ight weeks ago, I moved to New York from the U.K. After a long career in England, touring in classic plays for 30 years and working for the National Theatre, I was not rich. Despite appearing in a few films, I was not famous. But I thought I had done enough to convince Americans that I was rich and famous back in England. I was convinced American directors would be fighting to get ahold of me. I soon realized that no one in America had even heard of me and that I would have to quickly learn how things worked here.
I sent my résumé and photos to agents and waited for the phone to ring. I'd sold my house in London as soon as I got a visa to work in the U.S., but I needed the little money from the sale of my house for my old age, and I don't have any other savings. I'm also far too old to start working in a bar, so the phone just had to ring. Days passed. Unless things started going well—and soon—I might have to move back to the U.K.
Suddenly two agents phoned with auditions for two TV soaps. At once I imagined getting the roles and becoming a regular cast member. I would save money and produce my King Lear Off-Broadway. One of the soap parts called for a Scottish character and the other American. At the first audition, I couldn't help but smile when I heard two other actors auditioning with accents sounding more Irish (or even Mexican) than Scottish. I was sure the part was mine. And the only other actor I saw at the other audition was a very inexperienced-looking teenager.
I probably don't need to tell you that I didn't get either job. The casting directors said they "went for someone younger." Then my Equity membership came through, but I found their castings news had few opportunities for a Brit. I had only been in the country for four weeks and I depended on luck coming my way soon. Where was it?
Fortunately I got a break. An agent I'd met at a workshop took me on, and I auditioned for eight commercials. The eighth one booked me, although I think they were more interested in my Englishness than my talent. It was a promo film for PBS's "Month of British TV," which featured me in fishnet stockings and high heels saying, "You Yanks will be able to see some decent British TV for a change." It wasn't Lear and it was only one day's work, but suddenly I was having fun and, more important, I was working.
Who knows the future? I only know it is exciting to start again at my age, hoping to perform before different audiences and make new actor-friends, who have always, for me, been the very best people in the world. I'm looking forward to a new year in this new country during which my commercial agent calls me 10 times a day (hint, hint). And thank you for taking me in.
John Windsor-Cunningham runs workshops on classic British plays and recently signed with agent Don Buchwald. He is now auditioning for regional theatre shows in order to "see America." For more information, visit his website, www.actorclub.co.uk.