This week’s news cycle was obsessed over the bizarre Best Picture Oscar mishap involving Moonlight and La La Land. This made me reflect on my own bizarre trek through La La Land. I’ll begin by telling y’all that 2006 was a tough wagon to pull. You see, I had a feature film project in deep development at New Line Cinema. I wrote a southern comedy that takes place in the world of competitive clogging…a world I grew up in and know like the back of my hand. I was so excited for this incredible Appalachian art form and the talented folks who do it so masterfully to be celebrated on the big screen. But then one day I got a call from my manager saying the studio had suddenly decided not to make the movie because the marketing department was concerned the movie was too niche…too southern. Do what??? Too southern? There’s no such thing.
Needless to say, I was heartbroken. And as my Granny Winnie used to say…you could have ridden to town on my lip. So I went home to my family in South Carolina to lick my wounds. While I was there, I stumbled upon a documentary film called, The Secret and watched it with Mama and nem. The Secret claimed that everything you want or need could be satisfied by the law of attraction. By believing in an outcome, repeatedly thinking about it, and maintaining positive emotional states, you could attract the desired outcome. But the catch was you had to be extremely specific in your thoughts, otherwise you might attract something similar to your desire but not precisely your desire. As the film ended and the credits rolled, Mama declared, “Lord have mercy, that’s a bunch of malarkey!” I agreed with her. But the truth is I was so depressed I secretly held out hope that I could reverse the destiny of my film project simply by refocusing my thoughts. A little positive thinking couldn’t hurt…could it? So I decided to laser focus my thoughts on the Oscars. If you’re gonna secretly dream it mide as well be a big ol’ dream…right?
Years passed and my nose got jacked out of joint from all the doors slammed in my face, but I never gave up trying to get that movie made and I never stopped daydreaming about the Oscars. In 2009, through a client at the Pilates studio where I was working, I got an audition to be the “Oscars Presenter”…the gal who hands out the Oscars. There were so many starving, young models wearing jeans, T-shirts and no makeup at this audition. I felt totally out of place and wanted to leave the audition because I had on full southern makeup, hot rolled hair and was wearing a black cocktail dress that revealed my weakness for fried chicken and bourbon. But because a friend had arranged the audition, I forced myself to stay…my Southern soul couldn’t bear to be rude. And then to my complete surprise…I booked the job. I had finally made it to the Oscars but I was giving them away…not receiving one. Now don’t that beat all? Clearly, I had not been “specific enough” in my secret positive thinking.
Despite my pitiful secret thinking method, it was an honor to present the Oscars. It was both a magical and nerve-racking night. The first time I walked on that stage my little bird ankles went so weak I felt like a newborn horse trying to maneuver in ginormous heels. I had a newfound appreciation for the endless amount of pageant walking lessons Mama and her friend, Rita Allison, gave me. At the end of the show, the stage managers were kind enough to ask me if I would like to work on the production the following year as a rehearsal actor. And so my journey with the Oscars continued.
For the past 8 years I have worked on the show as a “rehearsal actor.” What pray tell is that? Well I’ll tell ya, huns. Due to the fact that the Oscars is a live telecast, the production team must technically rehearse the show a gazillion times. So they hire a team of actors to play the celebrity presenters as well as the nominees during the all the rehearsals. So for years, I have found myself sashaying across the stage, reading teleprompter and giving away “fake” Oscars. And the most hilarious thing is I also play the nominees. And because the production team does not know who the actual winners are, we practice the scenario of each nominee winning. So over the years I have won many many “fake” Oscars and have given many many “fake” acceptance speeches. Obviously, my secret positive thinking technique is less skilled than a Yankee cooking grits.
And because I am on set as a rehearsal actor, I have had the fun but surreal experience of being thrown into the show as an “extra” in random little bits. One year they dressed me up and sat me in the audience among all the nominees so I could escort Jeff Bridges to the stage during the opening number. One year, I played a member of the paparazzi who was horrified that host, Neil Patrick Harris, was naked as a jaybird. And this year, I played an “Oscars guest” at the opening of Justin Timberlake’s number. All moments that keep me Oscars adjacent, yet far far away from an actual Oscar. Now ain’t that the berries! Of course I guess it’s better than winning the Oscar, making a speech and then moments later having it taken away from you. That was just plumb crazy. Bless all their hearts.
As I reflect on my own La La Land adventures, I realize that as usual…Mama was right. There is no Secret to achieving your goals. The recipe for success is simply hard work, perseverance, a graceful spirit, faith and prayer. I’m still working like a dawg trying to get that dadgum movie made. And no matter how far away I am from winning a real Oscar, I’m gonna keep on keeping on. Being raised in the South has taught me that even a blind squirrel gets a nut on occasion.
P.S. Click the link at the top of this post to view a video the Academy produced about what it’s like to be a “Stand In Actor” for the Oscars. It’s really interesting and you will see me in the video for one tiny moment…just like in the Oscars broadcast itself. LOL!