The Comparison Game

I’m going to level with you here.  I compare.  Constantly.  My competitive drive hungrily jumps on every setback I experience and starts to decipher why it happened.  This inevitably means comparing myself to whomever succeeded in the midst of my failure.  Comparisons rot your soul, but I do them because they’re an attempt to make things alright.  To find a reason I failed that is outside the territory of my talent.  God forbid I think of my skills as anything less than divinely inspired.

A few weeks ago I had a callback for a film I felt really good about.  I paid for coaching to make sure I did my absolute best, and the director and producers were totally on board in my callback.  I had hoped and somewhat expected to get the call that I booked it within a day or so.  I’ll save you the anxiety: I didn’t.  So I looked it up.  I almost can’t help myself but to go and see who got the part.  I lie that it’s in order to analyze what I could do better, but in reality, it’s to find/fabricate a reason to prop up my ego.  The winner?  A woman 15 years older than me (so it wasn’t even my demographic! nothing I can do about that!) who had been on Baywatch and was clearly selling a very sexual image in her career.  I patted myself on the back that sexuality is something I have never and likely won’t ever sell- I’m more of the funny, weird best friend than the sexy seducer- so not only am I more talented than her (I don’t have to rely on my sexuality to get roles, I’m a gifted actor and funny!) I also didn’t stand a chance because she was older and had way more credits.  Whew.  Off the hook.

It’s almost as if it’s not enough to win or lose.  Everyone else has to lose, too.  When I don’t succeed (which is more often than not) my obsession with fairness and world of scarcity steps in and screams

“But what about me?  Will I never get my piece of the pie??”

When you’re living in an ivory tower of ambition and perfection, you have to work hard to manipulate the losses to become wins.  In the end, though, we’re all losers and that’s why it’s so amazing that we get to win.  Grace can’t set you free if you’ve no idea you’re a prisoner, right?  So, for the record, I’m a loser.  I thought with all my self deprecation and “truthfulness” others would see I’m a complete mess.  But people keep telling me I look like I have it all together, so I must be selling a lie somewhere.  Let’s end the game, shall we?  I’m starting what I will call

#honestyexperiment

wherein I will make it abundantly clear (to the detriment of anyone’s good opinion of me) that I am a loser.  Not in the carefully crafted seemingly negative commentary that is actually said to make me look good- i.e. “I use dry shampoo until I can’t get away with it anymore!” AKA- I don’t give a shit what others think, which is cool- but reality and vulnerability and doubt and anger and whatever else makes me feel like the most pathetic human being on the planet.  No ego props, no justifications, just truth.  (hopefully without hurting anyone I love- that’s not my intention)  If you and I can both be aware of how much I suck (and maybe how much you do too), I think we can make positive headway into humility, shedding our hubris, and ending the comparison game.

Let’s play.

You can follow me on here and @brittanydjoyner

Note: This experiment is inspired in part by a great podcast series I’ve been listening to on Alternative Wisdom, by Rob Bell.  I highly recommend. 

Being a Christian in Hollywood, pt 5

If you missed pt 1 of this blog, you can catch it here.

If you missed pt 2 of this blog, you can catch it here.

If you missed pt 3 of this blog, you can catch it here.

If you missed pt 4 of this blog, you can catch it here.

We are in pt 5, the final part of my series on Being a Christian in Hollywood.  I’m wrapping up my thoughts on the future of my place in the industry as a Christian.  By now you know I don’t want to do horror, reality, faith based films, simulated sex scenes, or nudity.  Some actors (Christians included) have argued for working on whatever project comes my way, and not imposing filters.  I can see that point of view- “you’re a character, it’s not you”- but I guess I just want to have more control than that.  I look at a story.  If it’s one that needs to be told and I like the way it’s being told, I want to be a part of it.  Otherwise, it’s just a paycheck and time spent away from the woodshop.  I’m a storyteller.  And a performer.  Not singularly an actor.  My stories are told through improv, theatre, film, TV, spoken word, writing, singing…I’m not in love with just acting.  I’m in love with weaving a tale that will touch souls and bring them to hope, reconciliation, redemption, living better lives.  Therefore, I’m not looking just to act in whatever comes my way.

In my search for my unique voice that I began last year, I came to understand that stories of reconciliation, vulnerability and hope were themes that I cling to.  These are the stories I want to tell.  Here are some great examples of stories that touch me and energize my desire to ignite passion in others with a similar tone.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  Oh, this movie.  I can’t get enough of it.  From the kick ass soundtrack to the gradual change of one man’s life from risk-averse to living to the fullest, this film makes me laugh, cry and hope all at once.  This is a story that can be told again and again and again.  It’s not affected.  It’s not cheap.  It’s vulnerable, it’s real and it’s lovely.  It does this all without resorting to cheeseball family film territory, or rated x content.  See, it can be done!  Watch this immediately.  Repeat on a rainy day.  Then buy the soundtrack and tell me which song is your favorite.  Mine is Step Out.

The Philadelphia Story.  This is one of the most perfect films ever made.  Tracy Lord (played to acidic gold by Hepburn) is taken on a journey over 2 days of self discovery, humility, forgiveness and relocating her heart.  The dialogue is flawless, but there is so much story told in visuals as well.  The character change hinges on a line spoken to Lord by her estranged father- “You have everything it takes to make a lovely woman except the one essential.  An understanding heart.  And without that you might just as well be made of bronze”.  Out goes the model of calm, cool and poised, and enters the radiant, loving Tracy, pliable to life’s adventures.

Cinderella Man.  I can’t.  Just thinking about this movie makes me tear up.  This is the story of boxer Jim Braddock, and his fall from fame to poverty during the Great Depression.  Though he’s down on his luck “I didn’t always lose”, he somehow maintains hope, resolve, honesty, ethic, gratefulness and pride during a time so bleak that any man would crumble.  Without resorting to sappy throughlines, a beautiful story is told about the power and resolve of the human spirit.  If you can watch this film and not feel hopeful about living a good and meaningful life, you are a sociopath.

Emma.  As you know, period films are my world.  From the corsets to the restrained yet poetic speech, these films never get old for me.  This is the adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel by the same name of a young matchmaking woman who is blind to her own feelings amidst the chaos of alliances, pride and the simple act of growing up.  Ewan Macgregor as Frank Churchill alone will make you giggle your pants off.  Watching the evolution of one woman from naive, prideful, yet kind, to real, vulnerable and honest is a delight.  This movie has inspired a lifetime of trying to be a Yente for me.

Stranger Than Fiction.  Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman alone make this consummate piece of art worthy of a lifetime of watching.  Marc Forster and Zach Helm make what must’ve been one of the hardest stories to tell- it’s about a man who discovers he’s a character in a writers book- how do you even do that??- immaculate and real and funny and true.  I love this movie so much, I feel like I’ve saved the best for last.  Not only is it another story of a man deciding to finally live his life (I’m sensing a trend here), it’s done so cleverly and literary it will make you think for days.  I can’t praise this veritable masterpiece enough.

These are a few examples of stories that are told brilliantly without any of the elements that I am avoiding in my acting career.  True, they aren’t made that often, likely because it takes far more effort to make something lasting and meaningful than it does to throw together another trite action film, but when they are.  Oh.  My heart sings.  That’s what I want.  This is my future.  And if I can’t be a part of others telling these stories, I’ll make my own.  Because they need to be told.  Humanity needs to hear that their life is worth living well.  That their pride and misconceptions of others only keeps them from loving fully.  That the hard choice is sometimes the best choice, and worth fighting for.  That’s how this Christian plans to make her place in Hollywood.

Being a Christian in Hollywood, Pt 3

If you missed pt 1 of this blog, you can catch it here.

If you missed pt 2 of this blog, you can catch it here.

Welcome to pt 3 of Being a Christian in Hollywood.  By now we’ve covered perception and why it’s hard to put a public label on your beliefs as an actor, as well as the history of my self-imposed limitations on roles.  So, now that we have a framework/introduction, and a past, let’s move into the present.

Presently, I do mostly commercials.  And commercials are almost never in the territory of nudity/sex scenes/foul language.  So for my day to day job, it’s a non-issue.  When I did improv, my teams were almost always composed of fellow believers, so the comedy rarely went blue.  This is actually a hard thing to find.  I have sat through more excruciating time slots of teams detailing blow jobs than I care to remember.  Blue humor is cheap and easy, but rarely satisfying.

Like most actors, however, I didn’t come to Hollywood with the dream of selling products on TV.  Though it’s my bread and butter, doing commercials is not exactly creatively fulfilling for me.  I long to be doing films.  I’ve worked on a few, I’ve procured a couple of credits, but once you get to the narrative film corner of the industry, you have to be more careful.  I am very choosy about the projects I work on.  Not that I have offers flung at me from every angle, but it’s important to me to vet a script before I get to any serious stage of casting.

What does this mean?  A few years back I loosened up on the language requirement after realizing that in certain instances, those words held more power than the non-profane.  In the movie ‘Saved’ (interesting watch) at one point the lead walks up to a statue of Jesus and tumbles out a string of curse words to try and make sense of her relationship with God and what that meant.  Those words had purpose.  It wasn’t foul because the writers couldn’t come up with anything more descriptive to say, it had a point.  When I did ‘The Last 5 Years’, in the song ‘See I’m Smiling’, I was surprised to notice that when I sang ‘You could stay with your wife on her FUCKING birthday’ instead of editing it out, it put my emoting to a completely different place and level.  That had meaning.  So I said it.  That’s where I’m at with language.  I still don’t say GD.  Because, come on.  Yikes.

I was up for a really interesting, complex role on a film about a mixed race couple dealing with their family fall-out.  I enjoyed getting to improvise with several of the guys up for the lead at the callbacks and felt really good about this one.  I told them up front that insinuated sex scenes were ok, but I was not comfortable with the nudity/sex scenes that were scripted.  They called me while I was on set of a commercial to try and talk me into it and see if I would budge.  I wouldn’t.  They cast someone else.

Last year a casting director I knew sent me an audition for a film he was very excited about.  Not only was the script horribly depressing, it also left a bad taste in my mouth after reading it with all the violent sex scenes and foul language.  This was the first audition he had offered me, so I hated having to turn it down, but I did.  After sending him an email letting him know why I wouldn’t be able to audition for a role who’s few scenes included giving a BJ to the lead (ew), he made sure to put me in my place by saying “since you have very few film credits, I can’t tell, so you tell me, what type of film is it that you want to do?”  Firstly, thanks for belittling me, but secondly, how about redeeming films?  How about ones that make you want to be a better person when you’re through watching it?  That make you more hopeful about life?  There’s enough depression and awfulness in this world.

These are not infrequent situations I encounter being a Christian in Hollywood.  It most definitely limits what I want to work on, and my chances to work.  Next week, tune in to part 4- the future.

Being a Christian in Hollywood, Pt 2

If you missed pt 1 of this blog, you can catch it here.

Last week I wrote about our expectations of those who wear a label that may or may not conflict with their job.  I hate to use the word ‘evolve’ as it seems like I’m saying I’ve progressed more than others, but in simplistic terms, my personal guidelines for being a Christian in Hollywood have evolved over my 12 years in this business.  Some lines have remained.  Others have been crossed.  I can assure you that all have been wrestled and carefully debated until I came to a solid resting place that felt right to me.  For now.  As with most things in life, I’m sure it will continue to change and adapt and find its place.

Let’s start at the beginning.  In high school and college, my formative acting years, I didn’t have to deal with any guidelines because a. it was high school and nothing edgy would be performed and b. I went to a Christian college.  Same.  In my senior year of college I went out for a community theatre play called Hot’L Baltimore.  The show is about homeless, prostitutes and vagrants, and how they’re swept under the rug of society as if they don’t matter.  I thought it was a good message.  But the only role that was right for me was a young prostitute, called ‘the girl’.  She had no explicit scenes, but there was one where she had an outburst of foul language, and at the time, I had decided that as I did not curse in real life, I should extend that to my acting roles.  I auditioned, and sent the director an email informing her that I would have to modify the lines, and I completely understood if she didn’t want to cast me in the role.  After a response championing the reason for art and character portrayal, I guess she decided it wasn’t that important, and cast me in my first professional production.  I enjoyed that show.  Admittedly, I was a little embarrassed to have my preacher father in law in the audience watching a show of this nature, but I was proud of my performance.  From The Avalanche Journal, the Lubbock newspaper:

“Brittany Joyner impresses here as The Girl, too young to have stopped caring or trying to help. It is a role that easily could have been colored in much too naive colors; Joyner locates an impressive balance.”

As I graduated college, I made the decision to eschew my original plans of being a missionary and moved headfirst into pursuing an acting career.  This hinged largely on a long discussion I had with my missions teacher and mentor, who strongly advised me to use my gift of performing and reconsider the short term mission in Brazil my husband and I were contemplating.  Also, I had spoke with a friend who was already working in the Dallas market and it occurred to me that I could make a go at acting as a profession, a dream I had not revisited since its original conception as a 17 year old high school student.  We sat at a cafe in Lower Greenville and I declared- “If you don’t have lines you won’t cross from the start, you most certainly won’t when you’ve had some success and big projects are offered to you.  So, here are my lines: no foul language, no nudity, no sex scenes”.  This was version one of being a Christian in (not yet) Hollywood.  Join me next week for pt 3.

 

Being a Christian in Hollywood, pt 1

This is hard for me to write.  I’ve mentioned it here and there on the blog, and if you know me, you’ve zero doubt of my belief, but trumpeting a label?  Well, it’s uncomfortable.  This is not because I have any shyness or reserve in regards to what I believe.  What’s uncomfortable is how other people respond to you once they hear a label attached.  You see, everyone (me included) has preconceived notions and judgments attached to labels.  Once you hear that label, you automatically attach expectations to that person based on what your past knowledge and experience has accumulated in respects to that title.

For example:  You read essays by a historical writer about the Reagan presidency.  You have no knowledge of said writers beliefs, and therefore, you read the writings as history.

Say you found out that the writer was a democrat.  Suddenly, an innocuous statement like “The US invaded Granada, a nation so small that American troops had no trouble overthrowing the opposition within days” becomes charged with ‘big stick’ mentality and a not-so-hidden judgment upon US-foreign involvement.

Likewise, when I say I’m a Christian in Hollywood, depending on your background, you’re likely to attach numerous expectations and beliefs that may or may not align with anything I believe or profess.  You might think I shouldn’t be an actress.  You might think I would only do Christian films.  You might roll your eyes and discount me as an artist.  You might hear me drop an F-bomb in “The Last 5 Years” and question my belief.  You might see me wrestle with a director over a sex scene and question my craft.  I think you can see the thorns inherent in this discussion.

If I may, I’d like to take you on a journey of what it means to be a Christian in Hollywood, for me specifically, in my usual candor.  I’m sure there are plenty of others who have written on this with better understanding and experience than I, but it might be interesting to you to hear from my perspective.  Or not.  You know what?  Who cares what you think?  Go f#*! yourself.  This is my blog and I’ll write what I want.

See what I did there?  : )