Almost a Player in Prada: My Super-Close Casting Call

Anna Wintour is a very magnanimous woman. Hats off to the Vogue editor in chief for graciously showing up at the recent premiere of The Devil Wears Prada and not punching Lauren Weisberger’s lights out. Ms. Weisberger, for those of you who have been in a coma for the last few years, is Ms. Wintour’s Eve Harrington: a toadying supplicant who successfully and disingenuously parlayed her former job as an assistant at Vogue, and its supposed mistreatments, into a putrid book and now a naffer-than-naff movie.

I haven’t seen the movie in question. So why, you may well ask, am I so sure that it’s so indescribably dreadful? I’ll tell you why: It’s because I’m not in it.

Hang onto your Dior fanny packs and I will happily explain.

Let’s go back. It’s 2003. The Devil Wears Prada hits the bookstores. I try reading it, but decide that having sex with a dead relative is preferable and hightail it off to the local cemetery.

A year or two later, I get a call from a bubbly movie-production person. She is casting for the big-screen version of The Devil Wears Prada. “Would you like to come in and read for the part of Nigel?” she asks. As those of you stoic souls who actually got through the book without committing suicide will recall, Nigel is the fey creative director of Runway magazine. A consoling island in a sea of abuse, Nigel doles out sage advice to the beleaguered heroine.

Stunned and amused, but always camera-ready, I reply, “Yes, emphatically, yes!”

When I unfurl the exciting news about this big Hollywood breakthrough in my weekly conversation with my 80-year-old dad, Terry, he replies, “Goodness me, they must really be scraping the barrel.”

I couldn’t find it in myself to disagree with Terence Sydney Doonan. What, indeed, were they thinking? Casting an F-lister whose screen credits are limited to random appearances on America’s Next Top Model and VH1’s I Love the 80s to play scenes opposite Oscar-laden Meryl Streep would be a horribly risky strategy.

But it was too late to turn back—too late for any kind of rational thought. Like a moth to a flame, I was already hurtling toward my wing-singeing doom.

Adopting the kind of anything-for-kicks enthusiasm that made Barbara Stanwyck such a popular presence on every soundstage, I learned my lines and showed up for a script reading. Delivering what I considered to be an appropriately pastiche-drenched characterization of a gay fashionista, I minced about and windmilled my arms and gave good nelly. Smiling from ear to ear, the casting director informed me that I was utterly fabulous and begged me to come back and meet the director, David Frankel. I was then handed the entire screenplay and instructed to learn huge chunks of it.

Learning my lines proved much harder than I had imagined. As I struggled to commit the often turgid dialogue to memory, I found myself wondering how Sir Laurence Olivier had possibly done King Lear one night and Othello the next without bollocksing it all up. I had horrible visions of Meryl losing patience as I flubbed and bungled my way through my scenes.

Note that they were now “my” scenes. By the time I went back to meet the director and have a screen test, I had convinced myself that stardom, popping champagne corks and a mink chubby were all just a short limo ride away.

I vamped and camped for the camera. After I delivered my lines, Mr. Frankel asked me about various people at Vogue, including Ms. Wintour. When I told him that the editor in chief was straightforward, highly professional, an incredible mother and extremely well-liked by her staff—in sharp contrast to Ms. Weisberger’s implied portrait—he glazed over.

Skipping out of the casting office, I ran smack-dab into fellow telly nelly Philip Bloch (CNN, MTV, etc.). You straight, white readers may not understand what I am about to say, but please believe me when I tell you that this encounter was very much the equivalent of Hattie McDaniel running into Butterfly McQueen outside the casting office of Gone with the Wind. We eyed each other suspiciously. “You better not be trying to get my part, bitch!” our defensive body language seemed to say. Barely masking a foaming sea of competitive feelings, we commiserated politely about the agony of memorizing lines and went about our business. As I rode the bus home, I couldn’t help wondering how many other random homosexualists had been called upon to try out for Nigel.

The next day, I ran into Fashion Police diva Robert Verdi of the E! Channel. Same story. Had no fashion fag in Manhattan been left unturned? I reassured myself that I had nothing to worry about: These other poofters would loose out to me, me, me, Norma Desmond, because of the accent. (Nigel is supposed to be English.)

Then the realization dropped on me like a ton of remaindered copies of Ms. Weisberger’s new book, Everyone Worth Knowing: I was not going to get the part … and neither were any of my fellow nellies. This whole charade, I theorized, was nothing more than a carefully orchestrated piece of unpaid research. We gays had been dragged in to swish it up—on film, no less—for the delectation of some pre-cast, overpaid straight actor. This thespian would then fashion his characterization from our mincings.

These dark suspicions were confirmed when the movie began lensing, days later, with Stanley Tucci in the role of Nigel.

Despite having played such a key role in the genesis of this movie, no tickets were forthcoming to the premiere. So, like the Wicked Fairy in Sleeping Beauty whose invite to the Christening of Aurora got lost in the mail, I have no other option than to place a curse on Mr. Frankel, Ms. Weisberger and their entire cheesy-ass, cultural-bar-lowering, mediocre venture, which opens in theaters on Friday, June 30.

Break a leg! Almost a Player in Prada:  My Super-Close Casting Call