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Recalls Romay: "I was like, 'Yeah, he looks like Obama.' "
And with that, the larva of a career in $100-a-gig showbiz was hatched.
Like Puisseaux, Otero and Romay didn't overplan. That night, they put him in a business suit and planted him in the audience of Pellizcame, hoping to gauge the audience's reaction. The amiable crowd went wild when Barack Obama jumped from his seat midshow.
Romay couldn't promise him steady work, but Puisseaux needed a regular paycheck. So they worked out a unique agreement. Puisseaux would work for $8 an hour on the station's maintenance crew for up to 40 hours a week, painting walls, fixing props, repairing tile, or any other physical task that needed to be done. But when production needed "Obama," he'd be yanked to perform.
Puisseaux recently got a raise to $10 an hour, but there was little hope of a pay raise for his acting. Actors who have been at the station for years still make the $100-per-appearance scale.
After a few more in-studio appearances, Romay decided to take Puisseaux off studio grounds. For a segment titled "A Day With Obama," Romay piled Puisseaux, two actors dressed as Secret Service agents, and a cameraman into a black SUV. Their destinations: tourist-magnet Bayside Marketplace and famed Cuban lair Versailles Café.
The populace was fooled: Puisseaux was cursed by a Hillary supporter, moistened by women crying on his shoulder, and, once they arrived at Republican-hasta-muerte Versailles, chased from the property. "Their security people told us we should leave, because people might think he's the real Obama and try to stab him," Romay says. "We got scared and left."
The excursion was considered a mild success. Romay says the show's ratings didn't get much of a boost, but it was a cheap way to eat five programming minutes. Puisseaux, while a bit overwhelmed, enjoyed taking a day off from his maintenance work.
And then, a few days before this year's Democratic National Convention in Denver, a producer of América TeVe's news division contacted Romay. They had a couple of extra credentials. Would he and "Obama" like to tag along?
It was at the convention that Puisseaux realized he had slammed face-first into a global cultural zeitgeist. The experience would scare the shit out of him.Fauxbama speaks at the Democratic National Convention.
The frenzy began on the American Airlines plane ride to Denver. A woman sitting next to Romay tapped him on the shoulder and asked if that was Barack Obama snoozing next to him. Romay explained that it was, in fact, a look-alike.
The woman wasn't satisfied. "She said, 'No, that's Barack!' " Romay recalls. "She was sure Obama was sitting in coach."
From the moment Puisseaux landed in the Colorado capital, from the airport to the hotel, whether he was wearing a suit or not, he was hounded. "He can walk around unnoticed," Romay says, "but once one person says, 'That's Obama!' — all of a sudden, we have a thousand people around us."
During shoots at Invesco Field, Puisseaux became terrified of the crowds of believers who surrounded him. "Too much, too much," Puisseaux says of the experience. "Everybody is touching me and hugging me and yelling 'Obama! Obama!' I feel like I was losing myself, my identity."
Comments Romay: "He's a person who has a hard time saying no to anybody, and here he has hundreds of people swarming him, asking him for autographs and photos."
Though Puisseaux hasn't yet gained the right to vote, he had read up on Obama and come to admire him. Puisseaux began to feel his charade degraded the senator. "He refused to do anything that he felt disrespected Obama," Romay says. That included Romay's idea of Puisseaux standing on a median, holding a sign reading "Will Be President for Food."
And Puisseaux felt gravely dishonest for deceiving Obama's earnest supporters. They would clutch his frame and tearfully confess their gravest fears in a language he's yet to master. They would talk about their houses in foreclosure or their children in Iraq. At one point, Puisseaux leaned into the embrace of an especially moved fan and whispered: "Woman, I am not Obama. But if he was here, he would hug you."
By the second day in Denver, Puisseaux refused to exit the satellite truck. "He was completely stressed," Romay says. "He was chain-smoking like a chimney and calling his wife every ten minutes... He also has that Cuban macho thing. He says, 'I don't like taking orders. I'm not a trained monkey.' My other actors do whatever I say. If I say put on a wig and jump around, they will, no questions asked."
Despite Puisseaux's reluctance, Romay gathered good footage. Puisseaux, who was interviewed by the New York Times, the Rocky Mountain News, Inside Edition, and TV stations from Japan and Germany, achieved worldwide fame, if only for a day or two. And he earned a new nickname from bloggers: Fauxbama.
Puisseaux now claims he enjoyed the trip, especially his handshake with Ted Kennedy, who he says momentarily mistook him for his Senate colleague. Puisseaux had carefully rehearsed the line he fed Kennedy: "I gratefully accept my party's nomination for president of the United States."