Taking Advantage of a “Career Lull”: Using My Words

What do I have in common with Steve Martin, Tina Fey, James Franco, and Andrew McCarthy? We’re actors who are also writers. You read that correctly, Andrew McCarthy is, in fact, a writer. He’s an award-winning travel writer. Check out some of his stuff on National Geographic Traveler. Now, I’m not talking about actors who all of the sudden want to “write” their memoirs, and get a ghost writer to do it for them. I’m talking about people with actual skills, who do their own writing. As a matter of fact, Tina Fey and Steve Martin actually STARTED OUT as WRITERS. I’m guessing they did it while they were pursuing acting as well, due to the fact that they are in both realms of the industry. Granted, there are those actors who have also written screenplays or stage plays, and blogs,  but that’s a different type of article all together.

I started acting when I was around the age of 8, maybe 9.  But I started making up stories as soon as I could talk. I even had an imaginary friend when I was 5 who I would tell my stories to. Her name was Jinglelyn, and again, I was 5. When I actually learned to read and write, writing took a back seat to performing onstage. I had found my passion for storytelling on stage. And I loved it. It’s my first love. Telling stories, no matter what shape or form, is what I love.

What I find funny now, is the fact that my parents kept giving me journals on my birthdays or Christmas, and I never really used them. I wasn’t really a “dear diary” type of girl anyways. It seemed sort of silly to recount my day on paper. I started writing short stories and plays, and when I got to high school, I helped start up the creative writing club at my all-girls, Catholic high school. I wrote stories, parts of novels I was working on, and seriously wanted to become a writer and an actor when I grew up. I was involved in anything creative. I sang in choirs, acted in the school plays and wrote stories. My English teacher even gave me a writing award my junior year of high school.  When I got to college, I majored in English because I love the element of story-telling, plot and characters. I thought it would help in the acting realm because I was able to learn about the different things that make up a good story. It was sort of like four years of script-analysis. I acted throughout college, even directed. My senior year of college, I got my first headshots and auditioned at my first major theater convention, which led to moving to NYC to study at Circle in the Square Theater School.

Within these past six years, I have been acting and putting writing on the back burner. I got my union cards and even pursued stand-up.  The closest I came to writing, before starting this blog, was stand-up comedy, which I still love because you can create your own material.  I started this blog because I wanted to get back into writing, and I wanted to write something from the perspective of an actor who was going through the ups and downs in their career. Not someone who is washed-up and giving advice. I’m still in the trenches and being in a  career “lull,” I have been writing about what I love. Movies I love, movies I loathe, anything and everything that has to do with the industry, with a unique perspective. It seems like I’m in good company of those who came before me. If you use all of your talents, it can lead to something. What that is, I don’t know. But I am pursuing my writing and my acting. So I guess I can add a back-slash to my job description. I’m a writer/actor. And I’m so glad you are reading my blog. Thanks.

I’m Not a __________…But I Can Play One: Writers-Novalyne Price & Robert E. Howard

Renée Zellweger & Vincent D’Onofrio portray writers Novalyne Price and Robert E. Howard in “The Whole Wide World” (1996)

Long before she won an Oscar for Cold Mountain and thanked Vincent D’Onofrio in her acceptance speech, Renée Zellweger worked with him on a little independent movie called The Whole Wide World (1996.) It was the movie she made right before her breakout role in Jerry McGuire and it was because Cameron Crowe saw this film that she eventually won the role that made her a star. Both D’Onofrio & Zellweger won acting awards  at several film festivals for their portrayals of writers Novalyne Price (Ellis) and Robert E. Howard.

The movie, The Whole Wide World (1996), was based on a  pair of memoirs written by Novalyne Price Ellis when she was 78 about her relationship with pulp fiction writer Robert E. Howard, famous for creating the character of Conan the Barbarian. The two apparently had a tumultuous relationship until Howard’s suicide at the age of 30 in 1936. The movie tells the story of this relationship.  Novalyne Price Ellis didn’t become successful for her writing until she was nearly 80. Additionally, Robert E. Howard didn’t become famous for creating Conan until after his death.

Both D’Onofrio and Zellweger are fantastic in their roles as Howard and Price. Zellweger even went on to portray other writers in her films as well: Beatrix Potter had Peter Rabbit, Bridget Jones had her diary. Maybe Zellweger’s degree in English from the University of Texas has lent a hand to her playing writers so well. D’Onofrio, on the other hand, possesses the brute force of nature and striking resemblance to Robert E. Howard to bring him back to life again. The film itself was ultra-low budget, shot in Texas (Zellweger’s home state) and directed by Dan Ireland (who went on to direct Jessica Chastain in her film debut, Jolene.)

Due to the fact that it’s so simple, makes it one of my favorite films. Not only that, but films about writers can be sort of boring simply due to the fact that writing is a very solitary activity. The creative process of writing is a whole lot different than that of an actor. So, when an actor is able to portray the inner workings of a writer’s process on screen, it’s quite an accomplishment. Nicole Kidman won her Oscar for playing writer, Virginia Woolf and Philip Seymour Hoffman won his for playing Truman Capote. But it’s funny that a little film like The Whole Wide World led to a big break, that led to more movies, that led to an Oscar win for playing someone who was illiterate. And in the end, it came full circle because she didn’t forget how far she had come, and thanked the man who she credits with teaching her how to act. And if not for the movie itself, see it for Vincent D’Onofrio’s fake mustache. It’s quite a sight to see.