“What’s your name, honey?” someone yells.
“Over the shoulder. Smile!!!!!“
My retinas are burnt—I hope not permanently—but I can make out a wall of people, mainly men, screaming at me from behind the aggressive flashing of their bulbs. I know I’m not supposed to blink or smile too hard, but I can’t keep the face I rehearsed in the mirror in place. In fact, I think I’ve developed a facial twitch. My hands seem to have traveled up to my hips, where they are clutching tightly at my body in a vain search for some kind of eject button. I am confident I have the lip outline of the mother of the groom and my tit tape is threatening early retirement. I pray my sudden paralysis will read as composure. Then, suddenly, the conveyor belt moves and I’m chucked out the end, where a beautiful girl in blue hands me a Fiji water. I detect an ounce of pity on her face as she scratches in between her teeth, urgently suggesting I do the same.
When I decided to become an actor, I didn’t know I was going to have to “do carpets.” (“She’ll go. She’ll do the carpet.”) My concerns were much more immediate. Would I find work? Would I be able to pay my rent? Would I ever meet Dianne Wiest?
I went to drama school in London, where we rolled around like animals, found our inner clowns, laughed and cried into actual walls, climbed over imaginary ones, and played characters 40 years older than us in accents we simply couldn’t do. The humiliation was bottomless. I have a degree in it. But no amount of roaming on all fours and no cacophony of faux Liverpudlian accents could have prepared me for the specific experience of the red carpet. Actually, they are rarely red these days. They come in an array of colors: blue, green, taupe…shame.
This past awards season was my first. There were many surprises. (Failed tit tape was sadly not one of them.) There were the protestors with signs telling me to burn in hell, the vehicle bomb checks carried out by men with large machine guns, and the port-a-loos! (Big awards season takeaway is that if you tell actors there’s a trophy, we will queue in a parking lot and pee in a port-a-loo. Is Nicole Kidman really using the port-a-loo?) I don’t know what I was expecting when it came to the actual carpets, but the scale and volume of them were dizzying.
I felt vulnerable, anxious, and totally exposed. I resented the expectation of women to show up looking perfect after hours of preparation, while the men could simply throw on a suit. (An imbalance not unique to my profession, but the carpet acts like an exaggerated microcosm of the scrutiny women face on a daily basis.) Not to mention the sadomasochistic next day google of cruel captions about a dress I can’t actually afford in real life.
I am one of the luckiest people alive to be able to pay my rent from a job I actually love doing, so if walking down a burnt orange rug in shoes designed by Beelzebub is the worst of it, I can’t complain. Nonetheless, the anxiety is real and I had to find a way to navigate—even enjoy—the whole circus. At one particularly intimidating event (after my eyesight returned and the shot of tequila I drank en route set in), I realized that the only way forward was to embrace the chaos and tie it to my real job as an actor: telling stories. So I started coming up with characters to match the evening’s attire. Now I let whoever I am playing that night “do” the carpet for me.
Below, a few of the women who got me through.