Ah, Hollywood! The glitz and glamour. The screaming fans. The fast cars and $50,000 hairdressers. The luxury house in the hills with its Andy Warhol pool, picture windows, and shag-pile carpets which often get used for that very purpose.
Everyone wants to be a movie star. But therein lies a problem: while Warhol insisted that we all get our fifteen minutes, the streets of Los Angeles are littered with people who fell short of the celebrity dream.
For every "Brangelina" strolling a red carpet, you'll find a thousand failed actors who arrive in town boasting boundless optimism, perfect teeth and suitcases of dreams... and end up waiting tables. That, as they say, is show-business.
Except, it turns out, at the Promenade Playhouse in downtown Santa Monica. Here, on the Wednesday after Oscar night, roughly twenty out-of-work members of the local acting community gathered to learn how to turn around their shattered careers.
They included Christopher Coliori, a middle-aged man who looks slightly like The Fonz, but for whom the exalted status of Henry Winkler is but a pipe dream. After twenty – yes, twenty - years in LA, his screen-acting CV is almost completely bare. At present, he’s unable to even find an agent.
Then there was Angie, a thirty-something black woman who cannily declined to reveal her surname. She arrived in Hollywood last Summr, and has since been attending between four and six auditions a month - with not a single job to show for it.
They, and their colleagues, had shown up to worship at the altar of Paul Duddridge, a 40-something Welshman with a self-deprecating manner, a motivational power-point presentation, and a self-help system entitled: “Famous in Forty Days.”
Duddridge is the failed actor’s Mr Miyagi: a self-styled Fame Coach who claims, through a series of seminars and workshops, to be able turn the base metal of a failing show-business career into 24-carat celebrity gold.
“The first thing I want you to realise,” he said, to respectful silence, “is that being a good actor does not make you a successful actor. It’s nice to, you know, be the star of your acting class. It’s good. But it’s also meaningless, absolutely meaningless unless you learn how to turn it into something.”
This prompted a series of nods. “Most of you have forgotten the objective. The objective is to become famous. Not to act. There’s huge snobbery in the acting community about fame, as though it’s something to be embarrassed about. But I’m telling you this: you have to want to be movie stars. Not actors. You must want fame. It has to be in the equation.”
Duddridge should know. A former celebrity agent known for spotting talented nobodies on the London comedy circuit, he boasts a knack for turning life’s under-achievers into celebrity success stories. Old clients include Phil Jupitus, Rob Brydon, Alistair McGowan, Paul McKenna, and Michael McIntyre.
His theory of fame revolves around Keanu Reeves. “He’s a major, major movie star, yet no-one thinks he’s a great actor. Even he may not think he’s a great actor. But I’m guessing people would give right arm to be as successful as him. My system that is more geared towards getting you to where he’s at.”
It’s ambitious stuff. But Duddridge is no slouch. Two years ago he shut down his eponymous Soho agency, and came to Los Angeles to launch a new career in TV and film production (he’d produced and co-written some of Brydon’s TV shows).
Pretty soon, there came an epiphany: he found himself offering advice to down-on-their-luck actors he met on the Hollywood treadmill. “I started out giving tips to people, and straight away, it just seemed to work," he said. "What's more, it turned out I was giving the same tips, over and over again,” he explains. “Now think I’ve boiled down my theory of fame into forty instructions, forty specific rules that will get you noticed.”
Duddridge now dispenses his wisdom in a series of two day seminars, for which students pay several hundred dollars (it includes lunch, naturally). He is, if you like, the sergeant major of a show-business boot camp
“Rule number one,” he told last Wednesday's audience, “is to stop going to auditions. Just stop. Say ‘no’ to your next three."
This caused furrowed brows. "I don’t care how big they are, or how prestigious a director. I don’t care if Spielberg wants to see you. Just ring the casting director, the night before, and say ‘sorry I’m going to be stuck in New York’," he explained. "Ask if they can see you another time. If they’re really interested, they’ll call you back.”
There's method in this madness. Duddridge wants his audience to distinguish themselves from the crowd. He wants them to renounce the herd instincts of most wannabe stars.
“I try to make people act a bit defiantly, act a bit perversely,” he explains. “These things make you stand out. They make the casting agent sit up and notice you, because you’ve put a little bit of tension into your relationship. Believe me: these small things can turn into solid jobs.”
Golden rule number two, he told the room, is to quit acting lessons. Instead, students should take the hard-earned money they'd spend on these classes, and use it to do something useful. Club together, rent out a theatre and put on a play, he says. Or make a very short film and bung it on YouTube.
“Over 15 years, I have perfected a system that forces people to get into survival mode, and act like inventive successful people,” he says. “At the moment, you’re simply not behaving like winners. So I demand that you stop kissing arses. It doesn’t work. There is simply no empirical evidence that says ‘if I kiss this many arses I will get this success.”
In one exercise aimed at building self-confidence, he gets them to pretend they're film producers, and write down a business plan.
“When you realise how the producer has mortgaged his house, and may not be able to pay bills next year, then you start treating him normally,” he explains, “instead of seeing him as someone from Mount Olympus.”
Within half an hour, the group is animated and optimistic. “This stuff is spot on,” says an invigorated Coloiri. “I wish I’d thought about it twenty years ago.” Angie informs me that she’s about to go home and confidently cancel her latest audition.
Later, we speak to one of Duddridge’s former students, a British comedian called Olivia Lee who he began advising in 2007, after meeting on the Rob Brydon show Annually Retentive. Thanks to his help, Lee says, she’s about to launch her own programme, the Sexy Ad Show, on Channel Five.
“Paul just said to me 'I think you could be better if you did this this and this',” she explains. “He said ‘there’s things you’re really doing wrong.’ It was really hard to hear. But when I actually put it into practice, suddenly, I got my own show.”
With that, the class troops out into the Santa Monica night. Like most resting actors, their situations remain perilous and their self-esteem fragile. But thanks to Duddridge, a forty-something Welshman, armed with the life story of Keanu Reeves, they now boast that most precious of commodities: hope.
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