I Don't Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star (19 page)

Most of the time I am happy with where I am. I am grateful every day about something, and I am excited about all the things that I get to do because I don’t have to worry that much about what it will do for my career, because my career is a little bit of everything. I’m diversified. I don’t have to worry about maintaining some status or level of fame, because what I do has been so varied. Not being a movie star has been the greatest freedom, it turns out. Sir Isaac Newton said, “An object in motion stays in motion,” and I remember learning in acting school that “work begets work,” so I have always just tried to stay in motion and keep working.

I used to think about where I wanted my career to go. I made specific goals for myself and tried to achieve them. But I don’t know about goals as much anymore. I am finding more and more that I feel better when I let things come to me. I don’t get as down
when I don’t get what I want. That’s not to say that I don’t try to push myself—I’m pretty driven and competitive—but I have learned that for me it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I have always been a late bloomer. I don’t have a clear picture of where I see myself in ten years, five, even one year. Alive, I hope, but that’s about it. I really love people. I love being on a set. I love solving problems. As an actor, you don’t get to solve a lot of problems; you’re not asked to that often. You don’t have much control over anything. You are told what to do, and you do it. You’re often asked what feels right, and sometimes you get manipulated into thinking that a decision was yours, but at the end of the day (directors say that a lot) it’s not ultimately up to you, at least that’s been my experience so far. So, in the future, it might be fun to have more control. I produced a TV pilot, and it was awesome. It was network television, so I really only had the illusion of control, but I liked the feeling of the illusion. It was fun to be asked what I thought, and it was fun to problem solve.

But there is a fear. A new feeling I have now that I haven’t had before. The fear of it all ending and regretting having wasted any small opportunity I might have had. Of what happens next. Of not appreciating the experiences, of not getting to go shoot movies anymore. I love it. I love making something out of nothing. It’s taken years for me to call myself an artist, and even as I write it, I’m not sure I believe that word describes what I do. I say words that other people write. I act in a space that other people find, build, and decorate. I wear clothes that someone else picks out, I don’t even do my own hair and makeup. I could even argue that I don’t make any choices for my character, depending on the director. I just talk and try to remember what to say. Acting is weird. I guess my art is being a mirror to people. I show them a person. Maybe themselves, maybe someone they know. I help tell a story so when you see it from the outside, you can understand
your insides better. I also make you forget. Forget your shitty day, week, month, year, for a little while. That’s important, right? I give people a memory. Is it the movie we love or the memory of when we watched it? For years my family watched
Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
on Christmas Eve, and that movie will always mean so much to me. Or when you have a movie you love with another person. My mom and I love
The American President
, and when I go home for a visit, we always watch it—it’s “our” movie. She makes us popcorn and we quote it and it makes us feel connected. Maybe having a movie or TV show is like having a song when you’re a couple. I am working with this young actor right now who says he watches
Two and a Half Men
with his dad when they want to have some laughs. That makes me happy. It made me happy when the actor told me his dad was excited he was doing a movie with me because his dad associated me with laughing and having fun with his son. I like the idea that I can be a part of bringing people together. But does that make me an artist? I am working on believing it does. I’ve just always thought of what I did as a job. Maybe it’s my midwestern work ethic, but I never used to think of jobs as something I could choose, I let jobs choose me. Maybe that’s the difference between being an actress and being an artist. I am envious of my friends who make distinct choices in their careers. That they won’t play certain roles anymore, to do theater, to only do movies, to take themselves out of the game in some way, seems so decisive and punk rock. I feel boring when I compare myself with them. But that is my fear talking again, and being afraid it will all go away if I change my tactics now.

Maybe I’m afraid of being broke, maybe I am afraid of change. The first time I can remember not taking a role that was offered to me was when I got serious with my husband, before we were married. He said I shouldn’t take that job, that I could wait for something better to come along, and if I needed money, he would
help me figure it out. I have never had anyone offer that before. It felt really good to have someone tell me it was OK if I didn’t work on something that I wasn’t excited about. I’m not going to say what the job was, but it rhymes with “separate mouseflies.” I think since then my fear-based decision making is slowly subsiding, and I am getting a little more bold with my choices. I am learning to look for people to inspire me.

I had an acting teacher, Eden Cooper-Sage, who told me, “We are what we spend our time doing,” and I want so badly to be an artist, so how can I transition from spending my time acting to spending my time making art? Or is it really one and the same? I like working and maybe it’s as simple as that. I am like the turtle in that stupid race. I may be slow, but I think I’m winning. Winning changes, and now, as I get older, I understand winning doesn’t mean what I thought it did. I am not a shooting co-star. I am a bright co-star, a steady co-star, a co-star you can depend on if you’re lost, flipping channels in the night. Except if you stumble on
, that was purely a money gig.

Single White Male

male has been eight years, and it’s still going strong. He is everything to me. He’s extremely masculine and has a sexy swagger and a really judgmental stare. I love the judgment, it appeals to the part of me that likes bad boys. He’s also very tired, which makes us a great match because so am I, and I tend to overbook and leave little time for our long walks. Yes, his teeth are falling out, but I don’t hold it against him. In fact, I think he still looks handsome without them. He doesn’t know this, but I keep them in my jewelry box. I don’t know what I’m ever going to do with them, but I have a friend who is a jewelry designer, so I am considering having a few dipped in gold and turned into a necklace or something. I think that would make me really happy, to have some of him with me all the time.

If you haven’t already realized, I’m not some freak talking about her lazy, toothless ex-boyfriend (I wrote about that guy in a different chapter. Just kidding!). I’m talking about Buckley, my giant white American bulldog. The day I picked him up from the rescue, I almost changed my mind. He was bigger than I remembered, like way bigger. When I first met him, it was at a pet rescue
outside a pet store, and he was sick and had been hit by a car, so he was lying down and couldn’t stand up. The Dog Rescue Lady had given him about eighteen pig ears to chew on, and the smell that was coming out of his asshole was otherworldly. I was entertaining the idea of taking home a petite pit mix named Jessie and had dragged my then boyfriend, Nick, to meet her. We were looking at Jessie when an odor wafted our way. It was thick. I had never experienced such a thick odor before. It was also rich—thick and rich is really the best way to describe it. When I asked said Dog Rescue Lady what the smell was, she pointed to Bucks and said, “It’s the big one in the corner. He’s sick and I am giving him pig ears nonstop to fatten him up.” When we walked over to him, he looked up at me and smiled, I swear.

Nick and I were on our way to lunch with his family, so we didn’t have a real conversation about the smelly dog in the corner. But halfway through the meal, we both admitted we couldn’t stop thinking about that giant stinker. As soon as we got home, we called the rescue, arranged the house checks, filled out a shit-ton of paperwork, gave him another week to mend, and I went to pick him up. When I saw Bucks for the second time, I was kind of freaked out. I didn’t remember him being so big, because I had never seen him standing up. He was freaking huge—like the size of a baby cow or small tiger. He even walks like a small tiger. The cost of rescuing the dog was two hundred dollars, but Dog Rescue Lady waived the fee because he was so sick that she said we were going to spend a fortune on vet bills so we could just have him for free. Free giant dog! Rad!

When I finally brought Buckley home, he limped out of my car, up the steps, through the house to the backyard, and all the way to the far end of the yard, where he just sat, staring at me. He didn’t sniff around, he didn’t pee on anything, he just walked as far away from the door as physically possible, sat, and stared. That was the beginning, and he has been judging me ever since.

He judges me when I drink too much wine. He judged who I brought home, what I wore out, when I danced to Madonna and played dress up before going to bed. He judged me when I broke up with Nick and when I started dating the new one. And all over again when I broke up with that new one. He judges when I cry at commercials, movies, books, dropping a pen. For a while after that breakup with Nick, I was convinced Buckley was depressed. My therapist told me I was projecting and there was no way that Buckley was depressed, but I could bring him in if I felt I needed to. I didn’t. I had to draw the line somewhere, I can’t be the girl who brings her dog to therapy, it’s a slippery slope, one day I’m bringing my dog to therapy, the next, I’m pushing two sweater-clad pugs around in a baby carriage. Besides, it’s nice to have that judgment I am always using on myself personified, or canineified, if you will. It means that I don’t have to work so hard reflecting and disapproving of my own actions and decisions. I can just look over at him after making them; he does the judging for me.

But even with all that judgment, he is loving and downright human when he wants to be. One time, a vet sat down on the ground to examine him—there was no way we were getting him up on that table—and my giant dog turned his back to the vet and sat right on his lap. The vet was at first silent and then finally said, “I’ve never had an animal do this before.” He loves to ride in the car with his head out the window. I’ve heard that’s bad for dogs, but he loves it so much, and I know we won’t be together forever, so shouldn’t he get to do what he loves with his short time on earth? He used to sleep in bed with me (pre-husband), with his head on the pillow, like a person. He stretches his shoulders by pushing his front paws together so it looks like he’s praying. One time we were watching TV together on the sofa. He was sitting up next to me facing the television, just like me. After a particularly stupid scene he looked at me, took a deep breath, held it, opened his mouth, as if he were going to say something … but
then finally exhaled and turned his head back to the TV. I swear on everything, including him, that he was going to talk to me. I know he had something to say. Something major. Some kind of insight that would change my life. But, shit, even if he said, “This show sucks,” it would change my life. I would become the girl who swears her dog can talk. Which, who am I kidding, I kind of am anyway because I have pretty much told everyone I know this story, swearing that he
talk, but just decided I wasn’t ready yet.

As I said, I brought him home and he just sat there, staring. This went on for about three months. I bought him a dog bed from L.L.Bean with his name embroidered on it. I figured he should at least be comfortable while he sat and stared. He seemed to like the bed, but he still didn’t do much of anything. He was too busted to go on walks, so we just let him lie there. He didn’t move except to eat, which was great, I guess. I had promised his rescuer I would cook him ground beef and rice for his meals every day while he healed. Which I did. I had never cooked a real meal in my life, but here I was cooking beef and rice every day for my new-to-me dog, trying to fatten him up. One time I mixed some broccoli florets in with his meal, and when he finished eating, I noticed all his food was gone. I was so thrilled he ate his veggies, until I bent down to pick up his dog bowl and saw that he had picked out every piece of broccoli and made a neat little pile of it next to the bowl. You see, Bucky had a hard life. He was found roaming the streets of East Los Angeles with a little Chihuahua. The dogcatcher brought them into the pound and put them in a cage together, which was the protocol when they catch a pair of dogs. Buckley’s rescuer specializes in American bulldogs, so all the local shelters call her first when they pick one up. She told them she would be in the next day to get the two dogs, and in the amount of time it took for them to finish that phone call, the
Chihuahua died. They called her back and said never mind, the bulldog had killed the Chihuahua, and it was their policy to put any dog to sleep that had killed another dog, they had no choice. Dog Rescue Lady freaked out and said, “Wait! Did you examine the Chihuahua? Does it have broken bones or puncture marks? How do you know it was killed? Maybe it just died.” She convinced them to X-ray the little dead dog and check it for puncture wounds. She was right! There was no evidence of malice on the Chihuahua, and Buckley’s life was spared! However, at this time Buckley started to show signs of illness. He wasn’t able to walk well at all (it was decided he had been hit by a car), and when Dog Rescue Lady had her favorite vet, Dr. Werber, neuter him, Buckley started to bleed to death during the surgery. Turns out Buckley and his little friend were poisoned. A lot of restaurants put rat poison in their garbage, and a lot of stray dogs die from it. That poor Chihuahua was so little it died almost immediately, but Buckley is so big it took longer to invade his system, and that’s why he didn’t get as sick right away. Dr. Werber somehow stopped the bleeding and Buckley hung on, but it was touch and go there for a while. He lived at the animal hospital while they nursed him back to health. He was too skinny, he limped and needed a few more operations to clear out the damaged cartilage in his shoulder, but he was ready for a permanent home. Once I heard that story, I knew he had to be mine, and I understood why the rescue was taking such precautions with this creature and why I had to fill out more paperwork to adopt him than when I bought my house. They were taking no chances, he was special, he was exonerated, a prisoner sentenced to death row for a crime he didn’t commit, and I was waiting at the jailhouse gate when he was released.

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