Felicitations For July: Naked Ping-Pong

My husband just finished a movie called RUDDERLESS, filmed in Oklahoma City. I happened to have a small but lovely part in this movie, which proves the casting couch is alive and well in Hollywood, because I happen to be sleeping with the director.

But first let me say, happy summer. I am in love with the long days, the slow mornings and the seemingly endless evenings.

Now back to working with my husband, which turned out to be wonderful and sticky at the same time. Bill and I have acted together quite a few times, and he has even directed me in a play or two, so this project was not new territory. But it had a few new twists that worried me.

A sneak hug on set.
Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Felicitations for July: Naked Ping-Pong

I knew it was going to be tricky because making an independent film is always tough. It feels like playing a game of baseball, only your nine players have to share 3 mitts. There is not enough time or money. Everyone is exhausted, pulled tight, and maxed out. Crew members can get fed up and suddenly jump in their 1997 Hyundai and leave…for good. This means something wacky happens, like the gopher is suddenly promoted to costume designer. And then something wonderful happens, like the gopher is a fucking genius at it. Daily the film is snatched from the jaws of death and narrowly escapes being shut down. On one indie I did, a crew member got so drunk, he took off to Mexico in the middle of the night with the keys to the camera truck in his pocket. We had to use a tire iron to break into the truck and it cost us a day of shooting.

On an indie movie, losing a day of shooting is like a doctor losing an hour for surgery. There is time to get the appendix out, but not time to sew the patient up. Yet, on top of all this chaos and ridiculousness, filming an indie movie is one of the most exhilarating things I’ve known. On a great set, everyone is pulling together working for a common goal. It’s like camp for grown ups where you really want your team to win.

So, my husband was tense to say the least. We only had 2 or 3 takes to get it right and as “The Wife” I felt I couldn’t take up precious time with “actor” questions. But asking questions is what I do! I want to talk about it! I want to understand it! I call this being a diligent, assiduous actor. I suspect directors call this being a pain in the ass…and the director was my husband.

Me listening respectfully to the director.
Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Felicitations for July: Naked Ping-Pong

But here was the trickiest part of all, and it goes back to the very beginning. Should I do the movie at all? Because…the leading man was incredibly handsome, incredibly talented and younger than I am! What’s the problem, you ask? Well, I was ashamed of being older! I knew intellectually that what would really count was my acting ability and the chemistry between us. But that voice in my head that said I needed to look “good on his arm” was so loud it made me beg my husband NOT TO CAST ME! “No” I said, “I can’t do your movie! I will be ridiculed, your leading man will hate it and people will be grossed out!” I was operating under the assumption that female characters are more decorative than human and I wasn’t shiny enough.

Me listening not so respectfully to the director.
Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Felicitations for July: Naked Ping-Pong

The director crying “uncle.”
Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Felicitations for July: Naked Ping-Pong

And here’s the thing, I have always hated and cried bullshit on the Hollywood standard that Liam Neeson, Tom Cruise and Harrison Ford can age, but their love interests can’t! This is a problem because we place expiration dates on female actors and by extension female humans. I have always shouted that we need a revolution!*
*This idea is from Lindy West, who writes for Jezebel

Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Naked Ping-PongA friend of mine, after watching Lena Dunham in GIRLS play ping-pong topless, said it made her want to go out and start a revolution with her belly fat. “Yeah!” I said. “Let’s break the rules, who cares what ‘they’ think!”

But the minute I am put to the test—the minute it comes down to me to challenge the stereotype—I buckle. What’s stopping me is not pressures from without, but pressures from within—my internal barriers. In the words of Sheryl Sandberg, I need to “internalize the revolution.”

While writing this, I realized I have buckled many times before. I once turned down a romantic comedy because the “twist” was the guy was going to be 32 to my (then) 42. “Ugh, who’s going to want to see that!” I thought. But, eight years later, I am taking a lesson in courage and passion from Lena and Sheryl and will never throw myself under that bus again.

Well, I did the part in RUDDERLESS. Did it work? I don’t know, but it felt pretty darn good to work with such a great (young!) actor and such a wonderful director. Hopefully you will see the movie and you can decide for yourself.

My last night shooting. Love this director.
Felicity Huffman's What The Flicka? - Felicitations for July: Naked Ping-Pong

So happy summer to us all, may we be bold this July, internalize the revolution, and play some naked ping-pong of our own.