Though Louisiana has always felt like home to me, I never actually lived here until 2009. And though I spent nearly 18 years in Los Angeles, I never actually felt truly home there. That said, I’ve made sure I return at least once a year to see friends, take care of business and have a meal at Mel’s Drive-In on Sunset. This time, I was headed to L.A. to participate in the Courts Celebrity Fan Fest. It seemed funny somehow to return to L.A. to sign autographs. The city is as packed to the gills with celebrities as New Orleans is with Grammy winners so I hardly feel like I stand out in a crowd. But it all made sense when I spoke to the students at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA) at their Industry Insight Series.
When I first decided to sell my house, quit all my jobs and become an actor in 1989, I started my journey at AADA in New York. I was able to speak at that school in 2013. It was so satisfying to sit on the stage where I used to perform and look out at the faces in the seats where I used to sit for class and realize I’d become the proof that they could make a living as an actor. I had that same sensation taking my seat on the stage at the L.A. campus. I told stories, answered questions and did my best to pay forward all that my education and time at AADA NY has given me.
I also stopped into Samuel French, THE actor’s bookstore in L.A. for 65 years. I remember cruising the aisles of that store, searching for answers about how to achieve my goals and feeling surrounded by voices telling me it was okay to have unusual career aspirations. Now, I can find my own book, Know Small Parts: An Actor’s Guide to Turning Minutes into Moments and Moments into a Career (with foreword by Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss) on those shelves. What a kick.
As readers of this blog know, I don’t usually get so personal or talk about my career. I LOVE to write about New Orleans, but my journey here started in L.A. Each time I go back to Los Angeles, it’s like standing against marks on a wall to see how tall I’ve gotten. I see now that the same drive I have to give-back to the city of New Orleans is just as strong when I find opportunities to share my journey as an actor with those who are starting out.
I made the rounds to some favorite places like The Grove, an upscale outdoor mall with a streetcar running through it. My friend’s 7 year old could hardly believe it when I told her the streetcars run on the actual streets in NOLA. Then we headed to Mel’s where I lucked into another visit with my favorite waitress, Janet, and Sunshine, my favorite street person. I spotted one of my favorite screenwriters ever, Buck Henry, who wrote my favorite comedy ever, What’s Up, Doc? Even better, he came up to me and asked where he knew ME from. (We’d met once maybe 8 years ago in the very same spot – great memory!)
The Courts Celebrity Fan Fest specializes in celebrities who have never been at a convention on the west coast before. It’s only my third convention so I’m still getting used to it but I loved sitting next to Hilary Shepard (Divatox in Power Rangers) in the section with Mariel Hemingway and Lisa Marie – all great women. That said, my favorite celebrity siting of the week was meeting Saintsation Kriste Lewis, the 40 year old mother of 2 who joined the Saints dance squad this year. We shared a flight out as she headed to The Steve Harvey Show and I finally got to congratulate her and tell her how proud I am of our team for opening its mind to a dancer over 40.
I ended the visit to L.A. with a gathering of friends including Jeff “The Dude” Dowd, who officiated my wedding last May. It was great catching up with friends, making new ones and remembering good times together during my time in L.A. Then I boarded a plane full of Saints fans wearing their colors and headed home to watch the game because nearly 5 years into this move, Los Angeles is a great place to visit but I’m so glad to live in New Orleans.