When I first moved to LA I was 19 years old- thrilled to be pursuing a lifelong dream of acting. At the age of 20 I got what I thought was my first big audition. I stood in line, with a bunch of other young Hollywood actresses in a chic converted warehouse loft type space, equally excited for the opportunity to be a lead in an independent film. About 10 minutes before I was to go in and read my part in this large open space- a production assistant type – who was a somewhat nerdy and female conservatively told the girls waiting to read that we would be making out with the director for our audition. I wish I could say that I was outraged, shocked, disturbed… that I walked out with middle fingers blazing… but this was not the case. If I remember correctly- the first thing I thought to myself- was, “I’m an actress, I can handle this” and I did. I read my scene with this slightly overweight, douchey, dorky director and when the part in the script came for us to kiss- I pulled together and created the best authentic romance and intimacy that I could. The guy was a terrible kisser, it was awkward and not any sort of incredible performance. It was a standard seeming audition with other people watching- everyone seemed pretty bored with it all. My biggest upset after I had left- was that I didn’t think I delivered the best performance acting wise. I shrugged it off, labeled the guy a “douche bag” in my mind and went on with life.
I remember my first month in LA- I managed to snag an audition for a music video even though I didn’t yet have an agent. It was a major band and I was thrilled to have the chance. The description mentioned something about cleavage- which is something I’ve never had- so I stuffed my bra with a couple socks on each side- threw on a bunch of makeup and took the bus down to Sunset blvd. I was so new to town that I didn’t even have a car yet. As I was walking down the street from the bus to the audition building- a limo driver came by and asked me if I needed a ride. Naive, small town girl that I was, I said “sure,” happy to be relieved of walking the rest of the way in insanely high heels. We neared my destination and this simple and sweet looking man in his mid fifties nervously asked me how much I cost. I was caught entirely off guard and truly didn’t even know what was happening or how to process it- so I just uttered the genuine confusion I felt with a meek, “what?” and asked him to let me out. We both seemed embarrassed. It was almost years until I even was able to fully understand what was happening. My main take-away is that it’s just as important for adults to not get into the car with strangers… I never booked that video.
I went on to take acting classes where various teachers, both male and female spoke about the importance of being “fuckable,” like this was a vibe that you could bottle and sell- and if you exuded just enough- you could somehow mange to get roles and still keep your integrity intact. In one on camera class we had an exercise to put something on film where we were very sexual. Being the competitive, straight A type student that I always was- I went all in and had a friend shoot me rolling around on a bed in a sexy outfit while Portishead played in the background. I think I had my eyes half closed most of the time when it played for class. I still cringe thinking about it. Everyone has different reasons for wanting to make it in Hollywood- but I just wanted to tell beautiful stories about the human experience. I am the girl who cries every Christmas when I go see a blockbuster movie in the theatre with my dad, because I just love movies that freaking much. So did this dimply lit exercise in sensuality open me up to all of the beautiful potential of my talent? Nah- it just made me feel kind of embarrassed, and then I felt like I wasn’t worthy or good enough because of my failure to be be proud of this forced sexuality that wasn’t me.
“It’s a competition ladies!” And while you are eating apple pie, your competition is eating a salad!” That is a statement from a female acting teacher that was burned into the mind of every female student in class. In later classes with a male teacher- he told all of the students that they needed to consider themselves as a product- “You’re like a coca-cola” I spent years trying to find out which flavor of coke I was- what lable was I going to put on the bottle? Would people buy it?
Once I performed a scene in acting class where my partner ripped open my dress mid scene in a classroom of almost 100 students. We hadn’t rehearsed this- he considered it to be “going with his impulses.” Was this some sort of ground breaking performance that propelled each us to greater awareness and ability as actors? Nah- I wasn’t even proud of the acting, I’m pretty sure we forgot our lines and went way off track.
My first major film was written by a friend from acting class. I had a rape scene with Daniel Baldwin and on my own decision- I chose to show some skin in the interest of being “raw” and “authentic.” We ended up running out of money to properly shoot a major sequence of the storyline and filled it in with animation that didn’t make a lot of sense. After the premier, I had a lot of people tell me that my acting was really special- and I’m sure it had some spark- but the rape scene- which was watched in the theatre at the Premier by my parents, was almost comical in how absolutely inauthentic and ridiculous it turned out. Now, many years later- I’ve can’t take it back. Not that I’m ashamed- it’s just funny to consider how this passionate drive to share your heart with the world could end up being a poorly executed parody of pain with a Baldwin Brother.
Then there was the time when I booked a commercial with the Director of American History X. It was a simple premise, I was a mom- on a Skype, type conference call with my husband at a board meeting. I don’t even remember why or how this was part of script but somehow- although this had never before been discussed- it suddenly came up that the Director wanted me to have my towel fall down, leaving me topless- during the shoot. This was supposed to be a family friendly commercial- so it was all incredibly confusing. Here I was, on set with an Award winning Director- and his professional and conservative female Assistant Director was asking me to expose my breasts to the cameras and a 20 man crew. I should mention that I was only getting paid a few grand for the entire project. I had about 10 minutes to make a decision- so I quickly renegotiated for another $1000 and a closed set. I honestly didn’t know what else to do. I just sort of chalked it up to “sucking it up and acting like a professional.” After my spot I watched him direct other actors and observed that his tactic was to intentionally confused and upset the actors, in order to manipulate a performance out of them. Did this create some sort of Oscar worthy breakthrough? Nah- these were commercials…
I could go on- but this is an essay and not a novel. And do I have other, non acting related instances of “me too” from the dating world and the world in general that I’ll keep to myself- of course I do. But the most interesting thing to me- is that what I went through is pretty mild. I didn’t feel massively scarred or ruined. I kept truckin’ along- but many years down the line when a friend called me out on the fact that I wasn’t pursuing acting anymore- I had to face the fact that I had pulled myself away from one of my most important and valuable dreams. And when I really looked at it, I had pulled away because I didn’t want to associate with an industry where I had to compromise my own integrity to make it. I didn’t want to see people doing degraded things and have to pretend I was okay with it.
Why did being beautiful mean I had to now be “sexy” and “fuckable”? Why did my desire to express myself as a human and as artist have to have anything to do with sex? What about just being human? What about just being an artist? What about just being yourself? In an industry obsessed with beauty and youth and sex- it’s hard not to let it go to your head. It’s tempting to sell your soul just to have a chance to redeem it and tell the beautiful truth- but so many never make it to redemption, and the sad stories, collagen filled faces and overlifted eyes, and broken lives tell the tale.
So I observed this mess of a situation in Hollywood and the Arts and I confronted the fact that I had walked away from my dreams- all the while pretending that this was not the case- and I made a decision to continue to do everything I could- to create a place for myself in the world of acting- because if all the artists with high integrity and pure hearts, abandon the Ocean and leave it to the sharks, then I’m sorry to say, there will be no one left to tell the beautiful truth and that blood in the water will be on all of our hands until the blood becomes the sea.
So to all of the Me Toos who have bravely confronted this problem that engulfs us all- to all that have suffered far worse than I could possibly know. I am with you- and I am here to stand up and say that we no longer have to sell our souls to gain permission to tell the beautiful truth. Art is not qualified by how beautiful you are, how ugly you are, whether or not you are fuckable or sensual or nice or mean or thin, or fat or young or old or willing to make out with a director in a warehouse. Art is you. Art is your communication. Art is your truth. And whatever that means to you- it’s time you told it. No strings attached.
I am with you.
Photography by Ruth Chapa