There comes a time in every actress’s life where she has to concede to the inevitable – glamour, fame, fortune and a little flashbulb notoriety. Well, I have done my level best to keep myself innocent of all of that corrupting stuff. I have fought tooth and nail to keep my performances largely unrecognised in the national press. Gus Van Sant and Tim Burton intuitively know my privacy is precious and surely keep away out of respect? The darlings. But now the tide has swung, things have reached a critical mass, a tipping point, and today, I take one last poignant stroll down Duke Street to the bus stop, knowing that next time I will probably have to do so a la jenny in the hood, with an entourage wafting behind…*record scratch noise*
Most actors in Scotland go to Hollywood when it seems that Hollywood is calling them. Peter Mullen, Laura Fraser, Ashley Jennings and surely David Tennant any minute now. But I am a theatre actress who works regularly but under the radar for the most part, and certainly whose celluloid career has hardly reached its zenith. What has possessed me to book a one-way ticket to Hollywood?
Short story long – I had a lucky break last year of a job in Hawaii. I played the Little Mermaid at Honolulu Theatre and toured the surrounding Hawaiian islands for 8 months, returning to home soil in Glasgow this March. Which is a story in itself – but, new manager and visa extension forthcoming, all means that the American market of work has opened itself up to me. Before the long flight home to unpack my flip flops and give Kona coffee to everyone I knew (an anti-nausea to my tales of life at the beach), I decided to try LA for size. A rekke of two weeks to give me an idea of whether I could love the place and, perhaps more to the point, it could love me, and if the current popularity of British actors in Tinseltoon can extend itself Mary-wards.
It must be said that I wasn’t new to LA. I had toured there with the Red Balloon, a Visible Fictions show in 2003, and had taken a fierce disliking to the place. As a town that seemed built on referrals and who-you-know, every social encounter was laced with the toxic possibility of a strategic career move. People were impressed that we were British actors working there but when they found out we were doing theatre, good successful Broadway-touring theatre, even the fakest of smiles dropped in disbelief and miscomprehension. “Wow. You’re actors in Theatre? Actually performing surgery? Oh, I get it, theatre..in LA? Right.” Trans – atlantic for “You must be shit”.
Oh, well. At least the city was renowned for its architecture, if not its salt of the earth people…ah. Maybe I could spend the afternoons spotting hi-rise breast implants?
Expectations suitably low, I decided the only way to do the LA thing again and see if I should go back for pilot season was to ask everyone I knew if I could borrow their Hollywood friends and take them for coffees and lunch and cocktails. People who might give me an insight into how this city worked, and people who might be fun just to hang out with. So this is what Facebook is for! Friends of friends came out of the cyber-woodwork, who were not only happy to meet but who, when I eventually arrived, could not have been more staggeringly generous, kind and deeply hip in the bargain.
Shaun Jefford, an Australian film director and a total gentleman, picked me up from Studio City in a fancy car, dispensing nuggets of advice between Bluetooth calls. “Never tell anyone you’re here just for 2 weeks. Never tell anyone you take the bus, they’ll never take you seriously.. I wish someone had taken me round town when I first arrived. I hated it…you really learn the hard way here, It’s a tough city. Now, would you like to come to a H’wood lunch with a crazy person at the sunset hotel?”
Oh no, Shaun, I think I’ll just stay put and watch a DVD about ingrowing toenails. Where do I sign?
This was my first introduction to Bob – a chauvinist but hilarious Aussie producer who owns the titles to 7000 films, surrounds himself with the rich, the famous and the self-absorbed (Keith Richards snoozing on his couch) and for jittery old coke heads at the heart of excessive Hollyweird look no further. Think the love-child of Les Patterson and Ozzy Osboune and you’re in the right area. Conversation between him was a two steps forwards, one step back game of catch, as years of hellraising with the Rolling Stones had taken their toll. Occasionally, deluded concepts lit up clearly across his forebrain eg, ‘Actress + Amphetamines = Poledance’ was particularly clear, but for the most part, it was a guessing game just trying to follow him. At one point he staggered away from the table mid-sentence and found himself lost in some area of his head near a swimming pool, and was herded back by Shaun, fervently semaphoring with his napkin.
Then there was Corey Madden, ex-producer at the Mark Taper forum and possibly the most focussed person I have met in my life, whose bullet-point strategy for how I should approach LA should form a book..”give it 18 months of doing this, if it hasn’t significantly raised your game, go home”… Paula Rosenberg, a friend’s manager for ICA, who skipped to our sushi dinner stylishly fresh from a spin class with Nicole and Brooke with ‘here’s a list of who likes the Brits everywhere from ABC to HBO. And the dinner’s on me.’ When I approached the most boring subject of weight and actresses with down to earth new manager Stephanie, after overhearing about a colleague, ‘she is the best actress for the part, but her upper arms just aren’t toned enough’, replied ‘ oh don’t get worried about it. Yeah, lose a few pounds if you think you really need to, but don’t stop living your life.’ There was Leyda Cuzzo, whose niece I know well in O’ahu. We took to the hiking hills of Griffith observatory and I saw an LA I never realised existed, such an antidote to the freeway hell that threatens to characterise it. On the way down she filled up the car with a full tank and then gave me the keys for a week – ‘don’t hire one dear, it’s the first thing you need in this town’. There was Jeff who gave me the unofficial tour of downtown, from the shiny misaligned feng shui of the Dorothy Chandler pavilion to the secrets of Little Mexico, hidden loft apartments, the best sushi in town, ending at a friend’s house with an authentic tikki bar in his basement, as Jeff thought it would feel like home. The thing they all shared was taking LA with all it is known for – its cut-throat and superficial qualities – with a dry laugh, a tequila-size pinch of salt and replacing them with both warmth and sincerity. Yes, sincerity! In LA!
Sarah-Jane Drummey, a wonderful Irish actress from Kerry (and Abby’s ropey babysitter in ER) was the final lovely persuasion that ensured my return. Other actresses can feel understandably prickly if you want to talk to them about work and how to get on in a new city as they need to guard their turf to survive. But she is one of those types who will not only try to help you but fill you with martini, give you a bed for the night and take you out as a VIP guest to the private gigs of Ed Harcourt. I was already staggered by the generosity that had been directed towards me, but SJ and her man Eliam took me even further under their collective wings and, I think, she was finally able to unleash all the David Brent jokes that had been storing up since her last trip home (that dance, in a restaurant)…Her friend Sasha Vom Dorp, Swedish artist, took me to visit family lemon groves and avocado trees, to view his art and his life and whip my ass at poker. I think it is correct to assume I was blown away. As the lord is my witness, this city feels like home!
Bob called me for the rest of the week inviting me to industry parties and flings in the mansions of the Hollywood hills, but I politely declined. It had taken me a good few months in Hawai’i to realise that if I was turning down invitations to go out, even dubious ones, that meant I had settled in in some way…and here in LA that was a very unexpected bonus. Anyway, taking on Hollyweird needs to be captured when I have a secret video camera to document it for the folks back home. As Stephanie advised me, two weeks to see if you can live in LA is great, but I need to be here for 6 months to really see if it’s going to work professionally. And in looking forward to the adventure with such excitement, I realise that even if I did’t get a part in Big Love or LOST, I have achieved my own goals for the impossible…met some salt of the earth folk, seen impossible architecture, and turned my preconception of LA on its head. Which, upside-down, is probably the only kind of breast-uplift you need.
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