the other Matt. That's the beauty of it. Like theatre, the audience and their responses affect the delivery and the performance.

Were they nervous? "He was so nervous this evening," says the first Matt, "he nearly peed his pants".

The brains behind this underground success is Anastasia, a sexy 26-year-old with the air of a dominatrix. But instead of a whip, she wields a DVD remote control and gives the punters a safe, protected environment in which to enact their deepest darkest fantasies. "When I was growing up, I was obsessed with watching scenes, not films," she says. "None of my friends will watch movies with me because I never get to the end. I just rewind and rewind until it's literally in my blood. The only place you're safe is when I actually go to a movie theatre."

In this comfortable, non-judgmental environment, there is only one faux pas - being a Peeping Tom and not performing. Anastasia says she doesn't mind if people don't, but those that don't generally don't come back. It's just not cricket not to get up there - and in any case, I want to come back.

So I make my way up to the stage. I decide to hold off on Pretty Woman, my dream role, for tonight, and do what any good British girl finding herself on stage in an underground cavern in New York would. I hitch up my knickers, think of England and do my best Bridget Jones impression. And a bloody good one at that. Or so my audience say.

As I tumble off the stage in a starry stupor, the line between fantasy and reality blurs. My mobile phone goes off and I coo, "Nicola Behrman, wanton sex goddess, very bad man between my thighs." And because this is real life, not a movie, it's not my mother on the end of the phone. It's my gran.

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