My mother tried to kill me by shaking when I was about 5. I remember my head flopping all directions with her screaming in my face ‘I’m going to kill you!’ When she wasn’t strong enough, she threw me down the stairs. I have facial scars she gave me when I was a baby, but would never say how. I never heard ‘I love you.’ I have only one warm memory of her; the rest are either of violence, abandonment or just nothing—childhood amnesia.
My father was worse. The simple fact is they hated us and wished we were never born. The rule in our house was ‘You are not allowed to exist.’ When I got out of there at 17 I think I was about 3 years old mentally. I couldn’t look people in the eye, couldn’t interact normally, had no idea who I was or how anything worked. I had no choice but to ‘fake it till you make it’ – to try to act like everything was just fine while at the same time trying to recover.
I worked my way through college as a waiter, then ran away to Hollywood to be a star. How little I knew. There seemed to be a conspiracy of silence in ‘the biz’, and it was completely impenetrable. But then by a huge fluke, I got into film school and started to learn about story, specifically The Hero’s Journey. They told us how all people throughout time tell the same basic story with all the same basic steps, how it was somehow in our DNA, and how all movies were heroic lessons in disguise. Captivated, I watched movies relentlessly trying to learn how they were made and how I could learn from them. I started to wonder what kind of crazy movie I was in, who my mentors were, and so on.
I had no success in LA, and my story got a lot worse over the next ten years as you might expect. I wound up back in my hometown, divorced with a daughter, drinking my share of whiskey, a mental mess, having my ‘dark period’. I mean, it was very close to midnight for me. And then somebody told me about ‘murders’. What? Murder mystery shows, for businesses. Actors would do terrible shows at a meeting or party, someone would ‘die’ and then the audience would be asked to figure out whodunit. I remembered the Hero, how he had to face the fact that his life was out of balance and decide to go on an adventure. I found the director’s house and left my info in her mailbox. She called me three months later on New Year’s Eve. An actor was sick, and could I fly to another city immediately and be in one of her shows? And that the was start of my comeback, my adventure in acting.
I now have 50 film and TV credits, I’ve worked with mega-stars like Robert Duvall, done supporting leads in movies for Universal, I founded a studio, wrote a book, and taught all over North America. Throughout it all I rely on the Hero’s Journey for guidance, and it has always worked for me. Just follow the steps and be brave. That’s all it takes. You don’t have to be an actor, you just have to want a better life. If it worked for someone as broken as I was, if it worked for people throughout time, I think it will work for you too. Just follow the steps and be brave.