Last June, I blogged about some of the differences between my career in Los Angeles and my career here. With smaller parts and even smaller trailers, I said that it’s been humbling, but not humiliating, to work here. Actors don’t like to jinx good times by talking about them but I don’t want to waste an opportunity to share something I keep finding to be true.
When someone closes a door, a window opens. Take the leap and the bridge will appear. Let go and let God. It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. If you love something, let it go. If it comes back, it’s yours, if it doesn’t, it never was. And my mother’s wisdom, “Do what you love and the money will come.” There are more sayings, clichés and pearls of wisdom but they all speak to the voice that pulled me from a fairly successful career as an actor and producer in L.A. to following my heart to New Orleans. I had no idea if I’d find work here, only that I had a good resumé and I was good at my job. I had no idea if I would be able to keep my health insurance but kept the faith that I’d figure out details like that later. What I knew to the bone was that pursuing my goals in Los Angeles wasn’t making me happy and that what I needed couldn’t be found there.
I’d made leaps like that before a few times in my life, most notably when I left a secure life on the East coast to make a life in L.A., a city I’d never seen, in a career I’d never made money doing. That move led to a very big, nearly 18 year adventure. I saw the world, met amazing people and attended fancy events. And I made a living doing something I love.
When I left L.A., I came to a place of peace with the idea that my best career years were behind me and enjoyed a 2 year love affair with my new city, New Orleans. But a funny thing has happened. Like a Zen parable about letting things go before they can come to you, I have just been cast in what may turn out to be the best part I’ve had the privilege to play. As announced in the Hollywood Reporter a couple of weeks ago, I will be playing Leonardo DiCaprio’s widowed sister, a southern belle who co-owns their plantation, in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained. I first worked with Quentin when I played “Rocket” in Kill Bill. Later, I acted in 2 movies he produced, including Hell Ride, on which I was an Associate Producer.
I realize that if Quentin and I hadn’t already been acquainted, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to audition for such a large part here in NOLA. One of the concessions I’ve made in my career here is that most of the parts I audition for are what’s left over after the Los Angeles auditions. As such, I’m not suggesting that if you move here, you’ll get access to lots of great parts in great movies.
What I am saying is that I followed my heart and everything is wonderful. I let go of many of my career aspirations and they came to me anyway. Having done this for so long, I know that nothing’s real until it’s real. You don’t really have the job until you’re on the set and you’re not really in the movie until you make the cut and the money’s not real until the check clears, but… I want the readers of this blog to know that I followed my heart and I continue to find more and more reasons to be happy I did.
I said I’d given up on my days on red carpets only to find myself at a premiere last Friday for opening night of the New Orleans Film Festival (which runs through this Thursday). Last year, I did a small part in a movie called Brawler. My mother and niece had just arrived and the director let them work as background in my scene. Los Angeles afforded me many experiences and I’ve been privileged enough to work with some of the greatest actors of our time, but it was a true, unprecedented thrill to work with my mom and niece on the set – in my scene! Friday, Brawler premiered at the World War II Museum in the fabulous theatre Spielberg built. It was fun seeing everyone again and getting my picture taken, Who Dat toes and all.
Once again, I’m not sure I would have come by this part if not for my nearly 18 years in L.A. After Super Sunday 2010, I was walking home with some new friends, still tingling with the excitement of having seen Mardi Gras Indians parading for the first time, when my friends suggested we stop at a bar for a drink. I’d never been in that neighborhood before and had only been in New Orleans for 5 months so it never occurred to me that I’d know anyone there. I stepped into the dark-in-the-daytime bar, joining the 3 or 4 other patrons inside when I heard, “Laura!” It was Zoran Popovic, a cinematographer I’d known in L.A. He was there scouting locations for Brawler. Would I have gotten an audition without running into him, without meeting a producer and the director? Maybe. What I do know is that it didn’t hurt.
I’ve been to a lot of premieres. A lot. But never, not one time, was there ever a brass band. Yep, before the movie began, the familiar tones of When the Saints Come Marching In preceded the Lil People Brass Band into the theatre. The entire sold-out audience sang 2 verses before doing 3 rounds of Who Dat! chants. It felt like my life in L.A. and my life here were coming together in perfect harmony. There were beautiful shots of NOLA throughout the movie and at some point, one actor asked another if they loved them “more than the city itself.” I’ve never lived in a city that I loved in my soul until now, but New Orleanians have this deep abiding love in common. You could almost hear everyone asking themselves if they loved their people more than New Orleans itself.
And since I’m on the topic of my career, a movie I did a few years back will be airing several times this week during AMC’s Fearfest. Check their site for showtimes. Flight of the Living Dead is a fun, scary zombie movie in which I play a scientist with a deadly infection and some nasty eating habits. It’s zombies on a plane and it’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys.
I still have no idea what will happen next or whether I’ll always have health insurance, but I’m happy. And I can’t guarantee that if you make a leap, everything will turn out better than you hoped. All I can say is that I’m glad I took the chance to see what else life might have to offer me. My mother used to tell me about “monkey traps.” She’d say that the way they trap monkeys is to put a nut or some other treat in a jar with a small opening. The monkey grabs the treat and is unable to get their nut-clutching fist out of the jar. Apparently, no matter what, those monkeys won’t let go of the nut to remove their fist from the jar. Well, I’ve let go of the nut and I feel free of the trap. L.A. is a seductive city and I miss all the friends I left there, but NOLA is my home.