Friday, 24 February 2012

Just Another Frustrated Actress

There’s a celebrity interview feature in the Saturday Guardian that always ends with this question:

At heart, I’m just a frustrated…

The famous athletes, singers, artists or politicians usually want to be dancers, as it  turns out. But not me. 

(All right, I did want to be a dancer —I longed to be one of those lithe and leggy, spangly-clad sylphs who featured in the TV variety shows of my youth. Unfortunately, I liked eating snack treats and sitting on my butt watching TV more than I actually wanted to do any training—see previous blog posts)

What I really, really wanted to be was an actress. At least that was the ambition I pursued--I acted in school and community theatre plays, I studied drama at university, and when I was young I’d lie awake at night and imagine…

…all sorts of things. Crazy scenarios for films that would star the amazing 10- or 14- or 16-year old moi. What adventures I had—in my mind, late at night, listening to  a rock and roll soundtrack that was broadcast to my bedroom from some far-distant FM radtio station. I’d imagine tense scenes in which I’d have to fight or flirt (there was always a hot guy—of course) my way out of some jam. These stories were always set in a teeming city—a far more glamorous locale than the tiny village where I lived, at any rate. And I’d be the heroine—always defeating the baddie, always getting the hot guy to fall for me. During the end credits that would flash before my tightly-closed eyes, I’d walk down a Manhattan street as the camera pulled away and the heaving crowds eventually swallowed me up.

God, it was great. As deluded fantasists go, I totally rocked. 

Thinking back now (with some embarrassment) I wonder—did I really want to be an actress?  Or was I actually practicing at being a writer? 

I also wonder (with some more embarrassment) if I wanted to be an actress, simply because it was fun and exciting and a way for me to “express myself.” Was I like so many like-minded people I met when I was young—propping up a bar and talking about being an artist, rather than actually doing any work? 

I don’t know, but I do know that dreaming of being an actress has helped me write. The techniques that even a lazy actress like me worked on—using emotional memory, making acute observation—are a writer’s tools as well. Stanislavski famously wrote about “building a character” and “creating a role.” Isn’t that exactly what writers do? Build words. Create many roles, many characters.

My early acting experience taught me other things that have been important to me as a writer. The first is that rejection is an unavoidable part of the game, and that rejection is never easy. The second is that to be successful you need more than just the urge to be an artist and have a bit of  talent—you need to have the determination to work in spite of  so many obstacles--time constraints, family and job commitments, the ever-present miasma of rejection and self-doubt. 

So, all in all, maybe my dreamer years weren’t totally wasted! And, of course, propping up those bars was an awful lot of fun…


  1. At heart, I’m just a frustrated screenwriter. So, perhaps not a million miles from where I (and you) are now!

  2. Interesting! I've heard a few actors say that their training helped with writing... I can easily imagine that, though the thought of standing on a stage pretending to be someone else (without even my own carefully constructed armor to fall back on) TERRIFIES me. Perhaps at heart I'm a frustrated illustrator...