The Actress sat on her covered porch, oblivious to the breeze that shifted strands of hair across her cheek. She sat lost in thought, one foot tucked beneath her, the other nudging the floor, though barely enough to set the bentwood rocker into motion. She cradled a mug of hot cocoa, poured for its comforting properties, gone stone cold quite some time ago.
She thought about many things as she absentmindedly scanned the tree line for fauna. She thought about the salt lick that needed replacing. She thought about the weeds in the flower beds that she really should do something about. She thought about being plucked from obscurity, while paging through The Times over breakfast in her local diner. She thought about the role of a lifetime. She thought about her acting coach. She thought about how unexpectedly things break: tree limbs, fine china, a heart, a spirit. And she thought about Woody Allen.
Woody Allen has been nominated for several Academy Awards. He has won four. He has never attended the awards ceremony. There has been much speculation about the reason for this. The Actress remembers an interview she read years ago. Allen stated that he did not go to the awards because if you believe them when they say you are good, then you must also believe them when they say you are bad.
When she read the interview, not yet an actress, she thought this was Woody being Woody. Everyone knows how quirky he is. She reflected then, that if she were an actress who was lucky enough to be nominated, nothing would keep her from attending. In those years, being an actress was not even on her list of Someday Dreams. She was busy being a mother, a wife, and doing all that those titles entailed.
Years later, by some twist of fate, by happenstance, by some rare alignment of the planets, by an unlikely stroke of luck, she was “discovered”. The Actress thinks of it just that way – discovered, in quotation marks. What does that mean anyway? Discovered. As if she had been in the bowels of a dank cave on a long forgotten island. This thought is accompanied by a rueful chuckle. She had always been right here, she thinks, out in the open, living the life she always expected. A life as unremarkable and utterly average as she is.
She was discovered. Someone decided she was exactly what they needed for the lead in a movie they had been planning for years. They had been searching for just the right woman to play the lead. They refused to make the film without her, though they did not know who she would be. They needed someone with a very special skill set. They interviewed The Not-Yet Actress for months. Attempting to ascertain whether she was, in fact, what she appeared to be. She explained repeatedly that she was a mother, she was a wife. She was not an actress. That she had no experience outside of dabbling in high school plays years ago. She made clear her limitations, certain they would come to their senses and see her for who she truly was. Her protests fell on deaf ears and she was brought in for a screen test.
The Not-Yet Actress did not think it had gone well. Lines were forgotten. Cues were missed. Blunders were made. She was not surprised. This was how her life was. However much she might like the idea of being one, she was not an actress. She knew she wasn’t. She was not pretty. She could not memorize a script. She could not fathom the idea of nude scenes.
Given all of this, The Not-Yet Actress was stunned when she was hired. She threw herself into the role. She did enormous amounts of research. She lost weight to adhere to the character’s body type. She rehearsed wearing the costumes so she would be comfortable performing when the time came. Even with everything she had done to become the character, she knew the truth. She was not an actress.
When filming began, her husband sent her off with a firm kiss and a wave, assuring her that the kids and the house would get along just fine without her, for a time. She knew he understood that she had not been this happy in a very long time – perhaps ever. Hope, that thing with feathers, had flown The Actress’s coop, seemingly a lifetime ago. It now fluttered at the edges of her soul.
When the dailies were released, there was buzz that she was an amazing actress. There was a blurb in Variety about the new girl in town. Who was she? Where did she come from? How did such a talent go unseen for this long? The excessive positive press generated was such that The Actress did a terrible, awful thing. She began to believe it. She began to believe that she had talent. That she could do this. That she could be more than the wife and mother she had resigned herself to being.
The film opened and it was a smash hit. The box office was unprecedented. The Actress got offers, my god did she get offers. It seemed that everyone she came in contact with wanted to work with her.
One morning she got the call. She had been nominated for an Academy Award. She immediately thought of Woody. With a mental flick of her finger, The Actress dismissed him and she bought into everything she had been told she was. Beautiful. Dedicated. Talented. A role model for new actresses everywhere. One to watch.
The Actress practiced her gracious loser face in the mirror for days, certain she would not win and thrilled to have the experience just the same. She went to the awards in full regalia, believing she was stunning and hearing no evidence to the contrary. When The Actress heard her name called, she was sure she was having auditory hallucinations. Then she felt people beside her pushing at her. Congratulating her. Telling her to get up there.
She settled Oscar into a place of honor in her home. When the house was empty, The Actress would often pick him up, run her fingers over his contours, repeatedly surprised at his weight, amazed that she had been honored in a way that very few are. Offering daily thanks that she had been so blessed.
The Actress was bustling about the house, having gotten the kids off to school, the husband off to work, when the phone rang. It was a representative of the Academy. There were rumors circulating. Rumors about her activity on the set. The many days she couldn’t remember lines. The multiple occasions she had to be reminded of her blocking. Her acting coach having to step in repeatedly, instructing her on the same point over and over again. The stunts she was supposed to do that went wrong – more than once. She was asked what she had to say about all of this.
The Actress did what she always had – she told the truth. The representative told her that he had already known. That he simply wanted to see what she would say. He told The Actress that her award was null and void. She was destroyed though not surprised. It did not matter that clever editing had cobbled together a stunning film. Isolated moments of brilliance could not make her into something she never was. The Actress was told she might be able to earn another, legitimate Oscar if she worked hard enough and improved.
Tears flowed silently, freely, down her cheeks. The Actress picked up her cherished Oscar one more time. Tears fell on his face, unnoticed. She wrapped him in a square of electric blue velvet, her favorite fabric, in her favorite color. She tucked him in a small box and hid him in the depths of her closet, in the bin of moth eaten baby clothes she could not bear to part with, under the stack of worn comforters she had been meaning to donate.
She made her favorite cocoa, and sought refuge on her favorite rocker, in her favorite corner of the porch. The Actress sat, cocoa in hand, shaking her head nearly imperceptibly, thinking about Woody Allen, reflecting that he was absolutely right.
The Actress thought about what the Academy representative had said. She knew that she would never again be offered a role of substance. That she would be lucky to get a B grade slasher flick or maybe a cameo in a teen spoof – something more suited to her extremely limited capabilities. She knew she would never again be taken seriously. She would soon become emblematic of what happens when one attempts to rise above.
This was her fault. She had believed them. This is what truly galls her. She knew better and still she had believed. She knew she had given everything to the one role luck had bestowed upon her and, she had failed. It was clear her best was not good enough – it never would be. The Actress had somehow forgotten this, this critical lesson that life experience had drilled into her.
In the kitchen, as The Former Actress poured her untouched cocoa down the drain, she reminded herself that a dolphin may aspire to fly – it may even make great leaps from the water that look like flight – but it does not have wings. It is incapable of flying. She resolved to remind herself every day, like a mantra, lest she should forget again, that like the dolphin, she too, is incapable.