An Actor Looks At Forty

Every time I go to a commercial audition, I have to sign in on the sign-in sheet. I write my name and my agency’s name, I write my appointment time and the time of my arrival, and then I have to check a series of boxes. One box denotes my race, another my sex. And then I have to check one of two more boxes. One says I’m under forty. The other says I’m over forty. I have no auditions today, and I will be working tomorrow, and my birthday is on Thursday. I have checked my last under forty box.

So now what do I do?

I really don’t know. When I was turning thirty, everyone I knew who was in their thirties told me I would love the age. “You finally know who you are, and life feels more in your control!” I heard that a lot. Now guess what I’m hearing from everyone I know over forty? Same damn thing. Sure, my thirties had some wonderful elements. Obviously, I have a son and every time he hugs me and tells me he loves me I am overwhelmed with pride. And I am in a loving and strong marriage, constantly growing and learning and doing right by my wife as she does for me. That is no small feat, you know? We don’t consider it as much of an accomplishment in our society these days, our focus is always on money. But a marriage that works is a marriage that is always being worked on and there is no place for coasting. That is an amazing accomplishment. Artistically, I can be proud of my personal works, even if they have garnered little notice and no money. I did a one-man show, I wrote some books, I did a shoestring budget movie as a lead, I do podcasts and film commentary, I turned up here and there in little guest star roles in TV series, I did enough commercials to barely afford a small house. But do I finally know who I am? Not really. I developed chronic pain, a headache, early in my thirties and I am still suffering from it. I thought my career might kick up a notch, more work and more money, but instead I’ve just maintained this sort of lateral career path. I realize it’s all about luck, good and bad, the chips land where they will. And this very fact has made me wonder precisely who the hell I am. I don’t think I’m super smart, but I always believed I was too driven and talented to be completely dependent on the luck of the draw. So, best I can figure, if the thirties are when you finally learn about yourself, then I am a compulsive gambler with a headache that never sets foot in casinos, gambling halls, or even friendly neighborhood poker games. Is that really who I am? I sincerely don’t know at this point, but I’d like to keep believing that I’m something a bit more. And clearly, I am not in any more control of my life. Sorry, thirties enthusiasts.

The other thing I hear about the forties is that a person finally makes peace with the way life has turned out, even if it has no resemblance to what was you once dreamed it would be. That sure sounds nice. But it also sounds like resignation to me. But I will try. I will try to make peace with what my life has become. Perhaps I will finally embrace the label of “commercial actor.” We are the few, the proud, the actors who keep on going to audition after audition just trying to score a job that pays scale…always scale, never a bump. A commercial actor never gets nominated for awards, even though the stars get trophies just for being in the business so long (what, Christopher Plummer has never been nominated for anything? We must give him a trophy or our trophy show is failing!) Although I still maintain that I don’t care about trophies, I do want to do as much work in as many projects as the people who live in trophy land get to. But I guess it’s time to make peace with the fact that show business is a bitch and it’s unfair and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. These are things I’ve always known, of course, but I believed I would beat the system. So do I give up and make peace with my career the way it is? Especially given that there is really nothing I can do about it? Again, that sounds like resignation to me. But I certainly am tired. I am tired of the grind, of fighting all the time. I still harbor a hope that there will be more work, and the kind I enjoy. Not the kind I simply have to try to get and then when I’m lucky enough to get it, I have to do it because I have a family and I love them and there is nothing I wouldn’t do to ensure their comfort and survival.

But maybe what I need to make peace with is the fight. Maybe the fight doesn’t end until life itself does. Maybe what I need to make peace with is that I am an opinionated motherfucker and the world is just going to have to deal with me. I’m different and strange, and either world is going to accept that or not, but I am not about to conform. I can’t. It isn’t me. That’s where I need to find my peace, I suppose. It sounds counterintuitive to make peace with fighting, but do I want to give up? Just because I’m forty?

In the Jimmy Buffett song “A Pirate Looks At Forty,” (yes, I know it’s not cool to like Jimmy Buffett if you are a Los Angeles art type, but I don’t care) he says that his occupational hazard has been his occupation just isn’t around. I am no pirate, so the fact that “cannons don’t thunder and there’s nothing to plunder” doesn’t bother me so much. But I am an actor. And I have red, curly hair and I have the complexion to match, so there isn’t a ton of stuff out there for a guy who looks like me. But I get work anyway. So maybe the industry will come around, at long last, and shoehorn me in there despite how I look. Or maybe I’ll always be on the outside looking in. And I guess that’s where I have to find this forty-something peace. I have to be at peace with the fact that I will always struggle against popular perceptions. I have to be at peace with the fact that I always have to do my best, no matter how little my best might yield.

Or maybe I’m over thinking this. Maybe it’s much simpler. Maybe the only thing I need to make peace with is one solemn and basic fact. And it is one more thing that I really don’t have any control over, even if I’ve always thought I did. It’s making peace with the one element of me that has frustrated me the most, but at the same time has led me on a rather incredible journey that has rewarded me not with money, but with family and friends and the occasional moment of tiny triumph (the brief sound of applause in a small theater or club, or a nice comment or two posted on the web about my work.) It’s a truth I can do nothing about. But it has given me some amazing things, even if it usually feels like it’s taking, taking and taking, sapping me of all my energy. You know what I’m talking about, right? Yep.

I am an actor.

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