Body Image and the Actor

We all deal with it. Especially as we get older. We look in the mirror, catch ourselves at just the wrong angle, and see the bad stuff: the belly, the wrinkles, the imperfections. It’s not just actors, of course. The whole damn country struggles with body image issues, whether we are too fat or too skinny, we stress. My friend pointed out to me last night that even though in the grand scheme of things we don’t look so bad, it’s still easy to see the ugliness especially when we’re naked. And the way he figures it, we are forty (really past middle age when the average life span for men is somewhere in the seventies) and our bodies are essentially starting to quit on us. It takes that much more work to keep ourselves in shape as we get older, and we have that much less energy.

And then something even worse hit me as I happened by a bathroom mirror at the diner where we were having dinner. I was wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, a look that has become the staple of one Louis CK. Especially if you are a ginger like me, anyone who loves CK thinks that I am trying to emulate his look. And while I have more hair and haven’t quite achieved his pizza physique, I am not too far off. I also recently saw the movie Wanderlust, which was just marvelous, and part of me was relieved to see that Paul Rudd is a man with love handles (as opposed to another guy who has done a lot of “comedy,” Ryan Reynolds, with his freakish eight-pack of abs.) But that relief quickly dissipated into pure mid-life crisis material: not only have I come nowhere near the career goals these guys have surpassed, but even if I got the same opportunities they have, I just wouldn’t be as great as they are. Louis CK is a brilliant stand-up and filmmaker (just watch any of his recent hour-long stand-up specials or his astounding half-hour on FX) and Paul Rudd possesses comic timing as an actor that may well be the best of its kind since Peter Sellers (I really don’t think this is an overstatement…the way he tells his wife he got fired in Wanderlust is impossible to imitate, just as it is impossible for even a great comic like Steve Martin to do justice to Inspector Clouseau with Seller’s perfect characterization and timing burned into pop-culture consciousness.) So this leaves me feeling rather inadequate.

I do think I could do what a lot of guys with my build could do: Vince Vaughn, Ben Stiller, or the larger framed Seth Rogan (and don’t get me wrong, I think these guys have turned in some amazing performances…but nothing I couldn’t equate.) But they got in on the ground floor, very young, and have capitalized on that by way of great representation and smart choices in regard to the market. But I’m forty, still on the outside, and I haven’t aged into a Tony Horton. I’m just a regular guy. And without the genius of a Louis CK or Paul Rudd, it’s hard to keep plugging away with a smile on my face. It’s easy to get discouraged.

I’m of course past the point of no return as far as my career choice is concerned, given the recession and how hard it is to just switch jobs at this point (I don’t know that I’d qualify for check-out person at Target, for godssake.) So I keep plugging away…but…can you just suddenly become genius at this stage in life? Is that why the jobs I land are small, and generally have the description “average” in the casting breakdowns? Is this it? Is this the best I could do? I didn’t used to believe I was simply “regular.” I used to think that was just how I looked to people…but inside, I figured I was much more.

I suppose there are worse fates…but is there something to being a regular old guy? Can there possibly be a shining brilliance in being what is considered average? Or should I have started on four-hour work-outs and eating nothing but chicken and lettuce with a water chaser a couple of decades ago? Would that have made a difference? Set me apart?

I can’t say I regret not doing that, though. Sounds positively miserable.

Anyway. Is it too early for a whiskey?


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