Veteran Texas casting director Barbara Brinkley is standing outside the just-opened Ramada Plaza Hotel on Kirby, sucking down a Virginia Slims cigarette and looking agitated. It's a tough job Barbara's got on her hands. She's under orders from Universal Studios to find the hottest, sexiest girl she can to play the next big thing in American Pie 3: American Wedding, the third in the notorious film series of teen sex romps. The past few days have taken her to Austin and Dallas, and today she's in Houston for a five-hour open call.
"I have real high hopes for the Houston girls," says Brinkley in a deep, thick smoker's growl. "Houston is where this kind of girl is."
Brinkley, a grandmother and former schoolteacher who is based in Dallas, says Houston is known for "just incredibly hot-looking girls," and that the steamy humidity helps keep their skin young. But she worries that this might end up being a problem. She's looking for a 22-year-old cross between Cameron Diaz and Reese Witherspoon, and she's scared that some over-the-hill woman might try to make the cut.
"A 27-year-old can look 22," proclaims Brinkley, "until she's in a room full of 22-year-olds!"
Inside the Ramada lobby, Natalie Anne and Jeremy Kovach sit behind a folding table. The agency for these aspiring local actors has sent them to volunteer for Brinkley and help maintain order.
The audition process works this way: A girl fills out a simple form listing pertinent information (including height, weight and eye color) and waits for Brinkley to look her over. If she makes that cut, she's ushered to a back room to rehearse lines from two American Pie 3 scenes, then called in to yet another private room to read her lines with as much sexiness as possible in front of a camera.
Brinkley will send the tapes to Universal, where they will be looked over along with tapes from calls in New York City and Los Angeles. Filming for the movie is to begin early next year. It's unusual for a movie as big as this to be casting in Texas; the thinking is that the studio is looking to discover a big unknown.
As buxom girls in impossibly short skirts saunter in to sign up, an elderly man wearing a Continental Airlines baseball hat and enormous dark sunglasses wanders over to ask what all the commotion is about. Natalie tells him they're casting for American Pie 3.
"American Pipe Dreams?" says the man, confused.
"No," says the redheaded Natalie, "American Pie 3."
"Is there singing and dancing?" the man asks in a hopeful voice.
"No," says Natalie. "Just drama. Comedy drama."
A tall, slim brunette wearing a simple black dress waits behind the table for Brinkley to return. Brandi Laine is an innocent-looking 18-year-old model from Page Parkes's agency. A high school senior, she drove all the way from San Antonio. It's her first acting audition, she says. Her other jobs have been mostly print ads for Foley's and Academy.
Brinkley walks up and looks Brandi over. She approves of her, so Brandi will read in front of the cameras. Brinkley explains to Brandi that the role is that of sex-starved Cadence, sister of the infamous "band camp" character played by Alyson Hannigan.
"This girl has an enormous amount of chutzpah," Brinkley bellows to Brandi. "Do you know what that is?"
"Yes, ma'am." Brandi nods her head seriously.
"She's gonna live forever, do you understand?" Brinkley says.
"Yes, ma'am," says Brandi.
"In the second scene you'll be reading this is the first time you're experiencing sex and love as being the same, so it's a little frightening to you, do you understand?"
"Yes, ma'am," says Brandi.
Brinkley nods her head in approval and sends Brandi to the taping room, yelling last-minute advice:
"Keep her young. And keep her spunky."
Assistants Natalie and Jeremy are talking industry gossip when a brunette in a leather jacket approaches. She's arrived with a dark-eyed teenage girl who has a very curvy figure. As the woman looks over the paperwork, the teenager slumps in a lobby chair and rubs her forehead.
As Brinkley checks out the young woman, leather-jacket lady hovers nearby.
"Stage mother," whispers Natalie.
Brinkley notices the watchful mom and yells at her loudly enough for everyone to hear, "Who are you? You're a go-away! You go away to the lobby." The mother retreats sheepishly.
The pretty daughter visibly cringes at her parent's behavior. Brinkley asks her age. When she says 14, Brinkley nearly gasps and hauls her back to her mother.
"She's way too young for the role!" Brinkley says. "You have an incredibly beautiful daughter, but it's an R-rated film!"
The mother whispers about an agent, and how they drove all the way from Austin, but Barbara firmly sends them on their way.
"She'll never work in this business," Brinkley tells her assistants later. "She's 14 and looks 18. I need a 40-year-old who looks 20."
Then 18-year-old Anne Stein returns. She'd driven in from Dallas that morning with her friend Ben, a gruff-looking guy with a pierced bottom lip. The short-haired, punk-looking Anne had been turned away because she didn't have a head shot. So she and Ben drove to a nearby Eckerd, bought a disposable camera and snapped some pictures.
"We literally walked around the Eckerd's for an hour waiting for the film to be developed," says Anne. Brinkley questions who her agent is and Anne rambles on nonsensically about someone she met on a Los Angeles trip. Brinkley looks suspicious but agrees to let Anne read.
As she waits for her turn, Anne talks about her future.
"I might stay here, I might move back out to L.A." She speaks confidently in an "I'm so cool" voice that simultaneously begs for reassurance. Her dream job, she says, is to be an archeologist rather than an actress.
"But archeology is really a dying field," she explains, brushing her hair behind ears dotted with multiple piercings. And Anne's not sure about college. She's been to five high schools and says she "couldn't stand any of them."
Meanwhile, Brandi Laine from San Antonio is rehearsing with one of the volunteer readers. The dialogue sounds strange coming out of Brandi's angel face.
"Good thing I figured out I didn't wanna do it with the bonehead before we ever did it," she reads. She also has to respond to another character's line, "You've got to fool with a tool."
Multiple pairs of girls ready themselves for the readings, creating a cacophony of lilting voices repeating the same inane lines over and over again:
"I was talking about being annoyed, not in love. What's up? "
"Okay, no more sex talk until I find a new guy "
"Well, Cadence, duh! Jim's friends are total horndogs "
Brinkley enters and catches Anne and a few others not preparing.
"You should be rehearsing your scenes!" yells Brinkley. "Not sitting on your ass!"
As the afternoon ends, Brinkley continues her rounds and receives hesitant thanks from the girls as they finish their filming.
They claim they're auditioning because it's fun and because the American Pie series is so well known. They say it's rare for a film this big to cast in Texas. A few admit that the odds are slim of landing Cadence's role. A pleasant 25-year-old model from Beaumont says that at her age, these auditions are more of a hobby.
"If I were going to make it in this business, I would have done it by now," she concedes.
Anne has spent most of the time before her reading trying to look as bored as possible, saying she can't wait to get back to Dallas. Brinkley follows her into the room for the audition -- midway through it she returns to shout to the rehearsing girls:
"We are not doing a shampoo commercial. I don't want to see the tops of your heads, I want to see your eyeballs! If the camera can't see your eyes, it's like you didn't show up."
Anne's audition ends and she bolts from the room and runs down the hall to find Ben, who's waiting in the car. Brinkley looks depressed.
"She's the victim of 'come out here and get head shots,' " says Brinkley. "She went out to L.A. and spent a fortune and they do nothing for her."
Brinkley says she fears the girl was the victim of a familiar scam. People posing as agents or managers entice impressionable teenagers to pony up substantial money for pictures. They claim they help cast movies, then send their clients to open calls where anyone can show up. The more fortunate girls never meet the men who scam them, says Brinkley. The unlucky ones sometimes do.
Earlier during the call Brinkley says she found a College Station auditioner who wanted fame so badly she admitted to e-mailing her credit card number to a stranger advertising himself as an agent over the Internet. Brinkley admonished the girl.
"I see a lot of it, and I stop as much as I can," growls Brinkley. She says that what really drives her crazy are the scam artists who claim to be her associates.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
"If I ever see them put my name in print with theirs, like they worked with me I'll go after their sweet asses," she announces.
It is almost six o'clock and night is falling, but Barbara Brinkley can't leave until the last line of stupid, sexy dialogue has been read. She didn't see as many girls today as she thought she would -- only about 80 showed up and roughly half that number got to read. But she thinks Houston produced high-quality women. After all, she says, what's the point of having 200 people if only a quarter of them are decent?
As she assesses the turnout, a few more eager-looking, heavily made-up girls walk in just in time. Brinkley needs to get back to work, as the new arrivals begin preening in the wings.
"After this is over, I'm going home and going to bed," she sighs. "Then I'll be moving on to bigger and better things."