We actors are a brave bunch of people.
I think that most non-actors think that actors are courageous because they are able to get up and perform in front of people, and remember lines or whatever. And while that can certainly be bold and daring, I know that the most difficult task an actor faces, the thing that requires the most bravery is in revealing oneself, forcing yourself to face your innermost demons, your darkest, ugliest fears, and reveal them to strangers. It's unbelievably dangerous and compromising.
It isn't easy. But if you can do it, if you can really open yourself up, really "go there", an amazing thing happens. It's the closest thing to magic that I've ever experienced. It's as if your life and the life of the character kind of...meld, and reality and make-believe become one. It's...alchemy. And when that happens, it's an unbelievable feeling - completely freeing and joyful, even if it's painful, it's joyful. It tears you apart and yet it makes you feel amazingly alive. And it's completely addicting.
I'm afraid it doesn't happen often, these magical moments. Most of what we do is simple and fun. Someone once told me that when they worked with Henry Fonda, they noticed that Fonda had written all over his script. There were some pages where he had written copious notes and thoughts, then other pages where he'd simply written "NAR". My friend asked Fonda what NAR meant, and Fonda answered "No acting required." And that kind of sums it up. Pages and pages of NAR, but then there's a place where you have to come up with the stuff, to "go there". And when you do, it's just so amazing that you find yourself living for the next one.
I clearly remember the very first time it happened to me. I was in my high school one-act play competition. We were doing a production of The Trojan Women by Euripides, a seriously dramatic piece, and kind of a silly play for a bunch of teenagers to tackle. I played Andromache, the widow of Hector, and during the play, I not only mourn the death of my husband and the end of Troy, but my small son is dragged away and put to death. It's good stuff, much keening and wailing. In the middle of our performance at "Regionals" I had a moment. I was trying to comfort the women of Troy, and I turned to my friend Naomi, who was part of the Greek chorus, and I remember reaching out and touching her face, something I'd never done before, and suddenly...I was there. I was there in Troy, surrounded by death and ruin, and my brave husband who I had adored had been killed and all I knew and loved was being taken away from me. And I grabbed Naomi, and we held each other and cried and it was...real. And I was hooked. I happened to win a statue for "Best Actress" for that performance too, not that it mattered, the reward was in the doing.
Twelve years ago, I did a play here in LA, a stage version of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? I played the Jane Fonda part, if you remember the movie. It was the lead role, and I was on stage for the entire 2 hours of the play. During those two hours, I danced almost constantly (it's about a 1930's dance marathon), fell in love, was raped and at the end, killed myself. Good stuff. But at the beginning of the show, just before the curtain went up, I used to visualize myself on the edge of a cliff, and as the lights went up, I jumped. And the next two hours I was freefalling. I loved it.
It doesn't only happen in dramatic roles. A while back I did a little film called Family Tree, and in it my character got stoned and had this long, really inappropriate laughing fit at her family's Thanksgiving dinner. It got so caught up in it that I couldn't stop laughing for hours, long after the shot was over. I was weeping with laughter, my sides ached.
Actors live for a role that allows them to go into freefall and feel the alchemy. And when you get one, you become extremely attached to the character - ending the run of a play or wrapping a movie feels like a death in the family. Truly.
It's been quite a while since I've felt it. Since Jude was born, I've done almost nothing but commercials, and believe me, no alchemy is happening on a commercial set. And I miss it. I do. Interestingly, I think that writing this blog has helped me to not miss the acting as much. There's a certain level of raw honesty and vulnerability about blog writing that fulfills a bit of the need for danger that actors become used to.
I think it might be time, though. Time to act again. I've been dabbling. Maybe a play. I'll let you know.
Or I guess I could always take up skydiving.
Link your spin on Everything that kills me makes me feel alive with the Linky below. It will be linked both here and at Lemon Drop Pie, my co-host Ginny Marie's blog. Don't forget to spread the love by clicking on the other links, and make sure you leave your comment here!
Come by on Monday to find out next week's Spin Cycle topic!
Share your spin!
Highlight the code.
Copy to your HTML.
Et voila! Linked!