It was one of the biggest auditions of my career. I had 3 callbacks and was placed on “check avail”. I felt really good about it but wasn’t sure. So, after about two weeks of waiting I finally get the call from my agent, only to hear these words,
“Thea, you’ve been released”
I remember thinking, what? At that moment, I couldn’t comprehend what those words really meant….I felt like I had been hit by a “mack truck”. I was paralyzed by doubt, insecurity, shame, and sadness. I had shared the “Auditon Process” with several people. And I started to feel like I not only let myself down but them as well. After about an hour of being in total disbelief, I rolled out of bed to share the news with my family.
My 16 year old son (Kader) was the only one home at the time. I knocked on his bedroom door and entered, he took one look at me and before I could utter the words I didn’t get the part…he knew. He stood and I literally fell into his thin 6’4 frame. He began to rub and pat my back, to let me know it was okay,
“Mom, its okay, don’t cry”.
Moms of teenagers can relate, I think it was the first time I felt like my son wasn’t being a jerk. I was able to get a glimpse of the awesome young man he is going to be. He stayed by my side for what seemed like an hour. I’ll never forget that moment.
There were lots of negative thoughts running through my head: who do I tell next, what does my agency think of me NOW, maybe this whole acting thing isn’t for me, perhaps I’m just not good enough. I thought it was important to share the news with my friends who have supported me throughout this process. I felt like I owed people who had been supporting me over the years a call, an explanation as to why I didn’t land the job. I later came to believe that the remedy to eliminate this “obligation” was to simply stop sharing my “audition process” with others, this way I won’t feel like I’m letting the whole village down by not getting the gig.
So, I made the calls. One of the first people I called was my dear sister-girlfriend Charmaine. She’s been one of my biggest supporters and I felt like I let her down the most. Charmaine reminded me that maybe it wasn’t personal and I was probably just not the person Spike Lee envisioned for that particular role. She also told me that it wasn’t over and to continue to trust God’s plan for my life.
Charmaine said, “don’t lose your faith”. We talked for a bit and after, I proceeded to call others who’d supported me on this journey: my husband, Nikki, Pilar, Pam, Shanel, Therase, Melisa, Elisa, Christopher, Thomasa, Cynda, Tressa, Keshia, Andrea, Vee, Dee, Laurence, Richard and a host of other friends and family members.
I dreaded sharing this with my husband. I felt like he would say something I didn’t want to hear and it would cause me to feel even worst, and I was right. He told me he thought that I should give up acting and go back to corporate American. I avoided being in the same room with him because I just couldn’t bear what else he might say.
About a week went by and I received a call from my good friend Adele. As we chatted she told me she heard something in my voice. Adele said you just don’t sound like the “Thea” I know. She asked me what was wrong. I broke down and told her everything and in her unique and funny way she told me to tighten up my wig because she had a project she wanted me to work on. She told me how talented I am and that this was just how the business of show business works. She really helped me put things in prospective. I shared my husband’s thoughts with Adele and she replied,
“That was his only way of protecting me because he can’t in this industry. He feels like if you just go back work, that safe place; you wouldn’t have to deal with all this.”
It made sense. I quietly forgave him and started to heal.
Two weeks passed and I felt about 85 percent better. I look forward to auditioning again and even look forward to substitute teaching over the summer. Then one day I’m running errands and while I’m at the checkout line in the grocery store, I get a call from my agent. She tells me Mr. Lee (Spike) wants to see me one final time. My reply was, “Look don’t play with me. I’m 85 percent better with this whole thing and I really don’t have time for games.”
My agent replied, “we wouldn’t do that; we will send you details shortly.” So, I got the email with the details and there’s no sides. (Part of the script to memorize) It simply advised me of the time and place. I show up and there’re about 30 people there and I still don’t know what this is all about. I signed in and waited. Then my name was called and they took me to a room where Mr. Lee waited with two chairs and a table.
He stood up and greeted me with a hug and he said, “You thought it was over huh”.
I was like, “Yeah. I was really nervous the last time we met. I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”
He inquired about my nervousness.
I told him, “Dude you’re freaking Spike Lee!”
He laughed and said, “You can’t be nervous and land the job.”
I told him, “Well I’m not nervous now. What’s the job?” He shared his vision of where my skills would be best put to use. It was within a group of women that would be in a scene with Ms. Angela Bassett. He told me it wasn’t scripted yet (meaning there were no lines) and asked if I was okay with that…Of course, I said yes.
I was hired as a “Featured Extra”. I was part of a core group which gave me a slightly bump in pay from being a regular extra. I didn’t mind. I would’ve done it for free but getting paid was a nice added bonus.
I was given 10 scheduled days on the project and for that, I was grateful. I hadn’t been and extra in a movie for some time and I forgot all that was involved. You see, last summer 2014, I was a principal in a movie called Christopher Nolen’s 72 Hours with Harry Lennix (Blacklist) Brely Evans (Being Mary Jane) Terri J. Vaughn ( Steve Harvey Show) Cynda Williams (Mo betta Blues) and a host of others. So, this was a humbling experience for me. By no means am I saying this was beneath me, It was just something I hadn’t done in some time.
On set for ChiRaq, , I met and developed relationships that I believe will last a lifetime. I met Carole, one of the 4 little girl’s (Carole Robertson) niece, which Spike did a documentary about. I met Lee Albritton, the manager of the late Bernie Mac, Atty. Ernesto Borges, (who knew he was a brilliant theater Actor), Father Pfleger and many others. The absolute highlight for me was meeting the mothers of the children that had been gunned done by gun violence in Chicago. Sitting with them, hearing their stories of loss and witnessing their courage to go on was incredible. We, together, participated in Father Pfleger’s 3 mile annual march in Engelwood, which is one of the neighborhoods that have been plagued by violence. I was afraid while I protested…we chanted “Put down the guns”, “Stop the violence” and “Don’t shoot”. Some of the mothers were compelled to stop in their tracks with grief; where they were consoled by the other women. It was at that moment that I asked God to reveal to me why was I there? What purpose did he have me in the middle of a town where I was at that moment fearing for my own life.
It was on my ride home that God spoke to my spirit as to why I was chosen to be a part of this production? It wasn’t to have a principle (speaking) role. In fact, I had relinquished all possibilities of that. I was more focused on fulfilling my commitment as a featured extra. See, I live in a quiet southwest suburb of Chicago and it’s there where my children can ride their bikes to the park and not fear getting gunned down, it’s a place where they can walk to the corner store or pizza parlor and not have their gym shoes, coats, or money be taken, It is there where my children can play basketball in the driveway and not worry about a drive-by shooting. Please don’t misunderstand me, violence can happen anywhere; by no means are we exempt from it. However, It’s doesn’t rid our town as it does in Chicago.
I cried the entire ride home (35 miles ) and had to sit in my driveway until I got myself together. My heart is heavy for the many families that don’t (and should) have the same opportunities as families in other parts of the city where crime is not so prevalent. I shared this with my family with hopes that it would increase their gratitude and awareness of just how good God has been to us.
With about 2 days left on set, I struggled to go back, but I was committed to finish. On my last day, I had another huge audition with the director of another feature film. I was contemplating with my agent whether or not I should jet out on lunch to make it. I stepped away from my group and sat in the hallway. I was still thinking about whether or not I should go to this audition. Meanwhile, Spike walked in the door and asked me to join him on set. On set I began rehearsing with the principal women in the movie. Spike looks at me and gives me a line with Angela Bassett and instantly my whole world changed. I went from a featured extra to a principal in a blink of the eye.
I am now SAG-eligible. My pay increased. I will get an IMDB credit on the movie and everything else that comes with this awesome opportunity. Nothing but God!
The lessons I’ve learned being a part of the ChiRaq production are immeasurable. Spike gave me a gift that will continue to serve me and others. I will never forget how gracious and kind he was to me. Talk about perseverance, dedication, loyalty, humility, spirituality, confidence, and just feeling a sense of pride of being not only black but a person that truly cares about the struggles of our people. This is not just a black issue it’s an issue that plagues our nation…and Chicago is in the very center. I’m sure that this movie will bring a heightened awareness about to the violence and hopefully peace to a city that is in desperate need. #Chiraq #bestsummerever #gratitude #peacetrain #stoptheviolence