“I know you from somewhere.” She squinted at me.
“Well, I do a lot of yoga, so I’m here all the time.” I tend to deflect the question, especially when I’m taking my clothes off in a particularly quiet yoga studio change room in central Virginia.
“No. That’s not it. I’ll figure it out.” It sounded kind of ominous, but as she packed up her bag I thought maybe I’d gotten away with it.
Suddenly, she turned back to me.
“Wait! I know you from movies, right? You are one of those actors who moved away from Hollywood to escape it all? You’re that Mrs. Doubtfire girl. I knew it!”
I tried to smile while I put my bra on.
Recently, there have been a lot of actors talking about leaving the film industry. From Shia Labeouf to Jack Gleeson to Emma Watson, retiring from acting (or at least threatening the media that you will) seems to be very on trend. And really, who can blame them? Sure, it’s easy to say that stars make so much money that they should shut up and be happy – but really, acting is just another job. Who hasn’t fantasized about getting fed up with work and yelling “screw you, I quit”?
It took me 18 years to get to that point and retire. Except for the awkwardness of getting recognized while half-naked, I’ve found the world outside of Hollywood to be quite wonderful.
Some people tend to think that actors (even former actors) are inherently different and totally un-relatable. My life is incredibly ordinary. I’m now a writer. I’m married, I have a dog and a mortgage and very dry cuticles. I don’t hang out with Robin Williams and I don’t have millions of dollars. I worry about why we got a duplicate electric bill and if the dog has an ear infection. Most of my time is spent working and grocery shopping and waiting for the guy to come fix the dryer. It’s just that every once in a while – usually right after I’ve dropped the contents of my purse on the floor in the checkout aisle – I get recognized from something I did 20 years ago.
I couldn’t be happier about my ordinary, non-acting life.
When I was in Los Angeles, I was pretty sure I was supposed to be happy. I had what I was supposed to want. I had been a working actor since the age of four and it was the only life I knew. It was fun for a while. I walked red carpets and knew famous people and bought a house when I was 15. This was the life that looked so great on the cover of glossy magazines.
But eventually, that life gave me panic attacks and made me dream about living in the middle of nowhere and working in an office. I could no longer find the joy in my “dream job.” This career that I had dedicated my whole life to, sacrificed friends, relationships and a high school diploma for, now felt unfulfilling and inauthentic. I felt like I was suffocating.
There seemed to be two options for me: I could turn into a stereotypical train wreck or I could run away from the film industry and try to figure out who I was beneath the actor. Since I didn’t care for alcohol and was too fearful of authority to even try smoking pot, the well-worn path of becoming an addict wasn’t appealing. I bought a plane ticket to Virginia and moved into a small apartment with my boyfriend.
As it turned out, that life looked really damn scary, too. Everyone said I was crazy for leaving L.A. and I wondered if they were right. I was totally ill-prepared for anything outside of movies. I sat at the kitchen table and tried to figure out how to write a LinkedIn profile, even though I’d never had a regular job. My only “skills” were a proficiency with foreign accents and a willingness to do my own stunts. At times, it seemed much easier to go back to acting and do the thing that everyone expected of me. Maybe everybody kind of hated their job and stayed silently miserable. Maybe that was what it meant to be a grownup.
But I suspected there was more to life than silent misery.
So, I did a bunch of different things to try to reinvent myself and create a life that felt more authentic to who I was. I answered phones at a women’s shelter, worked as a radio DJ and taught at a literacy center. I designed websites for non-profits, got a GED and went to college. I became a writer. I became a wife. I became someone who believes that each day is a chance to be the person you were meant to be. I became happy.
To those actors that want to retire – go ahead. Non-actors change their careers all the time and it’s totally fine. Just please don’t be an ineffectual whiner about it. No one likes to hear someone hating on their job/life/boyfriend and never doing anything about it. It doesn’t matter what the rest of the world thinks about your choices. Eventually, what you did when you were 17 – whether it was acting in a movie or selling popcorn in a movie theater – will fade into the background and become fairly insignificant.
And we can all just be anonymous, half-naked people in a yoga studio change room.