Walking up a dark, stone staircase in a disused building in Paris I reached the summit with my calves burning, out of breath. A paper sign was cello taped to a door panel saying “casting” with an arrow pointing left. I duly followed and was confronted by a panel of three guys in t-shirts and an older woman with outlandish jewellery, all chatting away in German sat at a low desk. The central figure didn’t raise his eyes from the discussion; beckoned me forward with a vague hand gesture. I offered a friendly “bonjour”. They sniggered collectively and looked at me briefly before returning to their animated tête-à-tête. Paranoia consumed me and my spine wasn’t really holding me upright, it felt like it was precariously propping me up and could be kicked away at any time forcing me to collapse in a heap, flat on my face in humiliation. I walked toward the desk in a way that I hoped appeared confident. One of the team stood up and walked towards me, still chatting to his contemporaries in German. He began to circle me, like a big cat stalking prey, walking slowly around me, stopping to examine my confused face intently. Without permission he moved my head sideways, left to right, then up and down, steering my chin with his thumb and forefinger. Like a passive, compliant animal I allowed him to scrutinise and judge my appearance. He remarked something back to the others. He was so close to my face that I could smell coffee and cigarettes on his breath. The desk scrum continued to look through other girls’ portfolios and cards that were scattered across the desk.
I don’t remember him thanking me for the one and a half hour travel time it had taken me to reach the casting. I’d got lost several times en route trying to navigate the metro, walking self-consciously around with my A-Z map of Paris in high heels that hurt, clutching my portfolio protectively to my rib cage.
It became apparent that our brief encounter was over as he walked back to the desk and nonchalantly answered his ringing mobile phone. Nobody looked up, as I stood glued to my spot. I opened my mouth to speak although no words came out and reached into my bag to offer him my casting card. He smiled briefly and shook his head and waggled his index finger. I realised there wasn’t going to be a Hollywood movie moment where I kicked up a fuss and I persuaded them to take notice and book me. I was invisible. I passed another blonde girl in the corridor and smiled, she didn’t smile back. In the foyer I sat and pulled out my A to Z and swapped to my flat pumps and planned my route to the next casting. I felt a lump rising in my throat, I was going to cry. I swallowed it down, choking back tears and kept walking.
That afternoon about two hours later I got a call from my booker at the agency to say I had the job. I needed to be at the airport for 6am the next morning to meet someone called Tomas. Bizarre. I was going to be flying to Strasbourg and I would need to arrive with a clean face, take a dressing gown and white underwear. This was my first booking in Paris after I’d been living there just one week and still to this day I’m baffled and conflicted by the madness of my modelling experiences.