On The Cutting Room Floor – Joke’s On Me

As readers of my memoir, The Wrong Calamity, know, my years in Japan transformed me. Here’s a Japan incident that didn’t make it to the book: On a day she couldn’t make it, I substituted for a friend who had a gig dubbing Japanese movies into English. In a darkened, empty movie theater, the other dubbers and I had music stands with clamped-on lights illuminating thick English scripts. I was to dub two women, and someone had highlighted the star’s lines in yellow and a minor character’s in pink. As we watched the film, listening through enormous headphones, we were to speak our English lines into our mics, in synch with our assigned characters’ Japanese lines. I threw myself into it. Like the trained singer I was, I breathed from my diaphragm, hoping this was how actors breathed. My voice soared, dropped, lilted, turned crisp, fearful, exasperated—whatever the plot required.

At the end, the other dubbers were given their pay and escorted out. I was asked to stay. Two guys appeared from the projection room and asked if I could come back the next day. I couldn’t. I had to work. The day after that? “Sorry. I’m free only Tuesday mornings.” “Okay! next Tuesday!” Obviously I’d killed it. They loved me! I could act after all! Not one to leave well enough alone, I asked the man who handed me my pay, “Was I okay? Did I interpret the characters the way you wanted?” “Oh,” he said, “we don’t care about that.” Why had they asked me back? Because I’d been the only one who could speak English smoothly, without getting thrown off by the Japanese playing in my ears. There went my acting career.

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