Mortality

14 12 2016

Now that THE episode has aired, I can talk about all kinds of things that I couldn’t breathe a word about up to now.  SPOILER ALERT – if you haven’t seen the Walking Dead Season 7 Midseason Finale – READ NO FURTHER.

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I know I am not the only person who has noticed that things happen in clusters.  I started a new notebook process recently, as I had seven to ten different notebooks working at once, and it got very confusing.  I love these Leuchtturm1917 notebooks that have a table of contents, and page numbers.  It allows me to have everything in one notebook.  They have a variety of pages – up to 250 pages.  I started a section entitled “LINKED” where I detail these types of clusters.  It’s simple – a date, and then a list of the recurring themes I am noticing.  For instance, one week I had “the number 11, Trojan Horse, prosthetic legs”.  I am hoping to circle back to these throughout the next year and see if there are any connections.

Some of the “clustered occurrences” you don’t have to write down, because they are MONUMENTAL.  The week I found out that Olivia would die on The Walking Dead Midseason Finale was one such week.

I was out of town for my first break in over a year with my family – in Connecticut.  On the agenda for the 7 day vacation was lots of time at a fresh water lake, adult coloring (nerd alert!), and family dinners.  The first call came from my Mom.  She told me that she knew how I felt about her keeping things from me – which is absolutely true, I hate when someone waits to tell me something – and she told me she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  My MOM who had beaten leiomyosarcoma, uterine – which had already metastasized to her LUNGS, she had BEATEN that… and now Parkinson’s.

Complications from Parkinson’s killed my Grandfather Rumsey (Mother’s Dad), and I was living near him in the last few years he was alive.  My Granmommie Rumsey never left his side.  Fed him all his meals.  Refused to travel while he was alive and couldn’t go with her.  I would go and help feed him sometimes, put lotion on his chronically dry legs, talk to him.  He didn’t make a lot of sense, and often called me “Dorien” (my Mom’s name), but in one particularly lucid moment, he pulled me close to him and whispered, “You’re going to make it… actress.”  My Granmommie Rumsey heard it too-  tears came to both of our eyes.

So, that was my memory of the ravages of Parkinson’s and I pictured the same happening to my Mom… it was devastating.  Mom assured me that her Parkinson’s is a mild case, and not very advanced at all.  And I believe her.  It still scares me.

The second phone call came a few days later… and was not unexpected, but was still sad.  My Granmommie Rumsey (Mom’s Mom) had finally passed away at 91.  She beat all three of her children in Pinochle the night before she passed.  I knew it was coming, but I was very close to her.  Her unwavering positive attitude about life – no matter what the circumstances – her deep love of family… I would sit and talk to her about family stories for as long as she would indulge me.  I also thought about my Mom – Parkinson’s diagnosis, and now her Mom is gone.

The third call was a few days later, on a Sunday, when I got home from vacation.  I was sitting in bed with my husband, the kids were running around, and my phone rang… “SCOTT GIMPLE.” I looked at my husband, drew one finger across my throat, and said, “I’m dead.”  LOL!  Scott was so gracious and complimentary and apologetic – I found it incredibly moving that he called me and took time to talk me through it.  And even though Olivia’s death was fictitious, it did feel like a lot of death all at once.  Death, sickness, change…

A few weeks later one of my best friends from high school passed away…

I am not trying to be a bummer here, it is a rather long set up for what I hope will be an uplifting pay-off.

A cluster of occurrences surrounded the Mid Season Finale as well.  I didn’t want to, nor expect to, be upset about Olivia’s death.  But as soon as The Talking Dead folks asked me about it, I got choked up.  There is something to having lived with a person for two years, and then one day…. they are gone.  The day before the midseason finale, I sang at the funeral of a 64 year old woman from my church.  “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Although she and her family were rather new to our church, I was particularly struck by the reaction of her two sons, the younger one especially… who was clearly trying so hard to grapple with the idea of life without his Mom.

Sunday, the death of Olivia happened, and then today… I met with my minister Sione Tu’ata to talk about a memorial service for my high school best friend who passed away.  It is for him, and for another person from our very close-knit group of theatre/speech & debate nerds from high school.  We were a TIGHT pack.  Not only did we spend all day in school together, we spent hours after school nearly every day in Speech and Debate practice, or “PLAY PRACTICE” for the school theatre shows.  Anywhere from 12-16 weekends a year we left school on Friday afternoons for tournaments, and then competed all evening, and all day Saturday.

The conversation that happened when my best friend, the second one of our group to die in two years passed away was this:  we must get together before another one of us is gone.  So, that was what spurred the meeting with my minister to plan an ecumenical memorial service where everyone, religious, or spiritual, or neither, or anything in between – would feel comfortable.

Then it hit me again… mortality… a cluster of reminders of how we’re not of this world for long.  And I remembered something that always helps me as an actress… and really as a human.  Something that reminds me to savor every second I have with every person I have the great fortune of having in my life….

Whenever I feel as if I cannot grasp the GRAVITY of what I am doing onstage, or on camera, I remind myself of how finite this life is.  It isn’t depressing…. on the contrary, it lends great vivid realness to the moment.  It stops me from trying to get ahead… to get away from the pain of the moment – my human real-life pain, or the pain of the person I am portraying in the moment.  I remind myself… “this could be it.”  If it is… have I given this moment the weight and preciousness it deserves?

In episode 4 of Season 7 of The Walking Dead, while I was waiting to find out if Rick had found the missing guns, I remember standing there next to Negan acting as if I was contemplating my last moments on earth.  And then I reminded myself… “Why PRETEND to do it… when you can just DO IT?”  I found myself looking at the long grasses blowing in the wind… the blue sky… I would be sad to see that go… I was scared… but I also felt a bit like if I had to go…. what a beautiful day to do so.  I didn’t skip ahead to what I KNEW was coming – relief, a reprieve, I would be saved – THIS time.  I stayed right there in that moment in all its complexity.

Reminding myself, in acting and in life, of my mortality puts everything in perspective.

The Avett Brothers put it so beautifully in their song LIFE from The Carpenter.  Listen.  Enjoy.  Be thankful for another second, minute, hour, day… year.





Weighty

20 08 2016

I almost didn’t write this post – because I don’t think it’s a very interesting topic. ¬†I think we could spend time talking about so many other aspects of the acting business, the craft of being an actor, and… good God – about a million other interesting things besides this.

But I have my panties in a twist now – so I am going to write about it.

It is disgusting to me that the majority of our discussions around female actresses center around three things:

  1.  Their fashion sense
  2. Their weight
  3. Whether they are aging gracefully – or not

When did the world become a Middle School Locker room?

I am never knocking my skinny sisters Рyou go girls Рyou do you Рbut why why why why do I read endless attacks on actresses who are NOT super thin?  Why?

And not just the attacks – why do we TALK ABOUT IT as if it is the most fucking interesting thing about these actresses?

Think about your Grandma. ¬†Think about your sister. ¬†Your daughter. ¬†Your best girlfriend in high school. ¬†Your Mom. ¬†Your Aunt. ¬†Were they all super skinny? ¬†If they were – YAY genes, but you probably have several women you know, love, and find ATTRACTIVE that are bigger than a size 8. ¬†Size 8, incidentally, is the size Carrie Underwood was when everyone talked about how “fat” she was.

Think about your Grandma, sister, daughter, girlfriend, Mom, or Aunt, and imagine if millions of strangers, the media, magazines, newspapers, Facebook posters, and Twitter posters, took it upon themselves to publicly comment (usually in very vicious fashion) on their:

  1.  Fashion sense (What is Grandma WEARING?)
  2. Their weight ¬†(Whew, Aunt Georgia really let herself goooooooo…)
  3. How well they are aging  (WOW, your MOM needs some BOTOX.)

And see if that doesn’t strike a nerve. ¬†If it doesn’t… check your pulse.

The biggest victims I see lately of the keyboard-warrior-weight-police? ¬†Actresses who have had babies. ¬†Lemme tell ya – I am amazed by women who are able to be back in their high school jeans mere weeks after having a kiddo – I won’t pretend to know their methods for doing so. ¬†BUT – imagine this:

You have watched your actress friends who tried to commit to being a NEW MOM, breastfeed, be up late nights, rearrange all their life priorities, and also – KEEP WORKING, only to see them ridiculed for not “losing the baby weight” fast enough.

So, YOU, the actress who has witnessed this time and again – you have your baby… what might you sacrifice in order to avoid that criticism? ¬†Breastfeeding? ¬†(Again, formula-on my formula-feeding sisters – you do you – this is no knock against you.) ¬†Because not all women LOSE weight when breastfeeding – some women’s bodies actually hold ONTO weight until they STOP breastfeeding. ¬†To avoid that criticism, might you decide not to breastfeed, and get back on a strict diet as soon as possible (which would make milk production rough anyway). ¬†You might, right?

Might you decide you need your rest, so – let’s say you have the money – perhaps you hire a night nurse to get up with the baby so you can sleep. ¬†Your heart aches to do it, but you know that not enough rest makes you hang onto weight, and you don’t want TrollGoober78 to plaster his opinion on your post-delivery thighs for all the world to see.

Might you decide you need to hit the gym for three hours a day, but your husband works too, so – assuming you have the money – you hire a nanny to watch the baby so you can go to the gym. ¬†Again, your heart aches to leave your firstborn, but you need to amaze the public with your bikini-body “JUST SIX WEEKS AFTER GIVING BIRTH!” ¬†(Again, some women come by the NATURALLY, but not all women do.)

Understand, I am not judging the Moms who do these things – I am SAD for them that the public feels so justified in criticizing a woman WHO JUST MADE A PERSON – to the point where that actress Mommy is willing to give up their sacred moments of motherhood to avoid the dreaded commentary from the public, the media, everyone who SHOULD BE FUCKING WORSHIPPING THE GODDESS WHO JUST BROUGHT THE MIRACLE OF LIFE INTO THE WORLD.

Same with aging.  Same with fashion.

Isn’t there ANYTHING more worthy to talk about?





Directors

26 06 2016

I am working on a new show for CMT right now, playing Gladys Presley – MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET. ¬†The director of all the episodes, a brilliant move on CMT’s part, is Roland Joffe. ¬†You can see his imdb profile here:

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0423646/?ref_=fn_al_nm_1

He directed one of my favorite movies of all time – THE MISSION.

This is the first time in my career, probably besides with the film SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME (coming out in Feb 2016), where I have had a significant enough role to where the director has really spent time with me.  There is something about being a day player, or a weekly player, or a secondary character, that means you kind of need to nail it the first time Рevery time.  There is not as much discussion, interaction, and collaboration.  It feels more like trying to be sure to be super professional, stay out of the way, and DELIVER.  This is a necessary part of the process Рthere is so much to be done on set, and a director has to reserve their energy!

So, initially, the collaborative spirit Roland works with was disconcerting for me.  I felt like I was failing at giving him what he wanted.  But then I realized, this was more like I felt working in the theatre as a professional.  In the theatre, it was a given that I had something to offer the production.  It was a given that I possessed the talent necessary.   It was a given that I would be prepared and emotionally available.  The director and I then became a team, and worked together, to create a nuanced, truthful, performance Рwith his/her guidance to be sure each scene lined up correctly with the arc of the show.

I haven’t had that feeling in quite a while, and so I didn’t recognize it. ¬†But once I did, it felt so good to feel like I have a champion and collaborator again. ¬†At one point, Roland said to me, “Annie,” (I love it that he instinctually calls me that), “if I don’t say anything, it just means I love what you’re doing, ok?” ¬†I smiled big at him. ¬†We are 7 episodes into working on this show, and within our first few hours together I felt completely safe putting myself in his hands. ¬†I have my own ideas, sure, I have done my research, and I am ready to be raw and real and available. ¬†But, I don’t feel like I cannot seek his guidance without everyone thinking I am not worthy to be doing this work – which is how you are made to feel (sometimes) in lesser roles. ¬†Like no one can to be bothered with you.

This is bliss for me as an actor. ¬†I crave the eye of the director, the one who sees objectively what I cannot. ¬†And Roland is a master at specific direction – not the specific micro-managing kind of direction (which makes you feel like a neutered robot in a cardboard cut-out world). ¬†His direction is SPECIFIC, and SIMPLE. ¬†A few days ago, he said to me, “I think this is much more casual. ¬†I think you are just doing this side work, and you are delivering this advice to Elvis, and then it is just conversational.” ¬†The result? ¬†It opened me up in a gorgeous way, and allowed me to just deliver the scene from the heart.

In another scene, it was quite emotional. ¬†I was getting where I needed to emotionally, just by taking in the circumstances and the setting around me – but I would get stuck when I tried to look back at Elvis. ¬†Roland simply said, “Annie, I think what you’re doing instinctually is quite lovely – you don’t need to turn back to him. ¬†Keep staring at what you are looking at. ¬†Stay there.” ¬†And it worked – brilliantly.

It takes a combination of brilliance, sensitivity, intuition, and an ability to let go of ego for a director to move an actor in the deep way he moves me. ¬†In some cases, directors want so badly to be sure their work is seen, that they control everything, that their fingerprint on the project becomes more of an giant anvil squashing any instincts the actor has. ¬†In this case, Roland pays such rapt attention, and sees the layers of what the actor is trying to create… then he helps the actor bring the truth out. ¬†The result is – he IS an auteur – and his fingerprint is light, but indelible.

I am so thankful.





Taking Credit

31 05 2016

I have had quite a few discussions about this lately… and I want to talk about it – as it’s something that bothers me immensely as a teacher AND as a student.

I was coaching with an actor out of another country via Skype about 2.5 years ago.  I wanted to have another opinion on what I was auditioning for РBESIDES my own Рand I love the collaborative feel of working NOT ALONE.

Fairly early in our process together, it became clear to me that this coach wanted to make me dependent on them – in the way that a bad therapist makes the patient feel like they are never going to be “well” in order to extend the life of their professional relationship (and the money that it generates.) (Kudos to the good therapists who DON’T do this – I know there are many of you!)¬† So, I broke off the relationship, and felt like I could breathe again.¬† I cited money issues, when I should have been honest about how this coach made me feel completely inept…

A month or so after I separated from this coach, I booked The Walking Dead.¬† The coach posted on his webpage about how Ann Mahoney, HIS STUDENT, had booked The Walking Dead.¬† I was livid.¬† And again, I didn’t attack him the way I should have.¬† It should have sounded something like this:¬† “I have been onstage since I was 4, I got my BA and MFA in Acting, and have been professionally pursuing this for 17 years.¬† I had THREE sessions with you – that I PAID you for, and you are taking credit for my WALKING DEAD booking???”

Teachers, coaches, etc you need to be careful.¬† It is tempting to see the success of a student, and pat yourself on the back, and tell the world how “you taught them.”¬† But in truth, as a teacher ALSO, I can tell you that it is essential to not take credit for your students’ success.¬† Especially in a way that indicates you think that student OWES you for their success.¬† Especially if they PAID for that education in some way – tuition, coaching fees, a workshop, etc.

If the student wants to identify you as a mentor, an influence – fine.¬† But to take that status as the student’s SAVIOR, and the ONE WHO MADE THEIR CAREER is egotism tinged with jealousy in a lot of cases.¬† The student has talent, and drive, and individuality, and tenacity, and you may have taught that student some important stuff…. but their success – is THEIRS.¬† Don’t take it away from them.¬† Be proud and shut your mouth.





Doubt

13 05 2016

Here’s the thing: you never get over doubting your ability to deliver what the script asks of you. Maybe I need to keep that personal – I NEVER get over doubting my ability to deliver what the script asks of me. 

The night before I go to set is absolute agony. Can’t sleep, upset stomach, racing mind… But then!  Once I am there, that familiar clutch in the center of my stomach – not a knot, like a hand in there grabbing (not hurting) – that comes to me and I breathe into it….

And then I am home where I want to be. Doing what I love. Terrified and vulnerable and alive. 

Just a few more hours…..





Breaking Into the Business

29 12 2015

I am going to address this, because I have been asked by a LOT of people over the last several weeks Рhow do I get on THE WALKING DEAD?  How do I become an actor?  I think having a blog post I can refer folks to will help expedite explaining my journey, and help those searching for how to break into this business.

I can only speak from my experience – but it was not a matter of being “discovered”, or just being talented, or just wanting to be an actress.¬†¬† It was a concerted effort – for many years – doing the RIGHT kind of work, getting the RIGHT kind of credits…. 35 years of work to be exact.

So here is how I “broke into the business” – this phrase is deceptive – because it seems to suggest that one definitive thing will happen and BAM!¬† You’re IN!¬† But this is not the case – I will explain further.

To start, I was onstage by age 5 as a dancer.  In high school I was an avid (nationally competitive) speech and debater :-), and I did my high school plays.  I decided to STUDY acting in college, this was THEATRE acting training РI got my BA in Acting.  Then, I went on to get my MFA Рalso in THEATRE acting.

In those theatre years I collected quite an impressive number of theatre credits Рincluding major regional theatres like Berkshire Theatre Fest, Long Wharf Theatre, Southern Rep, Ma-Yi Theatre (Off-Broadway). I worked with Tony award winning actors.  Like I said, I thought I had quite an impressive resume.

HOWEVER, when I got an agent to try to start getting my foot in the door for film/TV acting, (my agent came to see me in a play on the suggestion of one of her clients and signed me), NO ONE CARED about ANY of my theatre credits.  I was initially miffed.  The training I had WAS meaningful Рfilm/TV folks recognized that I must be somewhat of a serious actor to have received both my BA and MFA in acting.  But the regional theatre credits?  The Off-Broadway credits?  The Tony award winning actors I had worked with?  The fact that I had played HAMLET?  Nobody cared.

It was like starting over in many ways.¬† My theatre credits didn’t tell film/TV folks a thing about if I was able to act on camera.¬† So they didn’t care.¬† I had to start garnering film and TV acting credits, to have footage from those roles to show I could do the type of acting necessary for film/TV work.¬† And then, it took another 12 YEARS in the film/TV business before I got to audition for THE WALKING DEAD.

I don’t get irritated when people say, “How can I break into the acting¬† business?”¬† But you will rarely hear someone ask an architect, “How do I break into the architect business”?¬† Also, our positions as actors in this business are precarious at best.¬† So to ask an actor who is not an INTIMATE friend of yours for many years to vouch for you, and try to help you get your foot in the door…. yikes…. that would mean putting our already precarious position (that we have worked many many years to get to) on the line.¬† Something I would only do for a dear actor friend who is MASSIVELY talented.¬† The risk is too great.

Now, as a creator and writer of several TV series that are currently being pitched, I can tell you Рmy hope is to give several actors that I PERSONALLY KNOW, whose work is OUTSTANDING, the opportunity to get a series regular or recurring role.  But those are actors I know who have pursued this relentlessly Рin training, in life, who have credits, and who are amazing talents.

If you want to be an actor Рpursue it as you would any other profession you are serious about.  Love!





Career Day/Facebook Posting/2nd Theatre Class

25 09 2015

Career Day:

A friend of mine Рwho now teaches high school Рinvited me to call in to talk to her class.  They wanted to ask questions of all different kinds of folks from different career paths.  A genius idea, I think!

They asked very insightful questions, and I found Рas I usually do Рhow many misconceptions there are about being an actor/the life of an actor/the financial circumstances of an actor.  So here are their questions, and my answers.

“What is your typical day on set like?” Usually a 12 hour day.¬† If it is a day shoot, we are arriving around 5:30am or 6:30am, and we work till 5:30pm or 6:30pm.¬† There is a lot of waiting.¬† But when it is time to GO you need to be INSTANTLY ON.¬† If it is a night shoot, we usually arrive on set around sunset, and stay through the night till the sun comes up.

“How did you get ‘discovered’, and what was your path to that discovery?”¬† I started acting when I was 10 years old.¬† My first movie was a bit part in FLETCH LIVES, but I was in plays starting at 10.¬† I did Speech & Debate, and all kinds of professional and school theatre throughout MIddle & High School.¬† I got a BA in acting and then my MFA.¬† I was doing a play in New Orleans, and an actress I was in the play with – Lara Grice – told me I should really get into film & tv acting.¬† I told her I thought I was ‘too weird looking’ for film.¬† But she was kind enough to introduce me to her agent. I booked the very first job I auditioned for.¬† But truly, The Walking Dead is the break-out moment for my career.¬† And I will be 40 next year.¬† So…. 30 years.”

“What is the typical salary for an actor?”¬† There is a misconception that actors are all extremely wealthy.¬† In the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG), only the top 2% of actors are really making the big bucks.¬† Your Julia Roberts, and Tom Hanks, etc.¬† The majority of the rest of the actors you see, for the most part, make “scale” on the projects they work on.¬† Scale right now is in the neighborhood of $850/day, and $3500/week.¬† Which sounds like a lot, and it is – but remember, not many actors work 365 days a year.¬† Most of us end up working 4-5 months out of the year – not by choice, by casting.¬† So, you can do that math.¬† It is not a profession you get into to get rich.¬† You do it because you love the craft.

“What would you do if a director asked you to do something that was morally disagreeable to you?”¬† It is all about context for me.¬† Nudity – context.¬† Is the nudity necessary?¬† Does it tell the story?¬† Then YES.¬† Is it to make fun of someone in a mean way, or just to have boobs on screen?¬† Then NO.¬† Subject matter – context.¬† Does the subject matter intrigue me, and ultimately stretch me as an artist to use my God-given gift?¬† Then YES.¬† Does the subject matter have no redeeming quality or present no challenge to me as an artist?¬† Then NO.

I thought their questions were awesome.

FACEBOOK POSTING:

Piggy-backing on this career day experience, I had a rather un-delightful experience last week on Facebook…. imagine that.

A few caveats:

  • I am not Julia Roberts or Tom Hanks, and am just beginning to have a career that is viable.
  • I do free demo reel work for actor friends of mine all the time.
  • I do free teaching, reduced fee teaching, and all kinds of other charitable work related to my profession – which I have studied and earned two degrees in

So РI posted on Facebook about my need for someone to do make-up for me for THE WALKING DEAD premiere, which I will be doing this October.  I promised to give red carpet pics, Twitter credit, etc.  At no point did I say it would be free, but I suppose that could be implied.  I am certainly looking for something less expensive than the $300 a session (PLUS!) fees I was seeing in NYC.  Why do I need a reduced fee/free makeup help?  See the above caveats.

Add to the above caveats the following:

  • I am a mommy of two kids, one of whom I have to PAY FOR school for
  • I own a home
  • I live in a flood zone… insurance is a you-know-what

A friend of mine responded to my post by tagging a makeup artist friend of hers who lives in NYC.¬† Let’s call her AMANDA MAKEUP.¬† Amanda Makeup proceeded to respond – on my wall – about how belittling it was to her profession to ask for free makeup work.¬† She did go on for quite some time, in a very mean fashion.¬† I replied, “Thank you for bringing up this issue, I agree with you in certain situations.¬† If you would like to private message me, I would be happy to share my particular story/circumstances with you so that perhaps you can understand why I am asking at this point in my career.”¬† Her response was to say that she didn’t think a private message was needed.¬† Again, she said I was “devaluing” her profession, and that red carpet pics were nothing unless I was a Kardashian, etc.¬† WOW.

So, I deleted her comments, and I blocked her.  On Facebook and Twitter.

Because here is the thing.¬† She doesn’t know me at all.¬† She took an opportunity to bash me on my board, without knowing anything about my specific circumstances.¬† It was a real turn-off.¬† I hope if I am ever in this same place, I react lovingly.¬† And if I don’t, I hope I am open to gentle reminders.

2ND THEATRE CLASS:

Lastly, I taught my second Kindergarten-2nd grade theatre class at my son’s school today.¬† It is a 2 hour class.¬† I can tell you this:

K-2nd Grade Theatre Class teaching is NOT for the faint of heart.  But it IS good for the soul.

Afterwards, I feel tired Рbut accomplished.  I feel like I am being given an unprecedented opportunity to pay forward the gift I was given from my teachers through the years.

When we sit in a circle at the end of class, and I ask everyone what their favorite part of class was – and everyone loved a DIFFERENT part of class… it just makes my heart swell.

THIS is what IT’S ALL ABOUT.