3 December, 2009
"For an actress to be a success, she must have the face of Venus, the brains of Minerva, the grace of Terpsichore, the memory of Macaulay, the figure of Juno, and the hide of a rhinoceros."
Ms. Barrymore said this sometime in the 1950s.
Nothing has changed.
But let's break this down a bit...
VENUS: The goddess of love and beauty. The most important thing for an actress to be, or so it seems, is beautiful. Nobody wants to go and see normal-looking women, do they? Thank God this is changing, ever-so-slightly. There are very few actresses who are drop-dead gorgeous, who look fabulous no matter what. Most of us look just like everyone else. Every photo you see has been photoshopped and airbrushed. We're made to look skinnier and toned with flawless skin. No one looks like that! And trust me, everyone gets airbrushed. EVERYONE.
But as women, we let that happen. We keep buying the magazines with impossible beauty on the covers. We keep looking at those pictures and think, "I'll never look like that." Well--that's true--we won't ever look like that. But it should make us feel at least a little better knowing that they'll never look like that, either! :) The things that they have and we don't are: good lighting, good make-up and hair stylists, a good photographer who knows all their best angles, and a guy to photoshop the finished product.
Yet we still have to strive daily to look our best, at all times...at any cost. Magic creams and potions and injections and going to the gym, all to keep us looking glamourous and beautiful. This is fine for those who have been able to make a successful career out of acting, but for those of us still struggling, it's not easy. I can't afford most of this--and I don't have a personal trainer egging me on to work out. I hate working out. So how can I keep up with those screen goddesses?
I can't. I just have to be Me. And I'll keep hoping that casting directors see something different in me and will take a chance on that.
MINERVA: The goddess of wisdom, medicine, the arts, dyeing, science, trade, war, and the inventor of music. Good golly! That's a lot for one person to handle, don'cha think?! Yet actresses have to do this daily. The stereotype used to be that actresses weren't exactly the smartest of creatures...but it's next to impossible to be a "dumb blonde" in this biz. You have to have common sense, good judgement, and (I would say) a higher-than-average intelligence to make this work. Not only do we need to be creative--after all, our very job is to "pretend" we're someone else--but we also need to have a business-minded brain. That's not easy for some of us--me included. We have to be able to read a script and decide if this would be good for us as artists, and as businesspeople. It ain't called "show business" for nothin'. You are a brand. You must be marketable. People must be able to make money off of you, which means you need to be making plenty for yourself. (This part also falls into the VENUS category--being marketable!) And when/if you are making money, you need to make sure it's yours and that it's not going anywhere--which is a whole other side to the business that I'm not going to get into. :) I'll hire someone for that! ;)
TERPSICHORE: The Muse of dance and lyric poetry. An actress must have grace. She is under pressure and strain, as well as the microscope much of the time. She must exude an ease of grace or face the harsh critics in the press. She must be graceful not only in body and face, but in language as well. She must speak kindly about all, she must not be ribald, she must be this and that. Honestly, I can understand how some of these young actresses throw their hands up and go crazy. I understand, but I won't condone it. Ish Kaur, the director of THE SIXTH RIVER, told me I was graceful in everything I did. I laughed at that and told her I'm such a klutz! But that didn't matter. Tripping over everything (and sometimes nothing) doesn't mean I can't be graceful. It just means I have to be extra-charming to make up for my sense of gravity. ;)
MACAULAY: Lord Macaulay was a poet, historian, MP, and Secretary at War. He was known to say that, "if by some miracle of vandalism all copies of Pilgrim's Progress and Paradise Lost were destroyed off the face of the earth," he would undertake to reproduce them both from recollection. How he fits into an actress's life should be obvious. We read, we commit to memory, we perform what we have learned. But it goes a bit deeper than that. We shouldn't forget anything in our lives--personal, professional, whatever. The pain we've endured, the happiness we've felt, every emotion from any time in our lives can be brought forward to use in our craft. Though we'd like to forget high school days or embarrassing moments, they help a lot in connecting to and with the character we're playing. Those old emotions help us become the character, not just act like her.
JUNO: Queen of the gods and protector of Rome. She is often identified with the Greek goddess Hera, who was mostly worshipped as a goddess of marriage and birth. Which brings me to one of the more interesting aspects of being an actress: marriage and children. Oh, lordy, this could be a long one! First, marriage: When an actress gets married, she takes herself off the market. Producers may not like that because people might stop fantasizing about her, and stop buying tickets to see her. (This is all bull hockey, but whatever.) Producers may not like the partner she chose...he or she could be bad for her career. And then there's the whole "my wife simulates sex with other people for a living" thing. I've often joked with Andy that the only reason I'm an actress is so I can kiss other people and get away with it. The truth is, it's really not a joking matter. It can't be easy for someone to watch their partner making out with another guy or gal. Insecurities are bound to pop up--real or imagined. And telling them that it's the least sexy and romantic thing to do doesn't help. You're there in front of dozens of people, all eyes on the two of you...it's not exactly a picnic. But that doesn't help--your partner will be thinking things like, "Does she touch him the way she touches me? Does she enjoy it? I'm gonna go punch that guy's lights out!" No matter how normal and sane and level-headed they are--and believe me, I've got one of the most even-keeled guys out there--this is not an easy thing to go through. So this in itself takes a little bit of Minerva and Terpsichore--wisdom and grace--to tread lightly on the subject, to be gentle and reassuring and maybe a little blasé about the whole thing. If the actor happens to be a good kisser...you know, my husband doesn't need to know that.
This can be very dangerous territory for those of us who have partners. As an actress, I will myself to develop a bit of a crush on my co-star. It helps with the chemistry and makes things more believable. But actors in general can take those feelings too far. (And I mean "actors" as in guys and gals.) It's the easiest thing in the world to think yourself in love with that other person, to really believe it. We see it all the time in the tabloids--people leaving their spouses for their recent co-star. But most of the time, it's just the intensity of emotions on set, it's not anything real--it's not anything to build a relationship on. If you have a strong marriage, it's just a bump in the road and you can stop yourself from tripping. If you've been having trouble in your marriage, this can be a huge boulder you run smack-dab into, face first. It's up to you. It's always up to you.
Onto kids: Yay, kids! Everyone asks, "When are you guys gonna have kids? You've been married a while now! Come on!" We're under constant pressure to reproduce! Most of our friends have already finished, and we haven't even begun. Going through our friends, 97% of those who do not have kids are actresses. Coincidence? Hardly. We have the usual worries about starting a family: time, money, career, etc. But then we've got the added worries about changing bodies and not getting a role while we're pregnant...and trying to get back to our pre-pregnancy bodies, not an easy feat. And for those often playing romantic leads, there's the worry that now we'll only get cast in the mom roles, that we won't be seen as cute and sexy anymore. For an actress to be out of commission for an entire year is a tough thing. People forget you in this business, unless you're always out there. You have to continuously fight to be heard and seen, to get the roles you want. (Remember Minerva's also the goddess of war?) Once you start a family, you'll be fighting for the above, plus to spend time with your family. This can be a cruel career--odd, long hours...often filming on location no where near your home. Can you bring the kids? Sure. With someone else there to watch them. You can see them in your trailer between takes--but I don't know many kids patient enough to hang around the studio for any length of time. It's hard enough for the kids who are in the film to be patient! (And that's true of some adults, too! ;) )
For many years of an actress's life, her career has to come first. Otherwise, there will be no career. Some might argue that there may be no children then, either. So each actress has to decide for herself what she can and cannot live with. If knowing you sacrificed a family for your career is going to make you distraught, then don't focus so much on the career. For me--I'm at that awkward age, where both are pretty important. Career outweighs children, but not by much. I have a few more years before I really need to start worrying...so I won't think about that now. I'll think about that tomorrow, with Scarlett.
I'm in a business where my height and weight are on my resume. A change in weight becomes a change in characters that I can play. So...yes, that's always the first thing on my mind when I think about starting to have children.
RHINO: As if all the above wasn't bad enough, we also have to be strong and tough? Geez Louise, you're asking a lot. In this profession, you hear a lot of "NOs." You're not right for the part. Come back after you've done this. Lose 5 pounds. Too tall, too short, too this and that. No, no, no, no, NO. The physical attributes that you're super insecure about are the things the Powers That Be will bring up. I've heard two very good pieces of advice for those wanting to be an actor. 1) If you can't take criticism, forget it. You'll never make it. 2) If there's something you're just as passionate about, do that instead.
Even if you've made it, you're still under critique. And everyone's a critic. Everyone's scrutinizing you and taking pictures of you...and you can't scratch your nose in public anymore, because US Weekly will have it blown up and claim you were picking your nose! Gain a few pounds, and they'll circle the supposed "baby bump" that is your tummy! Kiss an old friend on the cheek and suddenly you're in a passionate affair. Cover your face from the cameras and you're rude. On and on and on. For someone like me, who wants everyone to like her, that can be difficult. First of all, I have to understand that not everyone's going to like me. Second, who bloody cares?! Just let it go. Serenity NOW!
So there you have it. The Life of an Actress. I hope that brings a little more understanding into what we go through, and why we make the decisions we do...and why so many of us are older mums!
Ethel knew exactly what she was talking about...and in 50+ years, it's still the same.