A couple of weeks ago, my sisters and I went to a party. I know I’m getting old when the first vision that comes to mind (and also the accurate one) is of a group of people sitting around a fire pit outside or playing euchre inside while little kids ran around our legs asking us to play Batman with them until midnight when they finally passed out and were packed up to be taken home. This was the kind of party that we attended. On purpose. Knowing full well there would be no kegstands, no dancing on tables and no visits from the police to turn down the loud music.
I swear, when did I get old?
It’s a bit strange. Having expected to be going out, preferably to karaoke and maybe some dancing, I had spent a bit of time curling my hair in order to tame the crazy frizz, I was fully coated in makeup (which I only really wear when going out or filming/auditioning) and I had on my dancing shoes and a super cute top. I even had on jewelry. In short, I looked like a girl and I felt cute. I felt like I should be dancing around with people pointing out ‘Look at how her hair curls just so. I wish mine would look so cute.’
The reality ended up that I was slightly overdressed, sitting on a basement couch sipping away at a Capri Sun, surrounded by people in jeans and sweatshirts watching the kids play hockey on the X-Box. Now, these are friends of my sisters, not of mine, so I didn’t really know anyone there. I had met some of them before but it’s certainly not a party I would have been invited to on my own. As one sister introduced me around, many times it was with the addition of ‘she’s the one that was in that movie!’ Which would be followed by questions of when it is coming out and when can they see it and what was it like to film, etc etc.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy talking about acting, though I prefer more ‘This is what it’s like on a movie set’ than ‘Oh look at me I’m super mega uber awesome and everyone should worship the ground I walk on’ sort of conversation about it. Because honestly I’m just some chick from Metro Detroit who gets to play dress up every so often and pretend to be someone else in her quest for fame and fortune. (Preferably more fortune than fame. Also, my autocorrect kept trying to change ‘uber’ to ‘Bieber’ for some reason. I know not why. I think this computer is secretly a 12-year-old girl.)
So seriously, acting can either be an amazing experience, or it might be more like a car full of baboons. Which is pretty fitting for an ‘experimental’ film we tried to do once where we decided to experiment by getting the entire cast and crew drunk and doing it all improv. I can’t think of another job where people ask you what it was like to go to work two years ago, or what it was like to work with the guy who had the cubical next to you (granted his was a bigger one with a better chair and a nice window view).
This leads me to another question I am often asked. “So what is it like to be an actor?” — Now mind you, it’s a valid question. It’s a good one, even. But it’s not something I would actually associate with me. I don’t see myself as an actor. I see myself as someone who acts periodically in addition to her real life of work, family and roller derby. Am I a professional actor? Well, yes, as I have been paid for acting. But am I an actor first and foremost? No, not at this time. There are several reasons for it, too.
First off, I know I am skilled enough to do it, so it’s not that I question my ability when I state that I don’t really have what it takes to make it a full-time career. (Honestly, I’m not sure if I would want it to be.) The main thing that comes to mind is that I don’t have the right look. I’m not unattractive in any way and in fact I’m pretty happy overall with how I look because it’s what I look like. I don’t think I’d like to wake up and look in the mirror and not look like myself. Sure, it might get me more roles, but aside from a couple of tiny tweaks that wouldn’t actually change my actual appearance, I wouldn’t want to look any different. I look like the person my husband married. I look like the person who was supposed to have died in the hospital and instead of being dead was sitting there making jokes about Buffy and Taco Bell and asking if they were sure I should be emergency transferred to another hospital better equipped to handle what was wrong with me. Now if I had that funny bump on my nose fixed and maybe got a new chin that wasn’t as pointy and stopped eating for six months and got hair extensions and got a butt-lift and started only wearing super high heels and got colored contacts so people would actually be able to tell what color my eyes were supposed to be and about a dozen other things on a list, I’d be able to consider trying to make it as an actor. But I’m not going to do that. Acting is the only business where it is acceptable to hire someone not because of their ability to do a job, but based on how they look while doing it.
Other reasons include things such as my location (it’s not often that a feature Hollywood film decides to film in my backyard, especially with the uncertainty of the tax credit incentive program), being limited by my character type, etc.
So while I understand that people asking that question of what it’s like to be a professional actor have a genuine curiosity into what they see as a mythical, magical world and they’re meeting someone who can tell them what that world is like, I am still often amazed that anyone really cares. I’ve seen behind the mirror, so it’s sometimes difficult to remember what it’s like to an outsider. I try to remember the stupid giddy me that had her own trailer for the first time. I was trying to sneakily take a picture of the door where they had written my name and a PA came by to ask if I wanted her to take it so I can be in the shot. I felt horribly embarrassed and she could tell, then she told me it’s really common, that sometimes even big time actors take shots to remember these things by. Then it brings back a flood of memories and emotions of how scared I was the first time I went for a fitting and was afraid they wouldn’t have clothes to fit me (they actually had racks of clothes, all in my size!) or sitting in hair and makeup feeling like a complete dork as someone did things I was used to doing for myself.
But one thing I will always remember without being prompted is this party, where as I sat talking to my sisters and trying not to feel shy and like a party crasher, one of my sisters’ friends came by to ask if his son Austin could come over to talk to me. I said sure and was a bit confused as to why. So this boy, who was probably around 11, timidly approached me and asked if I would please give him my autograph, that he saw me on set for MGP when he was standing outside watching and he thought I was very pretty.
I was floored. I don’t know if my expression of sheer shock and possibly horror was evident to anyone except my sister who was sitting closest. He wanted MY autograph? Mine? Of course I smiled and said sure and wrote it out to him and he looked entirely starstruck. That’s when I remembered that once I had no idea what a movie set was like and had never met anyone who was in a real movie before. Now majority of my friends are also actors and filmmakers so it’s not unusual to see a movie and recognize someone I hung out with recently. Sometimes it’s good to have a reason to recapture that magic.
Now whenever I feel down about an audition that didn’t go as well as I had hoped, or I don’t get a part I really wanted or anything else goes wrong and has me feeling subpar, I remember that at least to Austin, I have accomplished something special in my life. It reminds me to not get jaded and to always kindle the feelings of magic and wonder that got me into this business in the first place. For that, Austin, I will always be thankful.