On Friday the 29 September 2019 at exactly 16:45, as I was lying on my bed making a to-do list on my phone, an email pings through from my agent. The notification slides down from the top of the screen and the bold subject line screams into the quiet: TERMINATION OF CONTRACT! My mind registers this quickly and then freezes. It must look like calm, but my stomach is flipping over and over – falling into a chasm whose end I cannot see. The notification slides up and away. My hand is suspended over the note-taking app. The words blur as I fall. But I do not move. I hold my breath.
Suspension passes quickly. My fingers scramble into action pulling and twisting at the reeds on the side of the cliff to help break my fall. I need information: information to confirm or dispel what I have just seen. Press, click, swipe press, wait, loading, focus, breathe, wait, breathe waaaait, load. I suck in my breath as words from the ether, from mythical neverland London, form in front of my eyes hundreds of miles away, making sentences that should contain sense but, for a second, do not.
TERMINATION OF CONTRACT, is all I can think. The first line travels from the screen through my sluggishly petrified brain firing synapses into a growing explosion of pain in my solar plexus: “I am so sorry to have to tell you…” then don’t just don’t…”that I believe it is time for you to move on and get a fresh perspective on your career from elsewhere…” And then I know what I don’t want to know. I am being let go. Again. And the pain fires and misfires, tumbles and flips by like the other words in the email. They become pointless syphers indicating everything and nothing. Blah blah your talent I hold in the greatest of esteem…blah blah…two months legal obligation…blah blah…please do feel free to call.
The only freedom I have, in this falling rib-cage, is despair. It comes quickly and harshly, dragging violent fingers at my throat. Despair is no air passing over my still tongue. I have to force myself to unclasp this knot and breathe. But I still cannot move. I wait and watch as the tenuous hope inside me dies just that little bit more.
It’s been dying for years. The only thing that has changed is that I am in my forties and losing hope. Hope’s been siphoned off by years of experiences in the UK. Six months ago, it was a rejection from an audition that I absolutely smashed; today it’s words on a computer screen; last year it was another agent that promised me the world and delivered exactly zero.
I have to now sit, bereft of the one thing I have wanted most: an acting career.
For fifteen minutes, until 5pm exactly, I barely move. A ball of weight growing in my chest, unsettling me. It finally shakes me from inertia, so I get up and slowly make my way downstairs.
My partner sits in the armchair watching an episode of The Office. I ask them if they will switch it off, I need to speak. They pause the programme, just as Steve Carrol looks sheepishly over his shoulder directly into camera, directly into the living room where I am standing with my phone in my hand and a vice grip of pain in my chest.
My partner looks at me and stays very still knowing something is wrong. I finally manage to speak and say the words that will make it more real by sharing, “My agent has dropped me.”
They say nothing but calmly switch off the TV, stand and come towards me, their arms open. I fall into my partner’s hug. I at last begin to breakdown. Because saying those words makes them real. It’s been shared. And here I am again, in my partner’s arms, crying because of another harsh rejection; another brutal ending; another cull of hope.
Day after day this is how an actor’s life happens. And day after day it’s a rollercoaster ride – an overused metaphor, I know. You strap yourself in and the moment that the carriage jerks away from the station you relinquish control to the ride. The ride has all the power. And if you don’t like the heights of that endless rise you certainly are not going to like that fall you are staring into. And it’s just fucking tough and there is fuck all you can do about it.
So here I am, strapped in and falling.
I speak, scream, cry and blaze with rage and they listen. My partner says nothing because they have been on the ride with me for five years. Five long years they have been by my side. They are as strapped in as me. The problem is…it isn’t their ride. I see the tiredness in my partner’s eyes. And it scares me.
I look into an insecure future, again. As do all those closest to me. I see all I have sacrificed and all I have worked towards disappearing and today, being dropped by my agent, I am exhausted. Today, I have nothing to give to the struggle of being an actor. Do you understand what I mean?
Exhaustion. Bone weary.
This happens all the time to actors that it has become commonplace. My overly dramatic reaction came towards the end of a difficult personal year for me. And once my emotional reaction wore off I began to see that something was very very wrong with this termination. It made no sense and I was determined to find out why.