It’s the week of my big talk. In so many ways, I’ve been waiting for this moment for 26+ years.
This song has been running around in my head for weeks. Actually, I played it for myself the morning before I met Jessica Buchanan for the first time.
Getting ready for this talk has felt, in many ways, as if I never said goodbye. Never said goodbye to the stage, to the prepping, to the fear and anxiety and to the certainty that this is what I’m meant to do. This is who I am.
“Now I’m standing center stage. I’ve come home at last.”
It’s not like I haven’t had other moments that felt like this in the past: the agent in LA who was interested; the first big Union commercial I shot; the residual checks that came for months. But this is different because I am different.
One of the terrible and beautiful ironies of life is that you can’t be ready for a seismic shift until you’ve lived under the pressure, disappointment and failure of the two plates slowly slamming into each other. The operative word is slowly. It takes time to arrive where you are supposed to be, to break free from the strains of life and emerge as something newly formed from all the pieces of who you have been.
For awhile, this was the hook to my talk:
In March 1997, I was living in Fargo, North Dakota, in a snug, upstairs apartment of a two-story house.
Winter was endless and relentless that year, and I spent many hours hopelessly staring out the frosty windows at the frozen expanse at what felt like a true metaphor for my life.
This particular morning, I was up, watching Good Morning America, gut wrenchingly revisiting, through their highlight reel, what I had tearfully watched the night before: the Academy Awards.
And I remember so clearly, Charlie Gibson interviewing Geoffrey Rush, a then unknown 46-year old Australian actor who had just won Best Actor for his portrayal of pianist David Helfgott in the film Shine.
I’ll never forget Mr Gibson’s final question to Mr Rush, a little twinkle in his eye: “How long did it take you to become an overnight success?”
To which Mr Rush smiled slightly and replied, “About 25 years.”
All too often, we foolishly fall into the trap of thinking other people effortlessly land in their spot of perfection without any of the pitfalls that seems to pop up in our own lives with alarming regularity. That’s because we are seeing the “Best of” reels. We aren’t seeing the anxiety, the tears, the doubt, the depression, the hard work, the failure. That content tends to land on the cutting room floor of social media.
By all of America’s knowledge, in 1996, Geoffrey Rush was a complete unknown. He popped up out of nowhere, magically got cast in the film and portrayed this complex character with a flash of brilliance that left many of us stunned.
But we intellectually know that’s not the whole story. We suppose he auditioned for films, television and the stage, over and over again. We imagine he made commercials and did voice overs. We assume he most certainly had to have a “day job” while he was dreaming of and working toward stardom.
What if the role of David Helfgott had been open 10 years earlier? Mr Rush would likely have wanted to go up for the audition. But, he wouldn’t have been the right age to play him; he might not have had enough lived experience, have worked with the right acting coach, had the agent who could get him in the room or, fill in any number of blanks, to play that role. And had he not been cast in Shine, it’s entirely likely he might not also have been cast in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Shakespeare in Love, The King’s Speech and so many other memorable films with characters to which he brought all his considerable talents.
In other words, Geoffrey Rush had to wait for the time to be right to launch, despite his best wishes, his talent, his desires and his willingness to try.
So I’m here this week, staying as quiet and grounded as I can, because I have a true sense in the deepest recesses of my soul that, on one hand, I am returning to where I was meant to be, but on the other, I’m just about to walk through a door I never could have entered until now.