Like many millions of other people, I bought a lottery ticket on Monday. With a jackpot north of $700 million, I couldn’t resist. But as I handed over that cash, I felt shame. I felt judged. In my head, I heard the voices of dozens of friends and family yelling at me, “You just threw that money away!” They told me how ridiculous I was being, how insanely long the odds of winning are and to not get my hopes up. They are a familiar chorus. They pop up regularly in my life, these internalized voices, in moments when I find myself beginning to fantasize and daydream. They are the voices of reason. Of the rational. Of control. And they are trying to ruin my acting.
I have spent most of my life wrestling with my mind’s own penchant for spinning itself out of control. It is extremely easy for me to think catastrophically, to turn the smallest discomfort into an inevitable doom. In my head, a failed quiz easily turns into a life of crime and destitution. An unexpected knock on the door quickly escalates into a Jason Bourne-style apartment fight against an imaginary intruder. My mind likes to take what it is given and run away with it. I’m constantly fighting against it because, most of the time, it runs off in some terrible direction so I have to do everything in my power to bring myself back to reality just to calm myself down. There is no one coming to get me. The quiz is just a quiz.
Less often, I will find myself fantasizing about an opportunity that comes my way. When a big audition comes along, a life-changing kind of project, I will find myself drifting away into a fantastical future. I imagine hearing how proud people are of me. I imagine traveling to incredible places to film my scenes. I imagine putting money away in my nephew’s college account. I imagine taking the first vacation in years with Sommer. As it does with terrible scenarios, my mind can spin even a slim chance into a sure thing. And in both instances, when I get caught up, I hear those voices telling me to get ahold of myself, to calm down, to come back to my safe and routine life. The voices, the voices of therapists and friends and family, voices of those who have my best interest in mind, try to restore control.
The world trains us to minimize the possibility in our lives. We get messages to calm down and not get worked up all the time. We learn to keep our heads down and follow the logical, rational path. And there is value in this. It would be a tough world if everyone was constantly in contact with the extreme things that could happen in every moment. It would become impossible to get out of bed if we let the anxiety run rampant. It would be equally impossible to go to work if we followed every pipe dream. So instead we embed the rational, calming voices into our subconscious so they can remind us that things probably won’t change in the ways we fear or long for. We numb ourselves to life’s potential. We tame our imagination.
But we actors cannot. We actors must learn to tap into the depth of our imaginations in order to fulfill the depth of the roles we play. We have to remember that every moment in our life is pure potential, that we can irrevocably alter our lives by following the impulses others would try to forget. We must own the reality that some days we lose ones we love and other days are full of new love. Films and plays are not about the days where you wake up and make breakfast, they are stories about the days where everything changes. Actors must bear witness to the full potential of human experience so that, for a couple of hours at least, we can be together in the magic of the unwritten moment. Together maybe we can remember that incredible things happen to people. Some days, someone somewhere wins the lottery. And some day, it could be us.