Here’s how it all happened:
On a daily basis, my mailbox is freshly blessed with stupefying assortment of invitations. Galleries, book parties, and fragrance launches want me and need me to grace their little shindigs with my adorable presence.
How dare they think that I have nothing better to do than imbibe free saketinis? Would I really waste my time chatting with attractive nobodies for the paltry reward of a gift bag brimming with Stila lipsticks, Prada key rings, Vahlrona chocolate and expensive magazines?
You’re damn right I would. I would cheerfully attend the opening of a refrigerator. As an illustrator, you see, and don’t get out much, so I get out as much as possible, which is all the time.
A good while back, fate found me downtown at a swanky bash inaugurating the minimalist jewelry emporium of the moment, which is, of course, no longer in existence. Dashingly unemployed actors administered blue fortune cookies along with the intoxicating liquids. Inside my cookie I found this tiny epistle : “You have just won a prize!” This turned out to be a pair of fourteen hundred- dollar earrings which I have yet to sell on E-bay.
A glamorous stranger stood next to me. We started to chat, my gang eventually ending up at the same Japanese restaurant along with hers, a showbiz posse which included the curvaceous Jade Barrymore and her hunky entourage. The sake seems to have brought out the ham in me (which is, in any event, rather close to the surface) and I regaled the table with saucy stories, convulsive asides, and my liveliest Swedish anecdotes.
As the pineapple was being distributed, the stranger, Marta, says “Call me!” and I reply “Sure! I’ll call you! Let’s be friends!” And she says, “No, I mean that you should call me at the office. About work.” And I say, “Oh! Where do you work?” And she says “Wilhelmina.” And I say, “What is the matter with you? Are you, by any chance, blind?” Because, of course, Wilhelmina is a renowned modeling agency, and, though I do not quite resemble a fireplug, neither am I, shall we say, Victoria’s Secret Weapon.
And she says “No, no. I represent comics and actors, and I think I can get you parts.”
“But I’m an illustrator!” I argue.
Marta says, “Doesn’t matter. Just bring me a headshot.”
Clearly, this woman was bonkers, so I was puzzled when, a week later, she reminded me of her request. My friend Andrew takes the best headshots in New York and made one of me as a favor. I sent it to Marta. Then I flew to Gothenburg, Sweden, where I live half the year for no discernible reason.
Some months later I had returned to New York from my remote Scandinavian backwater.
Marta called: “The casting director of “The Sopranos” wants to see you.”
I am a huge “Sopranos” fan. So even the thought of an audition was exciting enough to warrant a delirious phone call to everyone I’ve ever known.
I was sent my “side”. Apparently. this meant my page of the script. The part I was reading for was called “Woman.” Clearly I was born to play this part. I had one line. It’s a group therapy scene in Melfi’s office and I say, “When you say that you make me feel…less than.”
This audition was just me, saying my line to a charming woman with a video camera. A singular experience. Which I repeated. I rang for the elevator, turned around, and asked to try it again. I said I wanted to “nail it”, an expression I abhor, She humored me.
Shortly thereafter, I got a “callback.” This audition was held at a former bakery in an outer borough. The secrecy! Apparently, this was the real place where they shoot “The Sopranos”. Waiting to audition were five of everything. Five “goomahs”, five little girls, five blue-collar dudes, five east-village types, and five slightly unattractive middle aged “women.” My peeps.
I said my line to a group that included David Chase, (the creator of the show), casting agents, writers, directors, and a large group of intense and brilliant looking people who I have yet to identify, but who collectively scared the pannetone out of me. I didn’t think I’d done particularly well.
I got the part.
Yes, there was jumping. Up and down. And frankly, some shrieking.
Maybe they needed an unknown face. Maybe they liked my mole. Who knows? I was thrilled.
I was supposed to fly back to Sweden on April eleventh, and they were shooting on the seventeenth. I changed my ticket to the eighteenth. The Belgian couple who arrived on the eleventh, ready to cat-sit and enjoy lower Manhattan, were surprised to find yours truly still in locus parenti, as it were. We cohabited. If the Flamands and the Francophones
could do it, so could we.
There was a table reading, where the script was read from beginning to end. Everybody was there. The cast showed up in reverse order of fabulosity, so naturally I was the first one in the room. I put my coat and backpack on a nearby table and tried to act normal. I chatted with Steve Van Zandt, Robert Iler, and Aida Turturro. I patted Edie Falco’s dog, Marley. Everybody was friendly and full of news, because this was the first table reading of the long-awaited fifth season. I started to sit down where I had left my jacket, and thought “Wow! I’m right next to Chase, Bracco, Falco and Gandolfini!”. A second later, somebody tapped me gently on the shoulder. “I’m so sorry, but this table is for principals only. Would you mind…”
Mortified, I ran like the wind. So embarrassed. But how could I have known?
The reading was brilliant. Electrifying. I read my tiny line.
I went up to wardrobe, where an eggplant-colored outfit was selected that expressed a respectable, professional womanliness. They liked my own boots. Cynthia Rowley, you brought me luck. I didn’t look like a downtown illustrator. I looked like a successful New Jersey businesswoman.
The day of the shoot, I donned said outfit and had industrial strength eyeliner applied in the makeup trailer, I waited in my dressing room, marked with a star (!) and: “Woman”.
Someone knocked on the door. I thought, “This is It!”. But this wasn’t It. It was so not It.
She told me the shoot had to be canceled for that day. Some conflict.
She had no idea when they would reschedule. Anytime that Spring. When I would be Sweden. I was flying the following day. Devastated, I knew how easy it would be to replace me. I know I am not the only “Woman” in the world.
Two days later I was watching an episode of “Kalle i pankakan” at Lene and Stefan’s apartment in Gothenburg when my cell phone rang. It was Marta. She told me “They’re shooting tomorrow!” I hung up and raced to Landvetter airport. When I got there I actually said “When’s the next flight to New York?” and paid full fare for the first time in my life.
The Belgians were very surprised to see me. Again.
I returned to the enormous bakery in the outer borough and shot the scene. Tim Van Patten was the director. I said my line many times, many ways. My line became some kind of a surreal, yet tangible art object. I could see it! The shoot was a fascinating, riveting experience, and for the record I think Gandolfini should get two million an episode. At that time, there had been a controversy about his salary demands.
The next day I flew back to Sweden. I was booked to give a lecture to 350 Swedish illustrators at an Illustration conference in Stockholm that morning. On the plane I was seated next to a German Mac nerd, who did my whole PowerPoint presentation for me while I plied him with Glenlivet miniatures.
I wowed ‘em.
Back in Gothenburg I started to write a “Sopranos” episode, because I wanted “Woman” to make a dramatic return. “The Sopranos” does not consider spec scripts, I know. But anyone who would travel 14,000 miles over four days to say one line is capable of every kind of madness. It’s a very good teleplay, even if nobody reads it. I get whacked.
Financially, I broke exactly even. In the illustration world, breaking even is coming out ahead. Bada Bling-Bling!
Season Five. Episode One. “The Two Tonys.” That’s the episode I’m in. Get the DVD. Just look for a Melfi patient wearing sexy black boots. And digging every moment. That’ll be me.