It started while I was perusing Backstage.com over my dinner of oatmeal and string cheese, scanning for any auditions that called for a 5’9” balding 42-year-old white male actor in the New Brunswick area. As usual, there were problems with my internet connection, because my search yielded no hits.
As I chomped deeper down the stick of Monterey Jack, wondering if I could pass as a 25-year-old Sri Lankan farmer for a grad student film at Rutgers, a new listing appeared on my screen: Corporate Values Training.
Roles: “Greg” (lead) Male, 35-55
TYPE: office manager, condescending without being physically threatening. Business attire.
I didn’t bother to read further. The role spoke to me as few roles had before, perhaps barring “MAN FROM INFOMERCIAL WHO SPILLS CHILI BECAUSE EVERYTHING IN HIS KITCHEN ISN’T MADE OF MAGNETS.”
I heard back just hours after sending in my application that my instincts had been correct. Greg was me. I was Greg.
I had two days to prepare, and there was much to do. Because I’m a method actor, I wore my suit jacket around the apartment 24/7, including to sleep and in the shower. I got into character by pretending to be a manager at my local Staples, where I spent three hours assisting customers and chastising employees until the real manager threatened to call the police. There was a bit of accent preparation required, as well. I’m from Connecticut, but in crafting Greg’s backstory, I decided he was born in New Hampshire, spent middle school in the Middle East, and went to college in London.
Two days later, when I arrived at the company building, I met the director.
“So, these are sexual harassment training videos,” he explained as we entered the elevator.
He steered me into a room where eight women and one man were waiting inside. This was, I soon realized, a rare case where being the “lead” was not a great thing. Greg was the aggressor in all nine hypothetical scenarios. Over the next few hours, he commented on how Jenny’s legs looked in her new skirt. He promised Nancy a promotion in exchange for “personal favors.” He showed Anton a series of office supplies and asked which most closely resembled the size of his penis.
I started out feeling alright. We were all professional actors, after all. I vocalized my disgust for my character with comments like, “This guy, yikes!” and “Somewhere between 87 and 94 percent of employees experiencing harassment do not file a formal complaint.”
Then came Linda. (I forgot her real name.)
Linda’s and Greg’s story was brief but impactful.
“Okay, so,” the director told her. “You’re gonna come in to talk about a report, and he’s going to stare at your breasts.”
I could suddenly taste the roof of my mouth. Buttery.
“Do I pretend not to notice?” Not-Linda asked.
“Try, like, squirming uncomfortably,” the director said, staring at her breasts.
Linda’s fiery gaze bore into me. Where does Greg end? Where do I begin? I took a shuddering breath and forced my eyes to Linda’s ample décolletage for a first, second, and eventually thirteenth take. By then I had broken into a cold sweat. My vision was crossed with breasts, even when I looked away. Breasts on the fluorescent lamps. Breasts on the computer screensaver. Breasts on top of Linda’s breasts.
“That should do it,” I heard the director say.
For months, my life went back to normal. Until all Johnson & Johnson employees were asked to complete the new training module.
For approximately 134,000 of my New Brunswick neighbors and others across the globe, I became the face of workplace sexual harassment. Your accusing stares follow me from Target to the Potbelly Sandwich Shop and back to Target again. I hear your whispers from the shadows.
“It’s Greg,” you say. “He might try to give you a back massage at the water cooler.” Your children cross the street to avoid me. That might be unrelated. But it might not.
I tried to change my appearance to shake these chains—I grew a mustache, but that only made things worse.
It’s redefined my career. Directors can’t see me as anything but Greg. I’m like Daniel Radcliffe, kind of. What I thought could be a stepping stone to roles like “Complex, Tormented Murderer” on Law & Order was instead a stepping stone to roles like “Creep Who Pees at a Playground” on Law & Order.
Each night, before going into my apartment building, I duck into a nearby alleyway and turn my face towards the sky. “I’m an ally!” I scream into the void. “This is who they made me!”
My only solace is looking forward to my next gig: “Dwayne the White Supremacist” in Party City’s cultural sensitivity series.
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