Everyone’s dream has to start somewhere. Mine began in a public bus garage in downtown Chicago that had been turned into a movie sound stage. It was my first time I had ever been anywhere near a film set. I grew up on a farm about 100 miles west of the Windy City. I had big dreams of being an actress. I also had a big problem. I stuttered. Lucky for me, I didn’t have the good sense that God gave a goose. If I did, I would have kept my stuttering ass home on the farm. But, my gut told me I had to try to be an actress. For some strange reason it was like I was born with this inherent wisdom that it was better to try and fail, then to live the rest of my life with the regret of never having tried at all. So, there I was, a 20 year old stuttering farm girl on a soundstage.
It was my first day on a film set. I was acting in front of a movie camera for the first time in my life. I was living out my childhood dream. I had my own trailer and a professional stylist to do my hair and makeup. I even got my SAG card that day. I was acting and stuttering my way into what would be the best and worst day of my life all rolled into one.
The movie was a Warner Brothers flick called, “With Honors”, starring Joe Pesci, Patrick Demsey, and Brendan Fraser. My role was what is referred to as a ‘day player’ role, because I had two lines and only worked one day. I played Patrick Dempsey’s girlfriend. My scene was with Dempsey and Brendan Fraser. Not too bad for my first time out of the chute.
Two lines. I had two simple lines. I stuttered saying those two damn lines every other take. It was my first time in a movie, so I didn’t know my way around a film set to save my life. My cluelessness really frustrated the director. I felt like a karaoke singer trying to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House. If that wasn’t bad enough, that same morning I accidentally knocked over Joe Pesci with my padded push up bra. That, my friends, is a whole nother story. (You can read about that one on my blog page)
At some point that day, this silly goose got some good sense. I finally realized that I was just a simple, stupid, little hayseed. Who was I kidding? I had never seen an actress in a movie that stuttered. What the hell made me think I could do it? Gosh, is it possible to regret trying?
The day finally came to an end. I was ‘wrapped’. In the film industry that means, “You're finished. GO HOME”. So, home I went. With my ‘Garth Brooks’ backpack strapped over my shoulder, I slumped my way across the parking lot back to my little old Ford LTD.
“Please God,” I prayed, “If you will just get me back to my family’s farm safely, I promise that I will never ever try to be an actress again.”
Just before I reached my rusty old car, I heard a voice yelling, “Melinda. Melinda, wait!”
Oh, shit. Now what did I do?
“Melinda”, I heard once again.
Oh F-#@% !!! I stopped. My Garth Brooks backpack slid off my shoulder as I slowly turned around, feeling defeated, embarrassed, and ready to cry. I stared down at my shoes, like a child waiting to be scolded.
As I slowly looked up, I saw Brendan Fraser running towards me across the parking lot. What the hell does he want?
“Melinda”, he yelled again.
Oh shit. I stood there like a deer in headlights.
I watched as Brendan zig-zagged his way through the parked cars like a Heisman trophy winner. When he finally reached me, he was slightly out of breath and had a big smile on his face.
“You left without saying good-bye”, he said.
“I-i-i-i D-d-did?” I stammered. Didn’t think anyone would notice.
“Yeh.” He replied. “I just wanted to come out and say goodbye. It was fun working with you”.
There was a bit of an awkward pause and then Brendan said, “Well, hum… have a good life.” He shrugged his shoulders, chuckled, and said, “I gotta get back to set. Good bye!”
I waved and watched him make his way back across the parking lot to the sound stage.
Wow. Maybe I am not quite the idiot I thought I was. Or maybe I’m at least an idiot worth saying goodbye to? Or maybe I’m not an idiot at all. Maybe I am just a girl who is still learning the ropes. Oh no, now I want to be an actress again.
It’s funny how someone, who was a complete stranger to you the day before, can leave a positive influence on your life by performing one simple act of kindness.
Life went on. I became aware of other actors who also stutter like James Earl Jones, Emily Blunt, Marilyn Monroe, and Nicole Kidman. Anchorman, John Stossel, also stuttered.
I eventually overcame my stutter and kept on tryin’. I am grateful to report that I performed Shakespeare in Chicago. Then went to Hollywood and snagged some acting roles on TV shows and in movies. It wasn’t always easy, but I have no regrets.
To this day, whenever I feel like I’m not enough, or I don’t belong, or my stutter sneaks up on me and I start feeling like an idiot again, I simply remember that day when a movie star ran across a parking lot to say goodbye to a stuttering day player.
Thank you Brendan Fraser.
Clip from "With Honors"