I must admit, I had my first recognizing moment the other night. Hurrah. I am in week one of moving to grand ole New York City, and I was standing in the snack line at a cinema in Times Square. After mutually complaining about the ridiculousness of having only three lines open, this middle-aged man with a fantastically broad NY accent turned around and asked me that grand question: “Are you an actor?”
In between blushing and being gobsmacked, I managed to coolly sputter, “Yes, I am,” then confusedly, “How did you know?” He told me that I had the look—as in actor-ly and also bright-eyed-new-to-the-city. Sigh. Yes! Sigh. Your first time is always confusing, exciting and slightly painful.
I was in leggings, all black, no makeup, and hair up. I guess this is what an actor is supposed to look like?
Now, I have always wondered about those who can be identified as actors, or as artists, immediately on first glance. This sort of aura is a bit of a mystery to me. I never seem to have it, no matter how hard I try. Or, how hard I don’t. I mean, some people you look at and say, “Wow, there’s somebody creative.” You just know. Other times you look and say, “Wow, that’s a really tortured soul in that homeless person.”
Yes, it is true, many actors, artists, musicians, and the like can often look homeless in the yesterday’s clothes, the grungy, I-don’t-care-because-I’m-about-to-rock-the-world-with-my-insight look. This is usually because they are a month away from being homeless. And/or didn’t get any sleep the night before. With my first NYC “spotting,” I was in leggings, all black, no makeup, and hair up. I guess this is what an actor is supposed to look like? Now I’m not sure I will ever wear color or makeup outside again.
But, it must be more than that, right? More than the clothes or persona. I mean, we are all chameleons to our work. Surely we can figure out that “thing,” the essence that identifies us as artists? With some of the actor greats, like Marlon Brando or Sean Connery, people used to comment that you just knew by seeing them walk down the street. There could be no doubt their calling. They were actors. Even Burt Reynolds mentioned in an interview with Piers Morgan that no one recognized Marilyn Monroe when he was walking down the street with her until she changed her posture and let him “see her.”
Actors plague themselves over their potential typecasting, their looks, and their personas. How do we manage or control whether we are perceived as a true actor? We should be able to play a geeky girl as easily as a serial killer, but also do a turn as a love interest in a period piece. Even artists of other mediums are supposed to be and look like how we think artists should present themselves. How do we stay relevant, well-rounded and noticeable, without conforming to the norm? Oh, and we have to do all this without developing a psychological disorder and not losing our true selves. Um….
To be honest, just asking the questions is making me hyperventilate slightly. Always questioning. Never good enough. Tweak. Tweet. Twirl. Twerk. We see these now very famous, very confident Jennifer Lawrences and Lupita Nyong’os who seem to have just fallen into their goddesses of being actors, fashionistas and cool people roles without any hesitation or hang-ups.
Hang on a minute.
Let’s take a step back. I am calling out my inner saboteur. They lurk within us all, waiting to rear their heads on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis. We know this. This isn’t specific to the arts; everyone goes through this. I’m forcing my mind to slow its downward spiral. Stop. Listen to yourself.
It is when we relax that people can truly see the glow.
Everyone is different; everyone has their challenges, their anxieties. Even the truly great JLs and LNs. In my humble opinion, we just need to say FUCK IT. Are you listening self? You’ve heard this before, I’m sure. But truly—have fun, live life, and create as you will. We can only be ourselves, even if we turn on different versions during the day. That has to be good enough. Relax, and breathe in and out. The most important advice someone ever gave me was to be kind to myself.
The only reason I was wearing my comfies that day was that I was walking around the city and exploring, no other. I was tired, slightly annoyed, and couldn’t care less about anything other than popcorn just then. It is when we relax that people can truly see the glow. Otherwise, we are all just acting—and probably not very well.
Photos by Ashlee Renz-Hotz.