It’s been a quiet year outside of trips to the US and luckily things started to pick up by October. I was beginning to think I wouldn’t ever get a job again. Prior to the good news I went a bit mad – I discovered that my year-long slog trying to raise funds for my children’s theatre piece Captain Pancake had been unsuccessful. The Arts Council grants people had said no and now it seemed all doors had closed. That plus a lack of paid work and I found myself pacing my apartment with a big beard, dwindling funds and dwindling self-confidence.
I started calling all my other (regularly employed) actor chums in turn reassured me that it was dead. We all know that most actors are out of work 85% of the time, but after 11 years in the business you start to be able to gauge normal deadness with real deadness and this year was significantly stiffer than the rest. So dead in fact that one of my more successful chums had started selling artisan ice-creams to make a buck, which ended up with other ice-cream vendors threatening his life! Now every actor has a B-job, but this poor bugger had just finished a stint on a well-known period drama and was now embroiled in an ice-cream turf war! Who knew that market was as competitive as showbiz?
So rejoice! I got a job and flew to Zurich to put my bearded self to good use in a series of ads for Swisscom. First up was learning 3 language scripts, as they shoot all ads in French, Swiss-German and Italian (who knew?!) and I found myself in a room with a language coach and my co-star, sporting exquisite facial hair. There was something very familiar about this guy, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
It turns out that this man ACTUALLY spends his whole life as St. Nicholas and when not being the big man himself, he teaches other men to be the ruddy-faced gent. Ironically this ‘Method Santa’ was from Los Angeles – one of the sunniest places on the planet. I found myself wondering at what point does a Californian sun-kissed man make that decision to embrace Babbo Natale? Do you have a particular long period without work, grow a beard and then have a unfortunate accident with some bleach? Or is it more of a calling, like a festive Moses, where instead of burning bush there was a frozen dinner that spoke to him? “The beard maketh the man!” it whistled, as it defrosted in the microwave. Whatever it was, I stared at him reciting lines in a medley of languages clearly riddled with beard envy.