Q: How did you become a tour guide at Universal Studios?
A: Getting hired is kind of a long process. They have an open call, and it’s a big audition. A hundred people showed up the day I was there. They narrow it to 20-25 people, who are put in a training class that lasts three weeks. At the end of the class, you have a written test and a test on the tram.
They ended up hiring 15 people. A friend of mine who worked for Universal for years told me, “That’s the hardest audition in Hollywood.”
Q: How often do they have auditions?
A: They have auditions twice a year: once at spring break, and once at summer break. They hire more people for the summer; last summer they hired about 30.
Q: Do they try to hire aspiring actors?
A: They definitely like people with acting backgrounds. The tour is basically a one-person show—you’re giving a performance.
And it’s a movie studio; people who want to be in the industry have more knowledge and enthusiasm, but there are some people who don’t want to be actors. I have a tour-guide friend who is in political science, and there are a lot of college students who don’t really have a plan yet. There are also a couple of people who are teachers during the school year who just come and give tours during the summer.
Q: Are there perks to the job?
A: The people I work with are really fun and smart. And Universal is great about giving you time to go to auditions and stuff.
During the summers, they have seminars with casting directors and producers. There is also an acting class during the summer that is totally free and exclusive to tour guides.
Q: How many tours do you do each day?
A: I’ll do about four tours a day, depending on how busy we are. If we’re crazy-busy I might do five. The scheduled shift is seven hours.
Q: Do you get hoarse?
A: All the time.
Q: I guess I have to ask this: Do you see famous people?
A: Oh yeah. It doesn’t happen every day, but I have friends who’ve told stories. It wasn’t my tram, but Judi Dench snuck on this one guide’s tram a few weeks ago.
Another time, Dakota Fanning took a tram tour and sat in the front. We have a video camera and screens on the tram; when we got to the two-minute War of the Worlds part of the tour, the guide (not me) put the camera on her and said, “Well, you were in this movie, why don’t you tell us what happens here?” She did it, it was really sweet of her. And people thought it was prerecorded, but she was actually on the tram.
When we drive by Wisteria Lane, if the women from Desperate Housewives are in makeup they’ll sometimes stand and wave.
We are kind of sad that Crossing Jordan was canceled, because they were really friendly to the tours. Jerry O’Connell especially liked to wave to the trams, and I saw Steve Valentine two or three times.
Q: Have you ever been hit on during the tour?
A: I did have a guy give me his number. He said something like “I live in Arizona, so I don’t know if you’d be interested, but here’s my phone number.” I was engaged at the time, so I didn’t call him.
There are people who get obsessed with the tram tour. They’ll get annual passes and ride the tram again and again. Some people know every single tour guide’s tour and will recite the tour with you.
Q: Is there a favorite part of the tour for you?
A: I like when people get really into it. Like Jaws—to the kids everything is real. They’ve replaced the Jaws shark like four or five times, in varying degrees of realisticness, and even though it still looks really fake, little kids will really believe in it.
There is also one part of the tour called “The Mummy’s Tomb,” where the walls spin, and I tell the driver not to go in, but he does anyway, which is, of course, planned. After the tour, a little boy asked me, “Why did the driver go in when you told him not to?” He was very upset about it.
Q: How much longer will you do this?
A: I can see myself doing this for another year or two. It’s a job, not a career. They love it when people go on to bigger and better things, and then we can all point to them and say, “Hey, Mike Ovitz started out as a tour guide here”—which is true. They expect you to take it as a stepping stone. Then again, there are people who do this for years and years and love it, so you never know.