Le acne: when movies and real life collide

Before it all went wrong. That’s me in the bottom center of the frame, wearing burgundy.

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.

It’s “suintement.”

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8 thoughts on “Le acne: when movies and real life collide

  1. When i graduated from law school at 23, i looked 15 as my sister and i are both “blessed” i guess, with young looking genes. But in law this may not perceived to be a good thing, as one of our insurance company clients expressed their concerns to my firm that i looked too young and would not be taken seriously by a jury. As a result of same i wasnt allowed to handle a jury trial et al as i wasnt looking as mature as i was expected to as an attorney and especially as a trial attorney. It actually took a year or 2 until the firm gave me a chance and i had a good result and the insurance carrier client called me to say “i would now be perceived as a trial attorney.” That’s when i realized what kind of job i had, where appearance is everything and overshadows skills and abilities because i didnt look like a ‘TRIAL ATTORNEY’ should and caseload was shuffled around me accordingly. Guess there is some make believe in many industries and the world in which we live….. Mark V.

  2. Hello from Canada, Vancouver BC. I don’t usually ‘reach out’ to strangers because, well, it’s kind of weird to do. Sure, this is the reply part of a blog but one doesn’t walk down a street and grab the attention of a stranger and then barf out a bunch of tedious crap. Especially to expect them to do anything other than to look at you funny and glance around for the nearest constable. So I get it, this is weird, but also wonderful in a new way.

    Big Star Wars fan here. I noticed that GLIL was released 15 years ago and it suddenly hit me that I was always curious about what happened to you. I know, this is the creepy part. Deep breath, now it’s passed. I was busy raising my kids and then changing my life, too. What you experienced about your situation regarding fulfillment really caused me to pause. I was in much the same place. I look back at the strength and courage it took to take the risks I needed to take and I believe if I was just a bit older I would have been too chicken to do anything about it. So great job, lady. You seem happy, intelligent and goal oriented. The same stuff I taught my kids.

    You are very very easy to read and your words are teeming with pathos and imagery. You are a writer and I am now a fan.

    • I think I couldn’t agree more with you. I am younger than you are, but “age is but a number”, right? Anyway, I am fine too, I enjoying reading everyone of your posts Lisa, and though the anonymity of this is all new to me, I think I’ll get used to it, as I long as I keep in mind to never let it get to me.
      Anyway, I wanted to say thank you. Thank you for your blog, thank you for expressing yourself. And thank you for encouraging me to start doing to same.

      • And thank you for reading! If my writing encouraged you to put some words on the page – well, I can’t think of anything better. Best of luck to you!

    • Thank you so much, Tim! I’m so glad that you can relate. It’s astounding to me the ways that the details of our lives differ, but the themes are so similar. And I’m happy you decided to overcome the weirdness and post a reply. I don’t find you creepy at all – I swear. 🙂 All the best to you and thanks for reading!

  3. Dear Lisa:

    I find your blog a breath of fresh air. Good for you for leaving acting in pursuit of a life that has made you more centered and happy as an individual rather than feeling like a commodity to be used up.

    Because of the new “Mrs. Doubtfire” sequel coming up, I stumbled upon a link to your blog. It’s interesting that Mara Wilson also left acting. I say good for both of you!

    When I was a teen, my drama teachers wanted me to audition for the Kramer school of arts and I was way too shy and refused to do it (introvert here too) and I don’t regret that decision to this day and reading blogs like yours give me the reassurance that I definitely went the right route in life. I can only imagine that fame is 10 times worse in this day and age with the INTERNET. UGH!

    You’ve certainly grown into a lovely young woman and I love the photo of you and your doggeh baby! My kitty is 14 years old and definitely my soul-mate fur baby. 🙂

    Best wishes for all of your upcoming projects and personal endeavors.

    Have a wonderful day,

    Angeline

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