A Grain of Salt: Body Consciousness

The adolescent girl leaves her dolls dormant. But throughout her life, woman will be vigorously encouraged to leave and come back to herself by the magic of the mirror–Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex.

My mother has always instilled in me a sense of right and wrong, and that you can’t always take things personally. Rather, you must take things with a grain of salt. For my survival job, I work in retail, and often come across some rather unflattering behavior. Today was no exception. A woman came up to me whom I had helped before. In fact, just a few months prior, she had recognized me from a project I had done, and asked if I was in fact an actor. She began the brief encounter today by asking how my career was going to which I replied, “Fine.”  She proceeded  to inform me that I have apparently lost quite a substantial amount of weight,  and that her daughter, whom she described as “ugly and rather disgusting,” had also lost weight and looks “alright now.” She concluded by saying, “You remind me so much of my daughter.”  Okay, let’s pause for a moment. This woman just insulted her own daughter, and  gave the most back-handed “compliment” I have ever heard, all at the same time.

Since when is it okay to comment on someone’s weight when you don’t even know them? Well, obviously in this modern digital age, that would be all the time. As a society, we are bombarded with images of celebrities, and those who become celebrities due to weight-loss like the Biggest Loser winner, Rachel Frederickson. Women especially, are ridiculed no matter how much they weigh. They are either “too fat” or “too skinny.” As an actor, there are constant pressures to look a certain way. More than likely, that ideal falls into the category of skinny–must be thin to be successful. Case in point: A few years ago, I auditioned for a casting director. Said industry professional, who shall remain nameless, told me blatantly to lose 30 pounds and straighten my hair if I ever wanted a chance of making it in show business. Well, la-di-freakin’-do. Mind you, that was one of the first auditions I had in the city before I had any of the credits or union standings that I have today. Still, that comment has stuck with me, and only ignited the fire within me to keep going. As one of my family members has always said, “It’s better to be pissed off, than pissed on.” Rather than taking the words that were meant to harm me to heart, I am speaking up and channeling it into something positive. Like I’ve said in previous posts, I am character actress who is curvy, curly-haired, and doesn’t really fit the traditional Hollywood standard. And guess what?  I have become more comfortable with who I am both physically and emotionally than ever before. I realize that there are people who say things meant to bring others down in order to bring themselves up. There are people who deem the physical beauty more important than the inner beauty. It will always exist.

At the end of the day though, the only one that I really have to deal with is the person staring back at me in the mirror. When I look at myself, I don’t see the girl who was deemed “too skinny” as a child, or the adult with a womanly physique. I see someone with a lot to be thankful for. I have family and friends who love me for being just who I am. And to be honest, that’s all that matters.

 There is no real security except for whatever you build inside yourself.–Gilda Radner

Auditions: The Uncommon Job Interview & Why They Are So Stressful

Auditioning is stressful for both the actors in front of the table, and those who are trying to make the decisions behind it. I rarely go into auditions calmly, and if I am calm, it worries me. Some people are really really good at auditioning, but not necessarily acting. And most actors I know say that they are really bad at auditioning. They are also some of the best actors I have worked with.  Casting directors have a job to do and we as actors need to realize that fact. They have a limited amount of time to pick from the pool of actors who audition for them, and narrow that down to the final few until they have a cast. It doesn’t matter what the project is. It could range from a commercial, to a film or television series, to a stage production. Casting directors HAVE to find a cast. Wow. Talk about stress.

Sometimes, I have walked into a room and felt the disappointment in the air, because I come to the conclusion automatically, that I know I’m not who they are looking for. I can see it on their faces. I can hear it in their tone of voice. It’s as if they are saying, “Why is she here?” “Why is she wasting our time?” Apparently, I’ve heard, that until the character walks into the room, they are unconvinced that they are going to find anyone to fill a particular part. Sometimes, I’m really confident when I go into an audition. But, to be honest, I size up my “competition” before I go in the room and end up psyching myself out because all these things run through my mind like, “I’m not thin/pretty/normal enough” or “I seem really out of place.” I have two minutes to “impress” these people behind the table, but sometimes I can sense, that even before I’ve opened my mouth to speak, I’ve been tossed aside.

It’s odd that in the “real world” a job interview takes into consideration your previous experience, skill set, and whether or not you’re truly qualified for the job. In the acting world, it can come down to simply, “I didn’t fit the character description.” I’ve come to the conclusion that the pressure that the casting people feel due to the time crunch, and the stress that I bring on myself about the audition, just makes it an all around stressful situation.

Here’s what I am planning to do to curb my stresses. I’ve been asking myself questions to calm myself down. Michael McKean has a great quote about auditioning. He states, “What’s the worst that can happen? They don’t give you the job? Guess what: You already don’t have the job. The worst has happened! Pressure’s off, so have fun. The main reason we wanted to do this is that it look like it would be fun, right?” Right. I have to remember what made me enjoy acting in the first place. That thing that made the fire in my stomach ignite, is that acting is creative. It’s fun. It should never stop being fun. But we as actors have been so consumed with “nailing our audition” that we have lost sight of why we became actors in the first place. I want to serve the material. I have been asking, “How can I serve your project?” in my mind before an audition, rather than “Are you going to like me?” How can I best help out the people behind the table? Well, the easy answer is, I can be what they want. Yet, of all the audition success stories, they seem to include one key point: The actors were showing who they were. They were showing their best qualities. Sometimes, you just have to bring yourself to your work, and utilize the qualities you already possess. So in the end, we’re not really “acting” at all. We’re us. And that’s okay. I’m going to showcase the best of myself. Take it or leave it. So what if I’m not thin/pretty/normal enough? I’m me. Boom. Stressful situation avoided. Bring on the fun!

Speaking From Experience: Losing a Role

Today, I lost a role. Normal. Because of my hair…Not normal to most people seeking employment in the everyday workforce, but it’s all too common in this industry. When I saw Jessica Chastain at an industry event, she had mentioned how crazy the business is, and how, for an industry that deals with the imagination, they really don’t have much of their own.  Every once in a while, I get fed up with how ridiculous this industry can be sometimes. When I told friends that I lost the part because of something as minor as my hair, their reactions went pretty much like this:

I know, right? Growing up, I loved when I’d see an actress with curly hair. I was seeing a part of myself reflected on the screen. Faces like Julia Roberts, Keri Russell, Julianna Margulies, and the previously blogged about, late Brittany Murphy, all had naturally curly hair. Key word: HAD. Since that time, they’ve all gone down the straight and narrow path of hair styling. I mentioned in my post about Brittany Murphy, that she had trouble getting roles because she was a brunette. Maybe it also had to do with the fact that her hair was curly. If you look at her work in the television series Almost Home, and movies like Clueless and Freeway, she had curly hair for all those projects. Take Julia Roberts as well. It was fine in the late 80s and early 90s to have curly hair like she did, because that was in fashion. Maybe I should have been up and coming in the 70s and 80s. I’d have cornered the curly-hair market. Nowadays, it’s all about silky smooth locks.  The fashion industry spends billions of dollars a year in order to tell me that my hair is too frizzy, curly, and needs to be “controlled” with straightening serums, creams and flat irons.

Just because you may not see a curly-haired gal in television and film all the time does not mean that we aren’t out there. I look up to my friends Eileen Galindo and Olga Merediz BECAUSE they remind me of myself. I really do hope I get to act with my supremely talented and gorgeous friends. I have a feeling we could play relatives or something.

I’ve had roles where I had to straighten my hair, so why should that make a difference now? Well, this is a very very fast moving business, and I didn’t have what they needed in the moment to make them give me the job. I can ask questions and make myself crazy about this. But I chose not to go insane simply due to the fact that I know I didn’t fit what they were ultimately looking for. It wasn’t about my talent, it was  as simple as my appearance. My hair is a part of me. It’s part of my personality. It’s what sets me apart from everyone else. At least I know I’m not a terrible actress. Other things are on the horizon for me, and something great might be just around the corner.

I don’t want to be just another boat that gets lost in the ocean. I want to be the lighthouse, creating a glow that helps the boats find their way home to the shore. I want to blaze a trail with my curly hair.