Cliche, but so often true, especially in acting. We have good reason to be afraid. In what other profession does one truly expose themselves honestly for all to see? No wonder we're devastated when people don't come to see our shows. Actors are the only sane (well,) people willing to strip off all their disguises, all their little everyday lies about who they are and stand there, defenseless and vulnerable? This is what makes acting hard - it takes some major strength of character to be able and willing to be that honest. This is why it is so important to constantly push yourself to do things which make you uncomfortable, or things that outright terrify you.
The summer I was 24 I jumped off a cliff. Literally. My grandmother died and we all drove to Vermont to bury her next to my grandfather in a little cemetery near Lake Champlain. My uncle (who I should mention is a very responsible man, ski patrol & instructor, former Air Force and who makes me always feel I am safe in his hands) suggested we take his brother's boat out sailing. This was magic to a group of 5 grieving grandchildren ranging from 32-17 so we set off, the five of us, my uncle, and my father. My uncle took us to this little area with some rocky cliffs and told us to jump the cliffs, that he did this with his siblings when he was younger. It was a gorgeous day, sunny, warm -perfect. We all scrambled up the rocks and jumped. First from the teeny baby cliff which was maybe 5 feet, then from the next one which was maybe 10-15 feet, and then we all made it up to the high cliff which was about 40 feet up. When I saw that every one of my cousins, most of whom I beat out in years, had managed to jump the scary high cliff I realized deep in me I would have to do this. No one was forcing me, but I knew as sure as anything that I could not let my fear of heights win this one. I steeled myself mentally, and began climbing the cliff. This part wasn't so bad. It was really pretty and... but then I reached the edge. Okay, so I'm terrified of heights, by the edge I actually mean about 5 feet away from the edge. I stared over the edge at the lake below and fretted. With all my courage I inched myself closer and managed to get about 2-3 feet from the edge... and then, I stood there. Finally, I knew nothing was ever going to make this an acceptable risk in my mind so I gathered up every shred of courage I had, and ran. I'd like to say all my training as a swimmer kicked in and I used my head and jumped properly, but I didn't and I hit that water forty feet below like a ton of bricks hitting a solid wall. It wasn't pretty. It wasn't fun. My cousin thought I'd killed myself and was trying to figure out how he could jump in to save me without jumping on me... but after lots of ibuprofen and some time I was fine...ish. I still have back pain, but every time I think about it I am glad I did it. It turns out there's a point the human brain tells you "Hey! Dude! No way can you survive this jump!" and forty feet is just barely past that point.
I have a friend who is the most fearless actor I've ever met. There are two things about this which intrigue me - first, its amazing and second, most of the time she's good actor, but there are moments a director asks her for something and its like a light switch flipped - as though she said "ohhh, you don't want mild-mannered actor-friend, you want her alter-ego, Fearless Actor." I don't know how she does it, but I want to know. I imagine it's a bit like jumping off that forty foot cliff - except in my head I can't even see that there is a cliff. Maybe there are stairs, or a rock wall, or a bungee cord, or ... well you get the idea. So I have decided that before 2011 is over, I will figure out what that barrier is made of and how to bust through it. I may end up with a lot more back pain, but I figure it'll be worth it.