‘Love is a fire
It burns everyone
It disfigures everyone
It is the world’s excuse
for being ugly.’
I have been in Los Angeles for two and a half months.
There are thousands, upon thousands of actors in this city.
When I first came over two years ago, I was warned about it.
The ‘LA Days’, when all you do is cry. The diet fads. The ‘rules’. The years spent driving freeways. The endless visa conversations. The shallow culture, the emptiness – and yet the simultaneous creative ferocity. The lines of young people coming over for a season, and leaving for their home towns again, cradling unfulfilled dreams. LA is never ‘home’, because that would seem too desperate, and far too permanent. It’s always a moment, even if a long one. We examine the system, and try our luck. We come in hoards. We come from all over the world. We know it will happen to someone. It could be us. It probably should be us.
There’s a cycle to this place.
Discover a ‘good actor’ (ie: person who can accurately/evocatively represent human interaction), elevate said ‘good actor’ as example of human desire or perfection, and in doing so, elevate and extricate ‘good actor’, from the very mess of humanity itself. Leave ‘good actor’ at the top of the ladder, to delight in the lie of immortality, and start the cycle again, with a new muse.
We understand that in succeeding, we will be elevated. The exposure, the money and the desirability set us apart. Once known, we enter a new class of human. A new breed. A rare, prized, protected species. It doesn’t even need to be pursued. It happens automatically. It is thrust upon you by the rest of the Western world.
‘You are not like us. You are no longer merely human. You are better.’
We all see it, and loathe it, yet we know it as one of the only definitions of ‘success’ in the entertainment industry. If you allow your likeness to belong to other (albeit fictional) people in a public forum, provoking emotional reactions from your community, your community is going to have something to say about you. Their endorsement or disinterest will prolong or end your career, in many cases.
I often remember back to my days studying intro psychology, and this one particular phenomenon regarding how our brains identify and label ‘celebrities’. The brain acknowledges that an ‘apple’ can exist on its own, but there are millions of them in the world. ‘Apple’ is the name of all of those millions of apples, and also the one in my hand, and that’s okay. But with people, the brain works differently. It knows there’s only one Jill Green, or Michael Roberts, or whoever. It knows the difference between proper nouns and common nouns.
With a celebrity, the brain gets a bit confused. Instead of filing ‘Meryl Streep’ in the folder ‘person’, it files a ‘Meryl Streep’ as it might file an apple. You can see one at a time, but it isn’t a one-off – there are millions in the world. If the brain some day meets the real life person ‘Meryl Streep’, in concrete, singular form, it will get rather overwhelmed.
On some level, I think we all understand that we have to reach some strange level of apple/god-like immortality in order to continue our jobs in accurately representing human interaction.
We ignore the blatant paradox. We want to be talented at understanding humans, and completely exempt from what it means to be part of humanity. We remain silent about the cycle. We swear to ourselves that we will behave differently, if so blessed to be elevated into fame. Maybe we will. Maybe we won’t have a choice.
The issue is deeper than ‘The Industry’. I use this example because it is what I know. Because I am currently in Los Angeles, and somewhat within a machine I never expected to exist.
The underlying lie at play in my life, is that everything I have in this world I deserve.
Every role I have played or will play, is mine because I worked for it. Every dollar I have in my hand I am entitled to. Every award I have received, I earned.
I hang onto this lie like it is my gospel.
I suspect I’m not the only one.
It is an inextinguishable hope, in the wrong thing.
Despite the injustices of this world, despite the women my age being kidnapped, tortured and killed this very moment, a tiny part of my heart believes that if I was elevated like the actors I so admire, it would be just. I would have earned it. That’s what it means, to be extraordinary. That is what ‘success’ looks like. Simultaneously, when especially rejected, or disappointed, I interpret the situation catastrophically. I try and quit.
We discern our worth through a system that defines ‘success’ for us. Our identities as actors are fragile and precious. It is the quivering line between cowardice and courage, blurred in our psyches, that allows us to even try. We shatter ourselves with the false mirror of this industry. We focus on the sickened plastic of tabloid, instead of organic life. We have completely forbidden ourselves to be ordinary. We have rejected humanity, because humanity is broke, humanity is ugly, humanity is disappointed and ultimately, humanity is mortal.
Mortality = failure.
I can run from it. I can deny it, clutching at my self-importance until I die. But eventually I will be reconciled with the fact that every human being is made equal.
I can take no credit for my lot – how can I? I did not choose to be born, I did not choose the circumstances. I did not earn my parents, my nation, my era, my gender, my sexual orientation, or my body. It is no credit to me if I am healthy, if I am safe, if I am educated, if I am loved, if I am beautiful according to a particular standard. It is no mark against my name if I am none of those things.
I have come to accept that every breath I take on this planet is a privilege, not a right.
We are equal, yet our paths do look different. We have different callings, different joys, and different trials. Success and suffering are equal tests. Some of us are called to exposure, to leadership, to artistic heights. But what if we’re not? How is it fair? How can we crawl through each day in a job where 99% of us are unemployed at any one time?
“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labour. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind, nothing was gained under the sun.” King Solomon
The sweat is the reward. The peace of perseverance and of sacrifice. The unseen labour, in the secret place. The journey is the destination. The rest is as dust.
For this journey, I believe we are each handed a different maze to navigate. A maze designed primarily to produce a friction, which sparks a flame. That flame fans into a fire, and that fire is love.
If the world was indeed created, then the world and its many strange valleys were created to reveal the mystery of love.
Love is not how many strangers think I am accurately portraying human interaction. Nor is it the expression of a relevant or tragic love story on a highly lauded stage.
Yes, I can reference love, when I play another person, or monologue on its issues. I can change the world through that reference, absolutely.
But actual love is who I am the second the director calls cut. It is my relationships with my family. It is my compassion for the stranger asking me for help. Love is the way I respond when my friend gets an opportunity that I do not. Love is how I can contribute to the people and city of Los Angeles as one who lives within it. Love is ever present when I fail. Love rises when I make a mistake. Love rages, when I am deeply disappointed. The love in my life is shaped by my interactions with suffering, generosity, discipline, mercy and hope – and then the love itself works on me. It burns me, it refines me.
Love gives me a character of my own.
Love is the key to revealing humanity. Deep pain is the key to revealing love.
The maze of love does not ascend like a ladder to the heights of fame – to being loved – but extravagantly descends, to the depths of servitude – to loving.
We must stop trying to elbow ourselves above the rest of humanity in order to be actors. We must descend, back into humanity, and embrace it. We must know we are part of it, lost and invisible amongst it. Hungry, lonely, humbled. We must seek to know the ordinary with unrivalled intimacy. We must allow the flame of human suffering to graze us, to mark us. The burn of empathy perfect us, the heat of rejection refine us. We are servants, not masters.
We must throw off our paper crowns and return to the people.
It is only then, if gifted the opportunity, that we can dream of accurately revealing the furious secrets of human interaction.