My family is from Louisiana for generations on both sides but my path home was winding. After living in Maryland, Washington D.C., Japan, Alabama, New York and Los Angeles, I finally moved to New Orleans in late 2009. And I’ve never been happier. When I got here, the Saints were on their way to winning the Superbowl and the city was vibrating with optimism. Most of the people who would come home after the Storm were back. Katrina money was being spent on street repairs and schools were getting instruments from places like Tipitina’s Foundation. Buildings, homes, t-shirts and more exclaimed, “Believe” and “Renew, Rebuild, Rebirth.” It was intoxicating.
5 years later, the city is still rebuilding, the streets still need repairing and the Saints could use an overhaul as well. Crime is up and locals are fighting to keep our local values alive as gentrification continues and we deal with an influx of newcomers. But, I am exactly where I’m supposed to be.
When I got here, I knew I wanted to make new friends, get work and finally find the love of my life. I walked the city, attended free concerts and went to dozens of parades alone my first few months here. I met several new friends, found work in the growing film industry and immersed myself in local culture. 5 1/2 years later, I’m married to the best man I ever met, I’ve done almost as many movies as I did in my entire 18 years in L.A. and I’m a part of the local culture as a Pussyfooter who dances in parades year round surrounded by my “pink sisters.”
As I looked through the photos for this post (BELOW), I saw how often life goes in big, messy, beautiful circles. In college, my goals were to teach English at a university, write the Great American Novel and marry the man of my dreams. I got my master’s degree at the University of South Alabama so I’d be good enough to write my novel, Lemonade Farm. I did teach a semester of college before quitting to begin my acting career and I started writing my novel but life had much bigger plans for me. I went on a 20-year adventure traveling the world, hanging out with movie stars and attending premieres of movies I was in like Kill Bill! It was all amazing – but I was no closer to finding my man.
So, after producing a movie with Quentin Tarantino in 2008 and figuring out how to thrive in that industry’s environment, I followed my heart to New Orleans. I met Andy less than a year later at the Lost Love Lounge (seriously). We married last May.
In 2012, I published Know Small Parts: An Actor’s Guide to Turning Minutes into Moments and Moments into a Career with foreword by Richard Dreyfuss and endorsements from Kevin Costner and a dozen industry luminaries. It wasn’t the Great American Novel, but it is a heavily-lauded acting book and it brought me back into classrooms. I even got to speak at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York where I began my career’s journey when I quit teaching. (One of those circles I was talking about).
I released Know Small Parts when Django Unchained premiered. Quentin Tarantino and I had been friends since before Kill Bill and he’d always hoped people would get a chance to see what I was capable of so he wrote Django Unchained‘s Lara Lee with me in mind. I always knew I’d work with him again and he knew I secretly wished to play Scarlett O’Hara but I never dreamed the Pulp Fiction guy would be the one to put me in hoop skirts. Two years later, I got to repay him a bit by affording him the opportunity to ride as Monarch in the Orpheus parade (Mardi Gras 2014). As a result, I got to ride in the freaking Monarch’s float and throw beads and cups to thousands of people. It was an AMAZING way to experience my city. And I was even wearing a pink corset – my Pussyfooter uniform.
I loved everything about every parade my first year here but I did have immediate favorites. I vividly remember the first time I saw the “pink army” strutting down St. Charles. People were squealing, “The Pussyfooters are coming!” “It’s the Pussyfooters!” About 60 women over-30 danced in pink burlesque costumes and white Doc Marten’s. They looked like they were having the time of their lives. Years later, I would “grease poles” with them at the Royal Sonesta as a “celebrity pole greaser.” By next Mardi Gras, I was one of those corseted women in a pink wig hearing people scream, “It’s the Pussyfooters!” So, when I was riding with Quentin in my first parade, it made sense to ask if I could forgo the traditional ball gown and represent for my city in my pink-corseted uniform. Circles.
There are many more circles but the recurring theme is that the culture I admired and documented for this blog all these years is now my culture. I am now a part of what makes this place beautiful and memorable and unique – and that is more satisfying than I could have ever dreamed. My new biggest goal in life is to earn my second line. For non-New Orleanians, a second line (funeral-version) is a parade sometimes thrown after someone’s passing. My first second line of any type was for Albert Joseph Jackson, the “Moses of Magazine Street.” He wasn’t homeless but he was a man of the street and he was one of the first friends I made here. When he died, the community felt compelled to come together to pay for his second line. Maybe in another place he’d be dismissed, but here he was revered for his kindness and his contributions to our daily lives.
And the biggest, messiest circle of all is the one that started this odyssey decades ago. In 2014, the University of South Alabama named me a Distinguished Alumni Award winner and put my name on the clock tower. Then last Christmas, 25 years after becoming an actor, I finally published Lemonade Farm. And now, I’m teaching a class at the University of New Orleans (UNO). It’s a graduate-level course for film directors to teach them how to work with actors – one of the classes I’ve guest-taught since writing Know Small Parts. In fact, after I was a guest there, the professor made Know Small Parts one of the textbooks for the class the following semester. Two years later, I’m teaching that same class and using my own book as one of the texts in a course I got to design. Wild, wacky circle.
There are downsides to life in NOLA. The crime is horrifying. The roads are legendarily car-destroying disasters. There are oil spills, hurricanes and faulty levees. And people don’t seem to get it that we live here. These are our homes, not walls for you to pee on. Someone actually took a crap on the sidewalk outside our door on New Year’s Eve before the fireworks. When we came home from our annual beignets at Cafe du Monde, there were 2 girls peeing behind our car parked right in front of our door. Bewildering. And the city is rarely ours. On any given day, about 2/3 of our population isn’t local. We share our home and our culture with a global audience.
In 5 1/2 years, I’ve memorized thousands of new names of streets, Saints football players, artists, bands and musicians, chefs, politicians, local characters, dance troupes, high school bands, local businesses and their owners, authors, Mardi Gras Indian tribes, Mardi Gras Krewes, Pelicans basketball players, friends and the hundreds of crew and cast members I’ve worked with on sets. So much so, that I’ve reduced my computer-like ability to name actors and movies to, “You know, the British actress who was in that show in the 60’s – the one they redid as a movie with that girl from…” You get the idea. My encyclopedic memory for all things film and TV has made way for all things NOLA. But, I will die on this dirt – and here no one cares if I can remember a movie title from 1973.
I look back on my 5 years blogging and marvel at that circle as well. This blog started when my L.A. friends insisted I give them a window into my new world. What started as anonymous postings for friends to see has now been read in over 100 countries. It’s become a resource for people living here as well as visitors and those who long to understand this place’s quirks better. I’m thrilled to reach so many readers. It was one of the reasons I wanted to write a novel in the first place. If you haven’t already, I hope you’ll consider subscribing (window to the right) to receive a notice when I post.
I came here to find the love of my life and I did but I also have a newfound love of life in general. And one of the things that bonds Andy and I in our love is this city – the love of our life. Enjoy the 5 years of photos.