What They'll Do for a Role
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Features column:Actors' resumes have a 'special skills' section where they list such abilities as ear wiggling, eating with chopsticks and sneezing on cue.

     Actors are different from you and I. They eat different foods. They have more elective surgery. And as I've spent much of the last week discovering, it turns out their resumes are much different, too.

     I've been sorting through the sheets of information affixed to the back of the pretty peoples' 8-inch by 11-inch head shots. I borrowed these resumes from casting directors, who receive them from talent agencies, or sometimes directly from the talent. The resumes list the actors' film, television, theater and commercial credits. They note the training they've had.

     And then, at the bottom, there is a section usually labeled "special skills." This part of the resume is filled with oddball minutiae designed to distinguish actors from their leagues of colleagues. Athletic ability, experience with accents, dialects and weaponry are claims commonly found here.

     It's also the place to find out that actor Rocky Nungester can flare his nostrils, wiggle his ears and raise his eyebrows alternately.

     Actor Charles Jullan is a plumber, a neighborhood activist and can operate a cash register.

     Actor Ginny McMath can burp on cue and make balloon animals; Jenny McGlinchey makes "amusing chicken sounds"; and Paula Kay Penny can curl her tongue upward.

     Actor Violette Peters can eat with chopsticks; Heidi Swedberg can ride a unicycle and play the ukulele; Kim O'Connor can do a "monkeyface impersonation"; Jim Dowd has a "psycho face" and can sneeze on cue. Cathy Shambley is into "looking normal and going cuckoo"; she claims she can roll on her back and put her knees beside her ears.
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     Keith Wolfe is a casting director, career consultant and the author of "The Casting Directors and the Casting Process." I call him and--doesn't Wolfe know we're in Hollywood, baby?--he answers his own phone. I ask him to explain "special skills" to me.

     "A special skill on a resume would be different from a special skill in life," Wolfe says. "Anything that you can do without looking absolutely like a fish out of water, you should put down. If you can sing, put [it] down. If you can dance, put [it] down."

     I get out the Pacific Bell Greater Los Angeles Yellow Pages--the one with the shameless ad for a bail bondsman right there on the spine--and call a few non-acting resume services. Brad M. Bucklin, writer and consultant for the Career Pro Professional Literary Service, is the first to return my call. It turns out Bucklin used to be an actor himself, and says he still produces and writes. I ask him if people looking for desk jobs outside the entertainment industry ought to emulate their counterparts' special skills section.

     "For a non-acting resume it's unacceptable," Bucklin says. "You wouldn't put that on a professional resume...because it doesn't have anything to do with a job. The whole idea of a resume is to get an interview. Sneezing on cue is not going to get someone an interview--unless they are working for Kleenex or something like that."

     That probably rules out a career in, say, accounting for actor Nick Roberts, who "look[s] good in shorts" and "can close either eye without squinting the other." Or Jason Anderson, who claims "the ability to score a 1380 on the SAT after a night of consuming considerable amounts of tequila." Same for "absinthe collector," "vampirologist" and "tobacco and video game enthusiast" Gavin Decker. Or Seth Marstrand, who "can grow a beard in a week." Or Tina Marie Holewinski, who can milk a cow.

     Casting Directors Tom Reudy and Jessica J. work out of The Casting Studios, a sprawling office on the mid-city corner of 2nd Street and La Brea Avenue. Both tell stories of actors claiming something as a special skill that they really couldn't do, and then getting called on it.

     "I just [cast] a scuba diving thing not too long ago," J. says, "and I had [someone] (bluff) their way right up to the swimming pool and not be able to do it."

     J. estimates that resumes matter in about 40% of the jobs she casts. Reudy explains that when there is a non-"copy" role--one without dialogue--casting directors more often care about a look than anything else. Still, he echoes what Wolfe said: actors should be thorough when listing their special skills.

     "They should list it all," Reudy says. "Everything you can do, whether it's regarding sports, languages, a freaky thing you can do, you know, pat your stomach and rub your head at the same time, you should put it down. Because you just don't know, especially if it comes up in the breakdowns, 'we want a guy who can pat his stomach blah blah blah.' It's on your resume, the agent highlights it when he sends it to us."
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     Actor Robin Trapp's resume includes special skills such as firearms, parasailing and, printed last and in bold, "notorious whistler."

     I decide to find out for myself just how tremendous a triller Trapp really is. I contact Trapp's agency, who puts her in touch with me. The actor is at home, where's she's caring for her 22-month-old daughter. Trapp says the hands-free teeth-and-tongue call has hailed many cabs in New York City, but she's never had the chance to do it on film or video.

     That's not to say it doesn't help in getting her resume noticed.

     "I think the 'notorious whistler' has really caught people's eye," Trapp says. "When I do go in for auditions (casting directors) always question me about it. And they have me do the whistle."

     If that's not an invitation, I don't know what is. I ask Trapp to go Seven Dwarfs on me.

     "Sure," she says. Then she issues a warning: "It's gonna like bust your eardrums. Let me move away from my baby here."

     Trapp walks into a different room. She holds the receiver far from her mouth. She whistles, but there's some interference. I ask her to do it again. Then, there it is, as loud as a plaid suit and as long as a Barrymore's career. It lasts for two seconds and changes tone four times. Robin Trapp is no fraud. She sure can whistle.

     Off in the distance, I hear a separate loud, high-pitched noise. Oh no. Trapp's daughter is crying. "It's OK," she says, comforting her infant, before turning her attention back to me.

      "I don't do that as often now that I have the baby," she says.