(“I’ve had a tough time with directors,” she’d told me then, “and the best advice is to find a peer who can make it fun and help you focus.”) Now, at 28, I was hoping she would tell me what to do again. I would read each response over and over, memorizing them like a script, sure that somehow, together, they represented a step-by-step plan for how to achieve my dream career.
This week, the Cut is talking advice — the good, the bad, the weird, and the pieces of it you really wish you'd taken.
“So, basically,” I said, “I don’t know if I should quit my job and freelance, or stay there for another year. ” I was in the dressing room of multiple Tony Award–winning actress Cherry Jones. I didn’t mention that throughout my adolescence, I did consider her — and, to a lesser extent, dozens of other Broadway actors and actresses — to be exactly that.
I didn’t actually know Jones, and she didn’t really know me. From ages 10 to 16, I would write letters to the cast members (and not just the stars) of every Broadway show I saw, asking them how they did it and what advice they had for me. Over six years, I amassed more than 100 handwritten letters — often with home addresses hastily scrawled in the upper left-hand corner — telling me some variation of "you can do it." As I got older and more savvy, I’d go beyond the “How did you become an actor?
But she had responded to a fan letter I’d written to her nearly two decades prior asking for advice about how to get along with my high-school drama teacher. ” question and tell them the specific problems I was facing as a theater-obsessed, braces-clad, mid-'90s tween: My mom wouldn’t let me take tap and jazz classes in the sixth grade. I felt ostracized by the upperclassmen when I was a freshman in the high school play.
I first wrote to her when I was twelve, after seeing the 1995 production of The Heiress.
Her performance was simultaneously understated and commanding.For the first time, I understood what acting really was.These revelations—as well as the backstage visits — made my heroes seem like actual people.I saw that one actress, now a star on a Shonda Rimes drama, wrote a daily letter to God that she taped on her dressing room mirror.An Emmy-winning actress told me that she’d been worried throngs of people would be waiting for her at the stage door — until she saw something much worse: Only four or five were milling around the security gates she’d requested.Seeing their private rituals, habits, and neuroses made understand that the adults I admired were just as confused and searching as I was. Some actors I wrote to multiple times, but no one was more transformative for me than Cherry Jones.