EXCLUSIVE: 8 Things a Non-Actress Learned While Guest Starring on Lifetime's 'UnREAL'
By Leanne Aguilera
Let me make something clear: I have never wanted to be an actress. Like, ever. I have only wanted to interview them. Simple as that.
As a television journalist, I've spent my career -- hell, my entire life -- obsessing over great episodes of TV shows, yet I have never before wanted to step into the other side of the screen. But when I was told that I had been offered a role on Lifetime's smash drama, UnREAL -- aka the most viciously addictive series on TV -- it took all my willpower not to scream, "Hell yes!" in my boss' office.
And just like that, I was booked on a flight to UnREAL's set in Vancouver, Canada, where I would be guest starring in the season two premiere of the Bachelor-inspired series starring Shiri Appleby and Constance Zimmer.
I was no longer just Entertainment Tonight's TV expert, I was about to become Andrea Erin, a sports reporter who would help spark a huge change for Everlasting, UnREAL's reality show within the show -- and here are eight things I learned from my experience as a first-time actress:
1. Your Day Will Start Earlier Than You Can Imagine
My flight from Los Angeles to Vancouver was on March 22 at 6:15 a.m. I was erratically paranoid of oversleeping, which meant that I set a bevy of the most obnoxious alarms my iPhone had to offer beginning at 3:00 a.m. After removing my cat from her favorite sleeping spot -- my face -- I successfully got out of bed at 3:07 a.m., put on a bit of makeup so no one would scream out of fright as I entered the airport, and headed out the door to make the journey to LAX. At this point, I need to confess something: I've never flown first class on a flight before, so the fact that the kind people at Lifetime placed me up front with all those beautiful creatures behind the curtain was very exciting for me. What wasn't exciting was the fact that I slept through the entire flight and missed out on all those warm towels that I heard you're supposed to receive. Dammit. At 9:20 a.m. I touched down in Vancouver and by 10:00 a.m. I was walking through the doors of UnREAL's production office to get started on what I later discovered was the longest day of my life.
2. Study Your Script, but Don't Hold It Sacred
When my script arrived a few weeks before my trip, I was delighted by the fact that my name was watermarked all over it. It felt very official and I texted a pic of it to my mom. She was excited too. My (admittedly, very small) part placed me at #32 on the call sheet, but I didn’t care. I was looking forward to playing Andrea, a reporter who baits pro football player Darius Hill (B.J. Britt) with a slew of rage-inducing questions causing him to lash out. He does, Andrea feign scared, and the whole incident goes viral on the Internet, thus beginning Darius’ journey of damage control which leads him to become Everlasting's first African American suitor. As my ET producer told me, my on-screen victimization "ignites" the whole season two plot. Umm… you’re welcome?
As I read my lines, I discovered that Darius refers to me -- I mean, my character -- as a “skinny-a** Betty Crocker.” Besides my mother's slight hesitation, everyone else around me (co-workers, friends, random people on the street, etc.) were thrilled that I was going to be verbally b*tch-slapped on one of TV's best new series. And I don’t mean to brag here, but I had four -- that's right, four! -- lines of dialogue. Pretty intense stuff, amiright? Trust me when I tell you that I studied those 31 words for HOURS in the days leading up to my big debut. I walked around my apartment putting as many different inflections on "Congrats!" as my brain could think of. (For the record, I came up with eight.) In the end, my feverish overanalyzing and panicked texts that I had “no idea what the f**k I was doing” were all for nothing because I was encouraged to tweak and tinker my lines during the scene. Truthfully, I was too nervous to veer off of my literary path, but it was nice to know that I could've if I wanted to.
3. Wardrobe Will Ask You to Bring Your Own Clothes
When my mind would wander about what my first day as an actor would be like, I imagined getting whisked away to the wardrobe trailer for my own cliché makeover montage of twirling around in expensive dresses while a bubble-gum pop song played in the background.
Sadly, I did not get my movie moment. Instead UnREAL’s head costume designer, Cynthia Summers, sent me an email asking for my measurements (FYI, I had no idea what my inseam was) and if I could bring a few of my own outfits that she found from stalking my social media. She attached eight screenshots from my personal Instagram page and it was clear that she scrolled way back -- like, 105 weeks back. Damn. I hope she at least enjoyed all the pictures of my cat.
Once we met on set, Cynthia sorted through my suitcase and told me that they were looking for a "casual, yet professional" type of look -- like something that I myself would wear. Apparently, I was the inspiration for Andrea's wardrobe, which was flattering to hear considering I never considered myself a fashionista. We ended up settling on a pair of gray high-waist skinny jeans from T.J. Maxx, a pearl-embellished tank top from Forever 21, and a fitted maroon blazer that came from… Well, actually I have no idea how it came to be in my closet. Needless to say, I didn’t feel exactly glamorous, but at least I felt like myself.
4. The Makeup Chair Is Full of Secrets
Every girl knows that doing your own makeup is never a truly fabulous affair. We all make that same mouth-awkwardly-hanging-open-look when we put on mascara, and trying to make your face look like it's been put through an Instagram filter is pretty much impossible. So it was particularly exciting when a production assistant whisked me away to the hair and makeup trailer where two very sweet and talented ladies were waiting to primp and prod me with their brushes and lashes. It was there that I discovered that the hair and makeup trailer is where all of the secrets are stored on set. As I looked around the room, I noticed that all the actors were chatting with the artists as though they were lying on a therapist's couch rather than sitting in a salon chair. They gushed about their awkward Tinder dates, complained about their moving van woes, and debated whether or not a fellow Vancouver actor was about to be fired from [Show Name Redacted Here]. While I did my best not to eavesdrop on others' personal tales, I inadvertently ended up babbling about my entire life's story while my hair was getting curled. There must be truth serum in the hairspray.
As the day progressed, I realized that my nerves had shifted into full force. I felt like a pretender and, at any moment, someone was going to realize that there had been a huge mistake and kick me off set. At the peak of my paranoia, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, who plays Everlasting producer Jay, came up to me with a huge butterfly-soothing smile and welcomed me to set. "Are you excited?!" he gushed. When I admitted that I was 60 percent nervous and 40 percent terrified, Jeffrey laughed and said I was going to catch "the bug" today and fall in love with acting. I was highly skeptical, but I didn’t challenge him because he was being kind to me and he seemed normal and he smelled really good.
Meanwhile, my scene partner, B.J., wanted absolutely nothing to do with me. I watched him -- a grown man with huge muscles -- physically run away from me saying, "Uh-uh! No way!" when I went to introduce myself. Maybe my makeup was a tad too much? A Lifetime publicist then informed me that he was "scared" of my ET camera crew and was too nervous to talk to me. "Umm… does he realize that he's an actor?" I asked, baffled. I eventually coaxed B.J. to come out from his hoodie, where he was hiding like a frightened turtle, and we made a deal: He would give me tips on how to be a good actress, and I would give him tips on how to give a good on-camera interview. It was the most bizarre win-win ever.
6. You'll Be Waiting Around -- A LOT
According to the call sheet, my scene was originally supposed to take place at 5:30 p.m., but slowly throughout the day, I was informed that it kept getting “pushed” back. No worries. I had other things to do. While I was waiting for my big moment, I was doing what I usually do on a TV set: interviewing actors. The clock kept ticking and I ended up doing seven interviews with the new batch of women who will be vying for Darius’ attention on Everlasting.
When I wasn't getting season two scoop, I raided craft services and found the most delicious chicken dumplings I'd ever tasted. I tiptoed through Quinn (Zimmer) and Rachel’s (Appleby) offices, and studied the wall of contestants with the labels of "wifeys" and "sluts" in the Everlasting control room. They all seemed like nice girls to me. Mostly, I marveled at the fact that the lighting inside of UnREAL's sound stage felt exactly as if I was standing outside on sunny day. It was truly tripping me out.
It wasn’t until nearly 10:30 p.m. that I was told that my scene was probably going to happen the following morning. I was thrilled because since I had been up since 3:00 a.m., traveled to another country, and already put in a full day's worth of work, I was getting a little loopy. While we were "waiting to see what the director wanted to do," I curled up on the same lounge chairs that Quinn and Rachel laid on during UnREAL's season one finale and tried to take a little nap underneath all the twinkly lights that completely blanketed the backyard of the Everlasting mansion. After another two hours of will-they-or-won’t-they, I was told, at 12:17 a.m., that it was time to shoot my scene. I was wildly exhausted, but it was finally showtime.
As I walked down the teeny-tiny corridor that would serve as our set, UnREAL's director for the episode, Peter O’Fallon, pulled me aside and started describing what he wanted me to do in the scene. I did my best to pay close attention, but the hair and makeup girls had descended and they feverishly tried to repair the damage that I had done to their beautiful work over the past seven hours since I was in their magical chair. It was really straightforward: Darius, who had just won a game, would open the locker room door. Andrea, surrounded by fellow quote-hungry reporters, would pounce on him with questions that would send him into a fit of rage. Then we'd be done. B.J. and I did a few practice runs and I quickly realized that while I was saying my lines exactly as they were written, he wasn’t. Jeffrey had warned me that the UnREAL cast is encouraged to improvise their lines, but I really wasn't prepared for that and I tired not to panic.
As the cameras got into place, they handed me Andrea's microphone and I immediately started giggling. In comparison with what I'm used to -- a sturdy, 3-pound ET-flagged mic -- this little thing felt like a toy in my hands. The props guy was clearly not amused with my observations, but he must have been tired too. It was almost 1 a.m. When it was finally time to shoot my scene, I got a burst of adrenaline as the director yelled "Action!" It was all a heart-pounding blur after that. I tried to make my lines sound as natural as possible, while giving off an "all-knowing b*tch face" that we discussed that Andrea should have. After each take, they would pause to quickly switch up the angles of the cameras and then we'd do it all over again. We ended up doing the scene four or five times and, truthfully, I really don’t remember much else because my nerves erased my memories. After the last "Cut!" everyone kept telling me what a "great job" I did. B.J. engulfed me in a huge hug, and the beyond-sweet crew members clapped for me. I couldn’t tell if they were all just being nice, but at that point, I was too tired to care.
8. An Actor Is Never Happy With Their Performance
The next morning, however, was a different story. I was panicked that in my sleep-deprived state, I had screwed up the scene, ruined the entire season two premiere, and subsequently caused the series to get canceled. Yes, I realize that sounds extremely dramatic, but I'm allowed to be -- I'm an actress now. As with most Los Angeles residents, some of my closest friends are actors, but I've never felt envious of their high-profile jobs -- only of their high-priced shoe closets. But in this moment, it was really nice to be able to relate to their worries and woes, and commiserate about post-scene hesitations. "Welcome to our world," one of my friends texted me. "If you went home doubting every choice you've ever made in life, then you did your job." I felt much better.
In the end, Darius never called me a "skinny-a** Betty Crocker" and I sure as hell did not catch "the bug" that all the UnREAL actors excitedly teased me about, but I did have an unforgettable time stepping into the other side of the screen for once.
UnREAL's second season premieres Monday, June 6 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime!