Poor, dead, #1 Chris Penn

chrispenn.jpgI have no idea what Chris Penn really wanted out of life. I spent a total of maybe eight hours with him on the set of a small short film many, many years ago, and I use the term "with" loosely. He was playing an exhibit at an outdoor museum; I was playing a tour guide. It was about 40ºF and raining and every second we weren't shooting, we were all off huddling for warmth, Chris in his trailer, me in some kind camera grip's loaned parka (tour guides wear short-sleeved safari shirts and shorts, regardless of weather). Even those few times we ended up talking in a group of people, he didn't do much talking. He seemed...well, pissed, but hell, the weather did suck and his trailer wasn't much better. I'd be pissed, too. Only I wasn't, because this was my second part in a movie, ever, and I was getting to act. I honestly couldn't believe my good fortune.

It's probably different if your brother is famous and your other brother, well, he's pretty famous, too. Along with your brother's wife, his ex-wife, your other brother's wife, your dad, your mom, and probably several dozen of your closest friends. I used to have anxiety over being compared to my father and grandfather, who were both in advertising, and no one cares about advertising, even the people in it; I can't imagine maintaining my equanimity in the face of grocery lanes and billboards with my fucking family album on them.

Maybe he just wanted to act. They say there are actors out there for whom the just-acting is enough. I don't know; in my 10+ years as an actor, I've yet to meet a single one who would turn down the money and/or the accompanying fame. Yeah, sure, we blather on about our love of the theater and art and 'the work', but let's face it: we didn't exactly pick a profession where you can toil away in obscurity. You have to have an audience to be an actor, even if it's only one; that's how the work works. (And I've acted for that audience of one, for the record. In the world's worst production of The Seagull. You know, the one by that dead Russian guy, that runs almost three hours. Uncut. For one person.)

Even when people tell you what they want, it isn't always what they really want. Most of us aren't willing to cop to our secret agendas. I've seen marriages fall apart, organizations crumble and too many people freaking out on or near their deathbeds to take people at their word. True, Chris Penn was in the same little AFI short that I was for no money, so maybe it was all for the love of a-h-h-h-t. On the other hand, everything you do as an actor has the potential of raising your profile: maybe it's a coincidence that Martin Sheen ended up playing the President on a more famous show after this one; maybe not.

The point, to me, is to get super-dee-duper clear on what you want. Then say it out loud ("I'm black and I'm proud!"), even if you only say it to yourself. Say it over and over, to your friends, in a blog, in your journal, on your résumé, but don't stuff it down. I hid my longing to be an actor, and yes, the famous kind, for many years out of shame and embarrassment and fear. I still do, sometimes, although I now know it's not so much "actor" that I want to be, more like "font of immense inspiration, insight and joy". (Yeesh...talk about embarrassment.)

I hope Chris Penn had a happy life. I hope he loved every minute of what he did. (He certainly was good enough at it.) I hope he never compared himself to his brother or his other brother or his mom or his dad and felt like less-than. I hope he was a raging iconoclast who was fully self-actualized and couldn't have given a hoot about being #1 in the IMDB Pro StarMeter.

And for me? I hope the exact same thing...

xxx c

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