Call me Al

At some point, I managed to arrange a meeting with a casting agent, and the first thing she asked me was whether I had ever considered changing my name. It was a fair question, I guess, but I felt insulted. “You’re sitting directly across from me,” I said, “and can see that I could easily pass for Italian American.” I was basing this on a moderately ambiguous ethnic quality in my face, which people had speculated over the years could be Italian or Greek or “anywhere in the Mediterranean.” But I had not formulated this concept as tactfully as I could have, and now it was the casting agent’s turn to be insulted. “Why would I call you for an Italian-American role,” she demanded, “when there are a hundred thousand Italian American actors?” To this, I had no response. “If I send you out for an Italian-American role,” she said, “that’s trouble . . . and I don’t want trouble.” She was earnest and annoyed. It was also clear that she had lost any interest in helping me. “Change your name to Joe Kelly,” she suggested, “and I can get you work.” And then she concluded with the powerhouse line: “Until then, I’ll call you when I need a terrorist.” At that, the meeting was effectively over. [link]

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