I recently came to the conclusion that I would not have a screen career--as an actor. I know what you're thinking "Oh Jesus fuck Nic, change the record will ya? Stop wining about your career?" But that's what you love about me right? I'm like a bad version of a Cathy cartoon strip, frizzy hair and all. Ack!
My childhood dream of seeing my freckled face on a 40ft screen came to a halt when I moved to Hollywood. While living in Chicago, I found consistent work on the stage, and was fortunate to book 2 major films. Getting cast in major motion pictures, is not an easy task-- I am not shitting on those experiences. I cherish every moment that I am on a set. For me acting is about the Kraft (not to be confused with the craft) Stealing every morsel of food from Kraft Services gives me great delight. Oh and flirting with the hair/makeup ladies in exchange for free products. Getting paid for 8 hours of work, when you actually work for 20 minutes. I love the whole process of filmmaking. But I wasn't satisfied with being a "day player". Day player's like all characters, are important to the story. Typically "day players" do just that. They're hired for the day. It's 5 lines of dialouge or less. I once got cast in a movie for saying one word. Oh I thought the shit was brilliant. I was thinking I was on some Judi Dench Shakespeare In Love type shit. But once I realized that only ancient pint sized British dames got recognized for that kind of work, and not my black ass--I had to change my perspective. The 5 and under niggled at my soul. And if I was to share the screen with Jack Klugman, Meredith Baxter Burney and Charles Bronson I had to up my game. Fuck you, those actors are great.
I packed up two suitcases and boarded an airplane to Los Angeles. Man let me tell you, moving to LA as a young single woman with limited resources ain't no joke. How many times have you heard your grandmother or aunt warn you that "a wet pussy and a dry purse don't go together." They are right! You need money to make money in this industry. Thank god for friends...if it weren't for Rusty Schwimmer I would have been homeless performing lap dances & sonnets on skid row.
I wanted to wear long opera gloves, and have shiny hair. I wanted to dominate Ebony/Jet magazines galvanizing little black girls across the world! I wanted to have tea with Diahnn Carroll, drive an Aston Martin, and talk in a trans Atlantic way like Katie Hepburn. I wanted to sing at benefits with Judy Garland and Madam, or sit in with the band on the Muppet Show. Rock out with Animal and smoke a doobie Janice after wards. Oh don't you look at the screen disapprovingly! I don't judge your stupid fantasy football team asshole. This was MY team. My fantasy Hollywood team.
|Janice lead guitar of Electric Mayhem. Hot.|
|Madame a sex crazed refugee from planet Gloria Swanson.|
I thought that with a bit of talent, drive and an open spirit, Hollywood was going to be a Cabin In the Sky. I was ready to join the ranks of blactresses who paved the way for me. Nina Mae McKinney, Dorothy Dandrige, Diane Sands, Lee Chamberlain and scores of others. Now I'm no Pollyana. I didn't hop off the bus from Po Dunk USA with a bag full of dreams...I had trained, worked professionally, and knew people. I fought to remain optimistic, but realistic. I knew Los Angeles was a lifestyle change...that it doesn't happen over night for everyone. I've watched many of my friends book roles on tv and in film and I am so proud of them. But here I am, on the verge of 7 years of living here and --and I am disheartened.
I feel like the toy that got left behind on Misfit Island. All the other fuckers got saved by the dentist elf except my ass. It used to be that you trained, took pictures, slapped on lipstick, and tried to remain pleasant while eating shit. Now? Well if you aren't apart of the skinny jeans club, or a rapper, or British you don't really stand a chance as a blactress. Yeah go back across the pond you fucking red coats! Those are OUR roles you tea dunking slave catchers! We kicked y'all asses during the revolutionary war, and now I see we gonna have to do it again to your actors. Go on! Get out! Scat! FUCK YO COUCH BRITIAN. FUCK YO COUCH. Oh who am I kidding. I love the Brits. The British people may have the worst food, but they have the BEST television programmes. See, I even added the extra "m" like they do. Wink.
Now back to my "conclusion" as it were. I had my neurosis down to a science, and I was ready to present observations to anyone listening...like some doctor at Johns Hopskins Medical School. Standing with my white lab coat, specs at the tip of my nose, hair pulled back neatly into a bun. A slide show projections in a lecture hall filled with other scientists. My hypothesis presented:
After years of felling every tree, racking up thousands of dollars of debt, pouring through every manuscript written on the craft of acting, paying absurd amounts of money for workshops (yes, paying to be seen in front of casting directors), this aspiring blactress has not cracked the Hollywood code. She is tired, and even worse she looks tired. A failure. Go into the light Ms. Brooks. Go towards the light...
So I said fuck it. I descended back into madness and had a three way with Depression and Insomnia. Luckily for me, I watch classic movies when I'm down. This week I watched Claudine for the umpteenth time, and had a glimmer of hope. "That's the kind of work I want to do", I'd say to myself. Then I'd think about the lack of courage in television and filmmaking--and it makes me want to sprinkle my grits with arsenic.
On Monday I received a packet in the post from my dear friend Yolonda Ross. A fiercely talented and brave blactress who is also in struggle. I opened the envelope and it was a DVD of one my favorite movies of all time. A film so moving--with pitch perfect performances...a movie that always leaves me chomping at the bit...she sent me a copy of An Unmarried Woman starring the late Jill Clayburgh. The movie is all about a woman who has to start over--she doesn't think she has the courage to, but by the end she's standing tall. Then tonight another movie that made me turn away from the light, Stepping Out starring Liza Minelli. And man, is she good in this over looked film. I was all chokes by the time the credits rolled. Again, another film about a woman refusing to give in to adversity. All three films An Unmarried Woman, Claudine and Stepping Out is the Hollywood I want to work in. Not this other bullshit depictions of black women as neck rolling, sexless creatures, who are constantly abused by "no good men." *Hurls Molotov cocktail at the little men in charge.
So here it is 2:50am and I before slumber I have to make a decision. Do I give weight to the doctor's hypothesis? That I haven't cracked the code, and it's too late? Or do I keep fighting like Claudine and trust that eventually some smuck will give me a break?
My heroines Liza, Jill, Diahnn, Yolonda, and Rusty have proven loyal to me. Their support, like so many in my life gives me a wee bit of hope. But it's the words of screen legend Gary Cooper that makes me catch the holyghost.
No player ever rises to prominence solely on talent. They`re molded by forces other than themselves. They should remember this - and at least twice a week drop to their knees and thank Providence for elevating them from cow ranches, dime store ribbon counters and bookkeeping desk. Gary Cooper
On my nightstand is Pandora's box. I've already opened it and all of the sorrow, evil and mischief is swirling over my head. But as I look again, I see one more thing left: Hope.
Goodnight mummies possums. Keep dreaming.