All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2014
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No food today. Just a little journal entry in the life of an actress – because every part of my day yesterday was somehow connected to my being an actress. And yesterday was a BRUTAL day for me – on many levels. Just wild discomfort – on nearly every level. I felt like Faye Dunaway in Chinatown. (Please watch the classic clip above.)
Seriously. Love. Hate. Defeat. Victory. Grief. Happiness. Gratitude. Anger. Hurt. Loss. Fear of loss. Actual loss. Trying to undo loss. Denial. My sister. My daughter. My sister AND my daughter! I was crawling out of my own skin – trying to escape physical discomfort & emotional devastation and – despite that – go on stage & perform a comedy piece for a sold out crowd. But – please – allow me to pontificate.
First of all, I have a very complicated relationship with what I do for a living. Acting, that is. I am really shy & have terrible stage fright. This makes auditioning one of the most agonizing experiences of my life but I have to do it to avoid worse – homelessness. It makes theater virtually impossible for me. On sets, not nervous. Not nervous in an interview situation – like a radio or podcast interview. And I LOVE working. WORKING. I love being on sets – with actors & the crew. I love being around other people that chose the same uncertainty for a living. And everyone faces it – from craft services to grips to writers to prop & location managers to actors. I love being around others that know the crisis of confidence that happens whenever a job ends and you wonder if you will ever get another one. I love working. But I have to AUDITION to get there & that part petrifies me literally to the point of diarrhea. Offer me the job? Fuck, yeah! I don’t think I have ever said no. But auditioning & anything that feels like a public presentation scares the shit out of me. Literally. I sit in the hall at auditions, digesting my entrails, dreading hearing my name called. I sit there thinking, “My God. I hate this. I am SO AFRAID. Why did I choose this career? Why do I do this to myself? I could go home. Right now. NOBODY would care.” I would be the only person it would effect and – in the immediate & short term – it would be a beneficial effect. I could leave, take off the clothes that are tighter than I like but intended to prove I am only carrying a few extra pounds – not the 30 or 40 extra pounds my at home wardrobe seems to add. Go back to hiding at home. Cook something alone. Photograph it alone. Eat it alone. Post on my blog about it alone. Chug some wine. Alone. Go to bed insanely early. Hey! I am alone. Only my Jawbone UP band knows my real habits & I intend to keep it that way. But I will share that I am in the top 20% of Up steppers & I cling to that positive news as some evidence of my self worth. (If you don’t know what that means – don’t worry. That just means you have a life.) But I can’t go home. I can’t leave the audition. Not if I want to be able to buy the food to do the above referenced things. So – I swallow the terror & push forward.
In addition to the very real love/hate relationship I have with my job, this career has other pitfalls. Aging – for women – BRUTAL. I used to think this was horseshit. You know – when I was 30 and looked like this.
The view changes at 49. Especially when, and this is a true story, I read an interview with fucking SCARLETT JOHANSSON and she says she is working as much as possible NOW – while she is still relevant – you know? Before she gets aged out of viability. AFTER 30! And – in case you need a visual reference – here is the woman concerned about hitting the wall.
And there is real truth to the adage (or whatever) that a woman becomes increasingly invisible to men – the further back 30 is in her rear view mirror. It’s true. SAD – but true.
And – it isn’t like I, or any actress, am living my life to please men. But men do the bulk of the hiring in this town. And, in reality, women are even harder on other women than men are. And then there is the issue of the number of opportunities for women over 40. Ugh.
But I digress.
So – I live in this uncomfortable reality – afraid of auditions – afraid of no longer getting auditions.
Then there is perception. People & their preconceived notions of you – based on a role they saw you play. “She played a crazy person or a bitch or a slut – so she must really be like that.” Or the incredibly false assumption that, if you know an actor’s face, they are wealthy. I did a panel at a horror convention once & and audience member asked why I bothered to work after Child’s Play 2. He said, “You are obviously set for life. Why not retire?”
I shot Child’s Play 2 in 1988. I made $5000 a week. A fuckton of money for me back then but I only worked – like – seven weeks. $35,000. Total. Not a lot when you consider that was probably my only job that year. And that is pre-tax. Pre the 20% commissions I paid out – 10% each to my agent & manager. And, believe it or not, I’m not still living off the take home pay from that money that I earned 26 years ago.
“But wait. What about residuals?”
I get asked that a lot.
“Hey! Saw you on some rerun last night! Ca-ching, right?”
Wrong. Here is a recent residual check. Notice that my .26 cents was TAXED – so I only took home .15 cents.
So – yeah. There are all these insecurities, physical & financial, that are inherent. These things are no easier to bear as an actor than they would be for any other human. And that is another misconception – that actors – despite being sensitive enough to portray other people’s lives & emotions – have no lives or feelings of their own. I have been told to my face that I will not be getting a certain audition because, “They want a pretty girl for the role.”
I’ve been asked for my autograph by a stranger as I peed in a public bathroom stall. I was asked for one by someone that came across me trying to discreetly wipe tears away in a public bathroom. I was once out with my then boyfriend – Jason Priestley – for our anniversary. He slipped off to the men’s room & a table of whispering fans of his turned and asked me, “Wow! Is that who I think it is?”
I told them it was.
“Wow! You guys must have a really hard time finding privacy. I mean – how do you ever get any special time together?”
I told them that, in fact, it was a special time right then & that we were celebrating an anniversary.
“Aw! Someone said. “Your first anniversary?”
“No. Our fifth,” I told them.
“FIFTH!? Fifth? Well, then how come I’ve never heard of you?”
So – we face getting older & fatter – like everyone else – but people feel no shame openly mocking or criticizing us for it. People envy wealth we don’t possess, glamour we aren’t experiencing. This quote struck me as saying what I mean rather succinctly:
I will still argue with this man that there was likely luck involved, too, but I get his point. And it is a good one.
So yeah. Being an actor isn’t always what people SEE – and certainly is not what they often think it is.
But let me change gears a bit here.
For a long time now – years – there has been a person in my life that undeniably deserves the title “best friend.” We have everything in common & never have a lull in conversation. We can be together 24 hours a day & be tickled every minute or not see each other for months & get together again & jump right back in as if no time has passed. No secrets. Totally sympatico. Laughing together. Teaching each other. Exposing each other to new creative finds etc etc. Doing nothing. Together. Happily. Just the best!
In the past, I have had a friend here & there, both male & female, for years. Decades even. And then one day, there is a kink in the works. A word slips from their lips or a sentence falls funny and I think, “Hmmm. That was odd.” And, more than once, I pulled at that loose thread and the whole sweater fell apart & the person was left bare. Exposed – but only somewhat. Recognizing the exposure – the person then lets loose a tirade. A lava of built up resentment & grievances, real & imagined, but so escalated by the repression that, as they vented, I felt like I was facing a wild animal. A rabid honey badger. It was unsettling – not only for the obvious reasons – but because I realized in those moments – that these people had really disliked me, intensely and for a long time. And I had had no idea.
Well, I recently had that sort of happen again. But this time, it was with this friend that I loved so deeply. Far more than the others – others who were friends – but not so dear as this one. We had begun to hit a few snags & during what I hoped was a recovery period – this friend became obsessed with attacking me professionally. What I do for a living has nothing to do with our friendship. This person isn’t another actor who might be inexplicably jealous or anything. Increasingly, as I spoke to this friend & tried to regain our balance – the attacks became monomaniacally about my standing as an actress. Freakishly. As if my acting career was the sole basis of our connection. As if this person were my agent or coach or someone else intrinsically involved in my work. As if there were no connection between us except work.
And that was offensive, sure – but it was also alienating to the extreme. Again – not only for the obvious reasons but because it seemed to reduce what I thought was a very real, very important friendship to a flimsy one based on my profession. So – unlike some friendships, even significant ones, that we sometimes outgrow or let slowly slip away or that become geographically strained – this one is not only ripped suddenly from my heart – but the entire duration of it has been reduced to my viability as an actress. I sit here not only recovering from the sudden end of one of the most important friendships of my life – but I feel like I just lost every day of our past together. Every day of our past, every confession, every moment of bonding – I now review through this new lens. How long have I only been “that actress” to my friend? Just now – because they are angry? Or from the first day? I feel so fooled & manipulated & exposed & EMBARRASSED. And hurt.
So – yesterday. Reeling with grief over the loss of this friendship, reliving every moment of it trying to see how I could have gauged things so inaccurately, examining my contributions to its demise, trying to see where I missed hints, blushing when I remember my vulnerability & total openness with this friend, going in & out of denial about the loss and trying desperately to single-handedly will it back into what I need it to be – I got a phone call that threw my immediate life into an entirely different tailspin. Without getting into it – it was a call that rocked my financial future terribly. Actors live unstable lives financially – but this was a hit I didn’t see coming & it caught me right in the temple.
Panicked – I did what I used to do whenever I felt panic & fear or happiness & had good news – and reached out to the best friend. The reception I got was not hostile – but it was tepid, at best. It was aloof & a bit patronizing. And now I was a fool, too. Was this friendship so destroyed that they were enjoying my suffering? Watching it from the peanut gallery, munching popcorn?
So – here is where it gets unbearable. It was 100 degrees in Hollywood yesterday & I do not have air-conditioning. I practically had vertigo from the double-whammy friend-money woes & the oppressive heat just exacerbated my feelings of claustrophobia & dread & despair.
Worse yet – I had to be at a theater in town at 6pm to do a run-through of last night’s performance of The Vagina Monologues. At the theater, hair done, make-up on, wearing requisite pink & black, prepared to read (thank God READ & not perform from memory) my comedic monologue in the play.
I had agreed to do this monologue primarily because EVERY FUCKING FIBER OF MY BEING screamed at me NOT to. Theater? Live? In front of people? And The Vagina Monologues? I had only ever seen bits & pieces of it – and only when it was the playwright, Eve Ensler, doing it and her delivery always irked me – so I had a very negative take on the whole “my vagina is a flower” bullshit. But my pal, Sheena Metal, was directing it & she asked me to participate and she has been such a wonderful supporter of my career (having me on her radio show three times, I think, by now) and I felt like a douche saying no. Still – initially – I said no. Then, one night, wine bolstered both my guilt & my confidence & I told her I would do it.
The next morning was filled with regret when I awoke to remember what I had done – but fuck it. I am an actress, for Chrissake. This is what I am supposed to DO. ACT! Jesus. Pull your head out of your ass, girl! Face this shit. All you have to do it READ it. Get over yourself. Twenty other actresses are doing it. 20 other actresses for three nights in a row – with a different 20 actresses each night. What kind of a faux actress bitch was I? 60 other women had balls big enough. I was determined to prove the size of my own testicles by reading a Vagina Monologue.
I guess you might be starting to see now how wine & my own logic are often at odds & how they might get me into some trouble.
But – the fact is – I had agreed. And the show was last night. And I had to shake the grip of financial panic & shrug the weight of the loss I felt over the best friend – and I had to get gussied up & made presentable for this show.
It is impossible to get prettied up in 100 degree heat without air conditioning. I bathed & then – what? Blow dry my hair in 100 degree heat? Put make-up on in 100 degree heat? Even the industrial fan I placed in the door of the bathroom just made it worse. It blew damp hair into my sweaty face where it clung in strands like some kind of junky octopus trying to suck heroin out of my face. And I am a gal that is follically challenged but even my pathetic wisps can stage an effective rebellion. So – I would alternate – make-up & hair – in stages & stand in front of the industrial fan trying to cool each stage into setting so I could move to the next stage. This image below is a PERFECT depiction of my problem. I WANTED to look like the figure on the left – but the heat & stress & occasional tears kept me from ever getting past looking more like the person on the right. In front of the fan – gasping in the heat, all 15 of my hairs on my head blown into a frizzy & unmanageable mess. Just like him.
I gave up on it for a while & tried to find something in the WARDROBE department – in the requisite pink and black – that I could wear on stage. Yeah – well – I don’t know how you feel – but trying on clothes in 100 degree heat is already a very TRYING experience but it gets to the point of madness when you are, as I am, on the fat side of your own spectrum & NOTHING YOU FUCKING OWN FITS. Even your fat clothes would stick in unfortunate ways on a cold day but on a hot day? I was lucky not to literally tear the garments from my person as if they were only held on by velcro & throw them, shredded, to the floor. As it happened, my one dress – my most comfy fat-day dress – is – HOLY MOTHER OF GOD – black & pink. Realizing I had at least THIS option – I stood, panting relief, hand to my sweating chest, like you do after the near-miss of being struck in the crosswalk by a speeding car.
Then – I put the dress aside and ripped the skin off my thighs & hips as I force-fed myself into a pair of Spanx. I won’t get into how much I felt like one of those bloated corpses at Jonestown because, I think, I probably got my point across with just that.
This worked up quite a sweat. Hair & make-up? Back to square one.
So – I decided to tie my hair up & back but it was being supremely uncooperative. I must have bent over & tied it up & flipped back over & adjusted & readjusted & started over 400 times. I was freaking the fuck out. My arms were getting numb from being held over my head so much.
Why did I agree to these fucking monologues??? Who am I kidding? My best friend was right. I sucked. Actress? Right! Just having a SAG card doesn’t prove anything except that somebody hired you once. It doesn’t prove talent, resourcefulness or resiliency. Especially since SAG isn’t even the theater union. I couldn’t pull off this monologue on a 72 degree day after getting engaged & winning the lottery. How the fuck was I going to do it today? Bereft, fat, bald, destitute. I looked in the mirror and silently asked myself what the fuck I thought I was doing. And my face did this.
No. Really. It wasn’t LIKE that. THAT IS ACTUALLY ME. With my male-pattern baldness & stringy hair flying wherever the fuck it wants & too much foundation applied over a heat-stroked face. See the sweat running from my forehead? I have black & soulless eyes because I am worthless. Windows to my soul showing you the vacancy there. The interior of my mouth predicting the substance of my on-stage delivery in a few short hours – NOTHINGNESS. My chin mocking the ass that I have and have become.
And I cried myself into quite a sweaty lather.
And then – I broke out the scissors. I was officially a character from a movie-of-the-week who, after experiencing rape or some other trauma, goes home to either smear lipstick all over her face or wash herself raw as she slides down the wall of the shower crying. But – I was the third cliche. I was the one that cuts her hair into a choppy, uneven mass to punish herself for inviting horrors upon herself. For being the whore that deserves to be assaulted. “Look at you – ugly girl! Who’d want you now?”
I literally had the scissors to my hair and looked in the mirror to decide exactly where to cut. And I saw the Lifetime logo in the corner of my mirror – as if it were a TV.
And I stopped myself.
And – having allowed myself that emotional bottoming out – I rallied. I lived with whatever version of a “doo” resulted from my next attempt at some kind of messy knot & threw a $1 pink, plastic hibiscus in it. Smeared another layer of tinted moisturizer over my face, mascara & lipstick – dress on – and I escaped to the AC in my car & drove to the theater.
I arrived at the theater, as you might imagine, exhausted by emotion & heat, and filled with dread. A few other actresses were arriving but we only made those early, awkward introductions & then just sort of hovered around. I decided to go outside & work on this muthercunting monologue. Sheena is an amazing director – at least from my perspective – because when I agreed to do this fucking thing I just added, “And I will NOT say “my vagina is a flower!” Just gimme the shortest, easiest one.”
She assigned me one. I was AMAZED that I did not hate it. I’d had it for a few weeks. I will admit – I watched other ladies (on Youtube) do it. Eve Ensler’s version, predictably, turned me off & killed the actual connection I felt to the piece. I watched women do it sassy or flirty or really actor-y. I watched people fuck it up. I watched women do it in that Def Poetry staccato delivery with loud in-takes of breath between lines. I hate that. I hate what has become the “way you read poetry.”
I saw one girl do it in a very happy but thrown-away way. I tried that one on the few bits of the piece that were cringe-worthy for me. I felt like it took some of the stink off those bits. I will link her take on it at the end of this. She’s cute. And you can see what I had to say. In public. With my 9 skull hairs pulled back into a $1 plastic flower in my too-tight pink & black dress & my evident Spanx-created muffin top. With my makeup applied under duress, through tears, in just my contacts (without the aid of the reading glasses I require to do detailed work – like EYE LINER). But I wasn’t gonna be cute. I was gonna be me. I was gonna be cranky. And I was gonna make it MY truth.
Anyway – I went outside – into the now 90 degree heat & ran my lines. And the part that I connect to – a part about seeing oneself through the eyes of another (when their version of you is beautiful) – kept making me cry. Not just well up. Sob. Choke on sobs.
I WAS READING A COMEDY PIECE!
And it kept making me cry. Because there have been a few people in my life, usually men but not always, and seldom my boyfriend – that had such evident admiration or love or kindness in their eyes for me – that looking at them was like looking in a mirror that reflected back the most perfect version of me possible. It is a powerful feeling, let me tell you. But the person that has had the most profound impact on me like that is the badass – Miles Miller. My God. He made me like myself so much more & forgive myself for so much. My flaws – to him? Strengths. Freckles & a mole or two? Miles always had crushes on the girl in school with the most freckles. Glasses? SEXY! Baggy boy jeans (because nothing else fits)? A near-fetish for Miles. The line in my short film about which I am most insecure (as it is NOT an audience-pleaser) – “good ole-fashioned, Jackson County yard fucking.” Miles’ favorite line in the film. There are more but you get the point.
Anyway – the bit is about kinda that. It is about learning to love something about yourself that you reject – because somebody else values it so highly. It is profoundly powerful. So many of us are so much more used to the opposite – all the way to hating things about ourselves that we might celebrate – because others reject it. It is a really charged & relatable subject. Anyway…
I kept SOBBING. The piece is comedy! Watch ANYONE do it on Youtube. Funny. Brassy. But I was getting so upset reading it that I was afraid I would collapse on stage weeping.
So yeah. Raw from the BFF betrayal, the money woes, the age woes – facing my greatest fear – live performance – feeling sweaty & bald & fat & friendless. Outskilled.
I don’t use this expression a lot but fuckgawd – I was a HAWT MESS!
And so – I rejoined the others & hovered & eavesdropped and probably came across as a class-A, stand-offish cunt.
I went outside again for air. My friend Alyse was there! Whew! I stood telling her – tears welling – that I was a mess – when I got called back in for the run-through thing.
Some more hovering & eaves-dropping (by me) & then – like fairy dust was dropped on us all – or maybe just on me because I am the broken one – everyone seemed to open up.
Women of every variety. Here are the three casts. Mine is the one on the 16th. Look at the company I am in! It was like I’d just given birth to my own head out of my own ass & opened my eyes to find myself in an ENVIABLE place. NOT the Hellish nightmare I’d dreaded since I had awoken sober that morning a few weeks ago – only to remember a drunken agreement I’d entered – almost on a bet with myself.
No! Not a dreadful place at ALL! Suddenly, I was in a warm & exciting place. I was surrounded by talent & women who had all faced every challenge I have ever faced & likely, in many cases, more. And they were all so sweet & gracious & beautiful. And I spoke a few times. And ladies laughed. And I didn’t feel like a hovering eavesdropper. I felt like part of a CAST! A friendly, supportive cast. A cast of women who GOT IT. All of it.
And then – I went outside again & my friend Rose was with Alyse. I had two real friends there. I wasn’t alone. I didn’t suck. I hadn’t agreed to a nightmare. I had accepted an opportunity. And I went back inside to begin the evening. Happy. HAPPY!
And – I was SHOCKED to realize – I wasn’t a tenth as afraid, as I waited my turn to read, as I had been every day leading up to this night. And I was even more shocked that – as I watched EVERY fucking woman up there completely fucking KILL IT on stage – crazy funny & brutally heartbreaking & just so awesome – I was MORE shocked that my fear didn’t increase. I wrote that lack of fear off then and now more to the very real life woes I had hovering & eavesdropping – in the back of my mind but fuck it. At least I wouldn’t have fear-pee running down my inner thigh as I delivered my monologue. Dresses don’t sop that shit up. I take lucky breaks when I get them & I wasn’t shitting myself with fear & I allowed myself to notice that & be grateful for it.
And as my monologue approached, I snuck into the dressing room to just look at my face & make sure I didn’t have a huge booger hanging out or – I don’t know – some other old-lady malady – and I reached into my bag to get my lip gloss. Oh. What’s that? My phone is lit up – like a call or text is just coming in. Reflexively, stupidly, “TURN YOUR PHONE OFF – not just the sound – you dumb fuck” lamely – I picked up the phone. A text. Several. From the best friend. I looked. And I read:
“How did show go.
So – actors. If you are ever doing anything live. Yeah – turn the phone OFF. Leave it in the car. Be smart. Learn from my dumb ass. Just do not look at it at any point before you get home. And I absorbed my newly refreshed hurt & loss. And I finally accepted that this friend was unrecoverable. Not even worth recovering. And – I got myself OK with that.
And then – I went on. I stepped out on my cue. I wrangled the script stand that nobody else was using. I mumbled something about, “Sorry. I am blind. And that’s not part of the monologue.”
I put my script, printed by the way – in 24 point font – because I really AM blind – on the stand. And I donned my cat-eye reading glasses (on top of the contacts I was already wearing) – and I began my piece. And I sniffed emotion back & likely sounded like a coke addict. And I heard the audience react. Sometimes where I expected. Sometimes no reaction at all. Sometimes where I had not expected anything.
And like a person waking from a semi-blackout – I walked off stage & outside. And I remembered saying vague words & hearing vague reactions – but I had no real recollection of the monologue itself. But I was HAPPY I HAD DONE IT!
And so – I went back inside & watched the other actresses continue to fucking kill it.
And I marveled at Sheena Metal’s amazing ability to pair REALLY DIFFERENT pieces – some funny, some tear-jerking, some cute or sweet, some angry – with an actress that could really bring it. I laughed. I cried. I really fucking did. I was awed at how talented everyone was. I was amazed at how incredible The Vagina Monologues really are. As long as the author isn’t reading them all (lol). And I sat in the wings, so moved & humbled by the words & the women speaking them. And I was so grateful.
So grateful that someone (Sheena Metal) had seen things in me I reject – qualities I don’t think I have – and that she had been so much more certain of me – and of those things she saw in me – than I was – that she insisted I be a part of this incredible night. A night of talent I am flattered to be included among. And so many wonderful women approached me afterward to say the KINDEST things about what my career (especially – Emily Valentine & 90210) has meant to them – I was profoundly humbled. And calmed. And OK. And remember – being OK was a bar so far out of my reach a few hours before – I had the Lifetime scissors in my hand.
So yeah. Hard day. Beautiful day. Loss. Fear. Acceptance. Elevation. Gain. Win. Broken. Rejected. Accepted. Reviled & applauded.
My sister. My daughter. My sister AND my daughter.
Thank you, Sheena. I owe you. For the life-perspective-providing opportunity & for the dildo & chocolate that were in the goody bags!
If you live in LA – if you can still get a ticket to the show/cast tonight or tomorrow – YOU SHOULD!! HERE.
Here I am – with the cast – in the center – in my pink & black get-up. Just to prove it actually happened.
And HERE is the gal that delivered “Because He Liked To Look at It” in a way I found engaging. I hope mine was as appealing – though I am CERTAIN it wasn’t so cute. Feel free to Youtube that title & see the other takes on it – especially the author’s. And I challenge you to understand why the piece makes me weep.