This blog is almost always about my beloved city of New Orleans but last week brought me back to Mobile, Alabama to see my name unveiled on the clock tower at the University of South Alabama. I earned my master’s in creative writing and English literature there in ’87 and became a 2014 Distinguished Alumni Award winner at a big, fancy gala last spring. The night before the unveiling, there happened to be a cast and crew screening of Convergence, the movie I shot in Mobile last fall.
The screening was at the Crescent Theatre, a super-cool independent movie theatre with beer and plush lounge chairs. The psychological thriller starring Clayne Crawford, Ethan Embry, Mykelti Williamson (and me!) was full of twists, scares and heart. I’m proud to be a part of it and it was great seeing everyone again.
The next day, we had time to burn before the unveiling so we went to a movie (Gone Girl) and the missing woman was described as a “decorated scholar.” I leaned over and whispered, “Is that what I am now? Am I a decorated scholar?” Walking up to the 140-foot tall Moulton Tower and Alumni Plaza as a giant marching band gathered to play for those of us who’d been added to the monument’s walls, I felt pretty “decorated.”
I found the Distinguished Alumni wall among the many other walls dedicated to people who’ve contributed to the enormous growth of the University in both size and stature. The Distinguished Alumni Award has only existed since 2005 so I found my name quickly and I’ll admit – it gave me quite a thrill.
This blog is usually about New Orleans or my Hollywood South journey, but getting that degree in Mobile led me to teaching college – which had always been my dream (that and writing the “great American novel”). When my life led me to acting, knowing I could teach college gave me the courage to quit all my jobs, move to New York and study acting. That led to my 18 years in L.A. as a working actor. Doing all of that gave me the courage to leave everything one last time and move to New Orleans in 2009 where I ended up playing the role of a lifetime in Django Unchained. Being on set with so many people who were new to the industry led to me writing my book Know Small Parts: An Actor’s Guide to Turning Minutes into Moments and Moments into a Career with foreword by Richard Dreyfuss. And all of that led to me guest-teaching at colleges – which had always been my dream.
Life is long and funny. Every strange exit ramp I’ve taken seems to have all been one big, loopy circle. When I was going to classes in Mobile back-in-the-day, it never occurred to me that one day I’d be staring up at a wall full of luminaries’ names and finding mine among them.