LOS ANGELES - While auditioning for a family Christmas commercial in Los Angeles, actors Elizabeth Bemis and Gabriel Villanueva made a bold choice.
After hitting their marks and delivering their lines as a married couple, the pair leaned in for a quick peck on the lips. The sweet, unscripted moment lasted less than a second, but elicited quite a reaction.
"What was that?!" exclaimed the casting director from behind his mask and face shield.
"Can't do that unless you're quarantining together!" quipped the camera operator from several feet away.
Actually, Bemis and Villanueva couldn't have auditioned at all - let alone kissed - unless they were quarantining together. It wasn't the first time the Central LA residents, who have been dating for more than six years, had auditioned as a couple amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced the entertainment industry to adapt to stricter health and safety protocols.
Often that involves auditioning remotely via Zoom or self-tapes, which actors film from their homes and submit online. In this case, it meant auditioning in person - with a quarantine buddy - for characters required to come within (gasp!) 6 feet of each other.
"It's interesting because before the pandemic, we would get an audition together maybe, like, once a month?" Bemis told The Times in August, speaking through a floral cloth mask in the empty waiting room of the 200 South casting studio on La Brea Avenue. "Maybe even less. ... And now we're getting them way more than we're getting individuals."
"With the production rules in California ... even the way actors interact on set - there's a protocol for that now, so people can't kiss unless you're quarantining together," Villanueva said through a blue surgical mask. "So we kissed."
As Hollywood begins to resume production, actors and casting directors are navigating a whole new world for auditions: Socially distanced studio layouts, elaborate self-tape setups and awkward Zoom meetings.
The Times recently observed the audition process at 200 South, speaking with actors about their experiences auditioning both in-person and at home during the pandemic. Via phone, casting directors also shared their thoughts on how the public health emergency has altered casting in TV, film and beyond.