When I was working as an actor, I had a precise system to decide whether to accept or decline a role. I asked myself the following questions:
• Is it a good script?
• Will it provide an interesting acting challenge?
• Will I get to go to a cool location?
The answer to only one of those questions needed to be affirmative, and I would commit the next three months of my life to a project.
Thusly, when I was 16, I worked on a TV movie in the south of France. I played a girl who was kidnapped and stolen away to be violated as a sex slave or alternatively, harvested for internal organs, whichever option proved to be more profitable for my bad guy captors.
I don’t need to tell you which one of my three prerequisites this project fulfilled.
And yes, it fulfilled only one.
The shoot was extra challenging because we filmed an English version as well as a French version. We would do one take in English, one French, back to English. It was brutal. I had studied French but it was high school French, words pertaining to libraries and chalkboards. I never learned the phrases required for this project, things like, “Please monsieur, don’t take my kidneys.”
At age 16, I could have passed for 12. I’d stare at my very un-Hollywood chest with loathing and confusion. Didn’t my breasts realize that we were in films? The movie industry had pigeon-holed me where it shoves all of their flat-chested brunettes — roles like best friend, tomboy or Joan of Arc. My agents kindly labeled me as an “athletic” type.
Well, on this particular movie, my 16-year-old hormones finally kicked in. And there were zits. Horrible zits that danced across my nose and gathered conspiratorially on my chin.
This was a deep betrayal. Generally, my physical development had cooperated with my career. For example, my teeth seem to have been scared straight into freakishly perfect alignment from the moment they poked through my gums. They understood that they were required to stand at attention like good little Hollywood soldiers, since braces would undermine my budding career.
When the copasetic relationship that my body and I once enjoyed came to an abrupt end in the French Riviera, my mother did the proper mother thing and proclaimed my festering acne “Not That Bad.”
Not everyone agreed with this charitable assessment.
One day, the producers awkwardly took me aside.
Producer: “So, Lisa, we’re going to give you a little time off, so you can….clear up a bit. We’ll just shuffle the shooting schedule around and work on some of the scenes that you’re not in.”
Translation: you are being suspended from your job on account of your face.
A normal kid with acne would just hang her head low on the school bus and miserably carry on, but I was an actor kid and this “zituation” as we came to call it, was completely unacceptable. It required medical attention.
The producers sent me to the local hospital, in hopes that modern medicine could return me to the glowing, fresh-faced kidnaped girl they needed me to be. The doctor gave me some green stuff that I applied as directed and in a few days my skin was deemed smooth enough to appear in front of a camera as a believable slave for sexual purposes. I was allowed to go back to work.
That was when I realized what kind of job I had. I was in an industry where the entire shooting schedule would be moved around because I wasn’t looking as pretty as I was expected to. We were deep in the world of make-believe. I had dirt smeared on my face and twigs in my hair from wallowing in a sex slave dungeon, but they were perfectly placed dirt and twigs. The realities of life had no place here.
But in the end, you learn how to take the bad along with the good. After all, I got to hang out in the south of France for a while, and I learned how to say “oozing” in French.