Being told who you are
“You can’t be yourself because you’re always being judged.”
That is a line from “Ellie Parker” about an actress trying to get a start in Los Angeles, played by Naomi Watts, who also produced the film.
That sort of uncertainty of identity and insecurity affects many artists on the way to establishing themselves, but may be especially intense for actors who need to keep recreating who they are in auditions and roles.
Naomi Watts commented about the authenticity of the film in an interview article [Art Imitates Life for Watt’s Ellie Parker, by Paul Fischer], noting that Scott Coffey, the film’s director was, like Watts herself, “a struggling actor for many years as well and he’d gone through years of those horrible auditions, losing your dignity and being told who you are and believing it because of your self-esteem levels.”
Acting is addictive
But, she admits, “You can’t give it up.” Watts says that what makes acting so addictive is “because you love what you do. It’s the creative thing that when you’re actually acting, between action and cut, THAT is fun, or even in the drama class or whatever forum you’re doing it in.
“It’s the other stuff that’s horrible — the exposing yourself,” referring to the often debilitating audition process that she embarked upon for almost a decade prior to her attention-grabbing role in Mulholland Drive.
“That’s what Ellie Parker is more about,” she adds, “not just about the acting experiences, auditions, managers, agents and stuff, but about a young woman who is putting too much emphasis on other people’s opinions of herself, and therefore wrapping up her own identity in these people who couldn’t possibly know who she was.
“So that struggle for integrity and identity is more of what we were trying to say.”
This is the movie they should show in college acting classes
Film critic Roger Ebert was enthusiastic about how real and meaningful the film is. In his review, he said: “This is the movie they should show in college acting classes, instead of tapes of ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio.’ It is about auditioning for an idiotic Southern Gothic soap opera and then changing your makeup and accent in the car on your way to audition as a hooker in a soft-core sex film.
“About trying to impress a group of ‘producers’ who are so stoned they don’t have a sober brain cell to pass from hand to hand around the room. About suspecting that the only thing worse than not getting the job would be to get it.
“About being broke. About depending on your friends, who are your friends because they depend on you. About lying to the folks back home. About going to clubs to be ‘seen’ and getting so wasted you hope no one saw you…
“And it is about having to be smart, talented, beautiful, determined and, yes, lucky, just to get to this point in your career.”
“You’re too intense”
In an article in Interview magazine (Dec/Jan 2004), she commented :
“Mulholland Drive (2001) was in the can at that point. I was pretty sure it was good and would make some noise, but I wasn’t trusting my instincts because I’d been through that before.
“So my agents were continuing to send me out for pilots. I had no money, no health insurance, and I was going on all these auditions for things I didn’t believe in but that I was desperate for because I needed the work.
“As a result, I was shaky and intense and nervous and laughing or smiling too much, and I was making people uncomfortable. It was awkward.
“So my then agent called me in and… said, ‘Honey, you’re a great actress and I believe in you, so I took it on myself to ask these people what’s going on because you should be working. They’re saying that you’re too intense, that you want it too much.’
“In retrospect, all those disappointments were the perfect thing because if I’d gotten one of those parts I’d auditioned for, I would probably still be on some TV series today. I wouldn’t have had the freedom to pursue the things I’ve been able to do over the past few years.”