Monday, December 28, 2009

A special kind of ugly.

Before I did Twin Peaks, I filmed a Roger Corman movie in Lima, Peru. It was called Crime Zone, and it was a futuristic, post-apocalyptic action love story. The lead character's names were Bone [absurd, I know] and Helen. Which was my grandmothers name. I must admit that it was forgettable and remains so to this day. Even for me. I cannot remember what it was about or what drew me to it. Maybe I was just not getting the roles I wanted and this was post Two Moon Junction so anything was better than that. But the experience of shooting however,was very memorable and has a story to tell.

The only notable person in the film was David Carradine. He would be there for the shortest amount of time. In and out, filming his scenes as quick as possible. The first time they made me up in my Madonna look, short platinum blond hair, bustier and all, he simply looked at me and uttered from his perpetual drunken stupor ," Now that's gilding the lily."

I do remember that my character, Helen was strong. She was not taking shit from anyone. She was a whore of course, its Hollywood after all. And she got to dance which was a lot of fun. The production embraced me and my super short blond hair and in return, I embraced them. After a meeting with the Latino director, I was offered the role. But there would be a price to pay. There always was.

This was only my second trip to a third world country. It was difficult, and I was sick the entire time I was down there. It is impossible to avoid the water, try as you may. I have many memories of being hunched down in a ball holding my aching belly. The one sentence I learned which was essential to my trip there was,"Donde esta bano?" For those who don't know : this simply means where is the bathroom.

Then there was the director, who married as he was, still pursued me with a vengeance. It is a delicate line to walk with a Latino man, the director, in HIS country, me being maybe 21ish and trying to get through a difficult shoot. He was married to a really sweet and beautiful young woman. We even had a friendship of sorts. This, of course meant little to nothing in his eyes. She was a prize he had won and now he was on the hunt to conquer me . I am sure I was not the first he pursued, nor the last.

As is always the case, there was a few beautiful people working on the film. I refer to them as bright lights, angels there to help in whatever ways they could. One was my make up artist. I cannot remember her name but she was so kind, like a Momma or a Grandma. I will refer to her from now on as my angel. She had short blond hair like my own. But I was only a third of her age. I will never forget her. She would call me her,"Ninnita, poquitta, chicka- ditta." And demonstrate with her hands that I was a little, young one.... And I was.

She loved me and cared for me with language barrier fully in tact. We communicated with our eyes and our hands. We loved each other and felt oddly related. I can see her face in my mind's eye.... I could tell when she was inevitably having a bad day and would help however I could. And she did the same for me when things got tough on the set. But she was an older woman in an old school Latino man's world. So the help she could give was limited for her. But she helped in the best way possible, she comforted me and loved me and walked through everything I did like an angel at my side. Expressing and reflecting it all in her blue eyes.

Making this movie was guerrilla filmaking at its finest. So redunkulous. Trying to be futuristic, post apocalyptic with no money in Peru was hysterical at times and tragic at others. It was a comedy of errors.

As I continued to put the director off, he became more frustrated and resentful. One day he took me out to get an ice cream under the guise of talking about the film, then expressed his frustration to me. I was at the time madly in love with my first, Johnny. I was NOT on the market in any way. I had developed a friendship with one of the actors (I shall refer to him as M.S.) who was a "bad guy" in the film. Not the love interest. I went to him at times for advice around this situation. We had actually bonded and become friends, or so I thought.

One night in the bar that had become our home away from home, M.S. and i were hanging out. What with no tv and a front door to the hotel that was firmly bolted closed with a thick lead bar after 9 pm, this was the place to connect with others. It was a resturant/bar. The steak entrecote saved my ass the entire time we were there. It was a steak covered with about 40 cloves of garlic and I ate it with a vengenance hoping the garlic would kill all the parasites that seemed to be invading my body at an alarming pace.

In addition to the food and drink the bar offered some interesting entertainment. There was a nightly show that proved to be quite the spectacle to behold while it lasted. D.Carradine and his wife, Antoinette set up camp in the bar 24/7. They drank like fish and this was their aquarium. Antoinette, literally danced half dressed on the tables. Enough alcohol consumed it was always the same. The shoes would come off and it was on. Always encouraging all that would listen to join them in yet another round. Gilded lily or not, we were all invited. If they were sick during their stint in Lima it could only have been alcohol poison. Nothing else could live under those conditions I believe.

On one fateful night my hanging out with M.S turned into an argument. My intuition was rearing its head again and I with no tact was on it. He was obsessed with becoming a star. And I felt he might not make it. [Which, by the by, he did not] So as he went on and on, I said ...Well what if you don't become a star. What will you do? What else interests you? I will be, he demanded. But I kept pushing and it went on and on and on. Stalemate.

Even given this disagreement the evening did not end bad. We had built a friendship where we shared truth with one another. It was just a feeling that I had and I was trying to get him to look at other options. Few aspiring actors actually do make it. I was not trying to hurt him but get him to expand his vision, young as I was. He was a bit older than I, maybe in his early 30's. I can't be sure because he hid his age like most in Hollywood do. With the exception of moi. I am 44 and will be 45 on Feb 1.

By now, my rejection of the directors endless come-ons had made him angry. A deep, seething anger from a man that usually got what he wanted especially in his own country. But I was different. I'm Ammeerriikin!!! So he decided to write a new scene for the film. A scene where my friend M.S. basically attacks me. He had observed that M.S. and I had become close and was jealous of that as well.

The scene was awful and unnecessary. M.S. basically sticks his hand up my short skirt and then at a later point in the abuse tries to choke me. I immediately saw what the director was doing. I was young but not stupid. He wanted to see me hurt. He and his ego were transparent but only to me. I was playing Helen and she was tough so I put on my mask and went for it. I would not let him get to me.

M.S. saw this as a big opportunity for him. A big scene to show his stuff. He assumed that it was written because he was doing so well in his role that the producers wanted more of him in the film. His sad and desperate desire was misleading him again. Led astray as he was, he took advantage of his moment completely. The director was wise enough to have seen his desperate need to be a star and that combined with our budding friendship fueled with his crushed ego. He proceeded to exploit and blow apart whatever had been built in the past month. And now had a partner in crime.

The scene felt like a rape of sorts. As many have over the years. The director did take after take after take, enjoying my pain. Physical and emotional as it was. An actor must never hurt another actor. Here in fucking Lima, Peru [as I had grown fond of calling it] all of this unwritten etiquette was gone out the window. It was a surreal experience that I just kept willing myself to get through. I remember seeing my angel arguing with the director but not knowing why.... This actor, if you can call him that was desperate. He hurt me in a number of different ways that night on the set. In the name of a career that never would be.

When we finally finished the scene, I ran out of the nasty warehouse we were shooting in. I will never forget it. My angel tried to stop me with tears in her eyes..... I motioned that I needed some space. She hovered from afar, standing guard to the best of her abilities. I ran out of the building and as far as I could get. I have often bolted I realize and run as far and as fast as I can. As if I can escape the ugliness I am a part of.

Exhausted, I kind of squatted down in the weeds that were at least 2 feet tall. I cried and cried but then I looked at the blue black sky with the moon shining brightly. A peace fell over me. There was a defining silence, a loud hummmmm. I felt connected to God. I had survived, I thought. They can hurt me and my body but they cannot ever hurt or touch my soul. I will heal and just fly away like a bird. I will fly away....

I do not like to look in mirrors on the set. So when I got back to my room i was astonished as i went to take a shower and wash all the ugliness off of my body that I had bruises up and down my neck. This motherfucker had been bruising me. And he could not be doing the scene over and over and not SEE what he was doing to me. Now I understood more of what my angel had been speaking aggressively about to the director. I was livid. I called M.S. and told him what a pathetic schmuck he was. It was incredible to me what lengths one would go to for fame.

The rest of the shoot was not so connected emotionally. I showed up, professional as always and got out as quick as possible. M.S. had been revealed for who he really was. Just full of B.S. My beloved man, my first love eternally Johnny, showed up and we got engaged. He came immediately when I shared the hell I had been through. I flew away with my soul intact. I flew jut like I knew I could....

I had learned firsthand how ugly that kind of desperate need for fame was. I knew I did not have that inside of me. Nor would I ever. I was not sure at that point why I was acting or if I even wanted to keep doing it. That was a special kind of ugly. One that I never wanted to grow inside of me. And it never did.


  1. Sherilyn:

    Interesting thoughts regarding the idea of desperation and the things one will do to try and achieve a goal. There seems to be a fine line between ambition and desperation. The challenge is knowing the differences between the two. In the business you are relating to I can only imagine the grip desire for fame could have. The same kind of struggles occur in other business settings and is as ugly (maybe not as horrible as the experience you described). First hand knowledge of an undesirable trait seems like a good deterant; helps to know the delicate balance of the choices we make.

    Thank for sharing.

  2. "sometimes, when we lose we win"

  3. I just found your blog and had to read it out of admiration, I have to say that time has put things into its place because you've done a lot of interesting things in your whole career but this director has only made a bunch of crappy films.

    And you also gained something from this experience, it was nasty but it made you stronger too, whatever doesn't kill you just makes you stronger

    Lots of luck for the new year that is coming

  4. Whatever you do?
    Don't stop adding to this blog.

  5. Wow--great insight! Funny thing how those who you think are your friends and who will always have your back are the ones who disappoint you the most. It's those little glimmering stars way in the back that seem to help in unexpected ways.

    A comment on your RetroJunk piece... but first some backstory on me.... I'm an American living in Prague teaching English and I had to LOL when I read one of your quotes.

    Sherilyn: Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one. Those who cannot do, review. I take it with a grain of salt. Its all nonsense.

    Seriously, no joke, I had to laugh when I read the above quote. Why? I did a lesson today on the theme of 'opinions and beliefs' and various expressions/collocations associated with the topic. Not only did I teach the 'take something with a grain of salt' but also wise slice that is 'opinions are like assholes.' I'm not sure if I'd call it irony but perhaps we're like minded souls! Anyway, thanks for the laugh.

    ...and keep's great stuff!

  6. dear sherilyn-who-shines:

    the place that dreams - real dreams, not the i'm-going-to-be-a-star fantasies, but the ones that involve and overwhelm the ego - come from, also turns out also to be the place wherefrom comes our infusions of real strength, from beyond the ego. when that good source is abandoned, ugliness - and weakness - inevitably follow. thank you for another tale of your own blue-velveteen odyssey.


  7. Wow! It is sad to hear how honest you were about moviemaking. It's sad to hear your experiences. There are jerks out there and it is no fantasy. I had pretty bad experiences with females who can't deal with rejection as well. It is comforting to know that I am not alone.


  8. Sorry to hear about that crap director from your past. You have great strength and God sees us through sooo much. Take care.

    Blessings to you,

  9. Dear Ms Fenn

    I hope you don’t mind me contacting you on here but I have no other means with which to contact you. My partner and I have recently set up a website for Lesbians in North London - it is designed as a meeting place of culture for women and includes book, movie and cd reviews and also a celebrity of the month.

    I have been a huge fan of yours since Twin Peaks aired over here twenty years ago and love your films, especially your portrayal as Elizabeth Taylor which we watched again only the other weekend, so it was great to see you now have a blog.

    I know from reading your blogs your not big on the notion of Celebrity, but our page is more of an insight into the character of the celebrity all we ask is that you complete our version of the ‘Proust Questionnaire’ after which I would design a page for you and we could link this to your blog and any other sites you would like.

    I do so hope you would consider this, it would be a huge honour for us and also I know you have a big gay following here in the UK.

    Happy New Year! And we look forward to hearing from you.

    If you want to look at the website and check it’s nothing dodgy please do on -


    Lucy Hall

  10. Sherilyn, thank you for sharing this story. Again, your honesty is so beautiful. And you have some wonderful insights into the insane, hell-on-wheels world of filmmaking. The crazy shooting conditions, the close relationships that are formed (and often broken) between cast and crew members in such a short time period; many people outside of the industry have no idea of all the drama that goes on. Also, I love how you took this experience, which had some really awful, negative moments, and turned it around. You moved on from it, learned from your experience and didn't wallow in the negativity. It reminded me of a music video shoot I was in many years ago. A crazy, no budget, bring your own wardrobe, shoot in just one day with a student crew kind of thing. At the time, I thought it was the most awful experience I was ever a part of. But as I look back, I learned so many valuable things. I almost cherish it in a way because of all the knowledge I gained.
    I also wanted to ask you a question. When you had your initial meeting with the director, I'll call him "L.L.," was it at Corman's offices on San Vicente, near Brentwood? I'm just wondering because I drive by there once in a while, and I'm often reminded of Crime Zone. I heard that, supposedly, it's one of Corman's favorites out of the hundreds of Sci-Fi films he's produced. Isn't it ironic that he just won the lifetime achievement Oscar?

  11. Statistically speaking, there are nice guys out there. Unfortunately, the majority will always be "typically male"...including those in Hollywood (especially wannabe stars).
    I'm glad these types did not bog you down Sherilyn. I'm glad you went forth and conquered. For that matter, I'm glad I'm a fan of yours.
    Keep being who you are, and please keep blogging!

  12. Quite a powerful piece. I have to add my voice to those who urge Ms. Fenn to write a book and detail some of her experiences in the acting trade for the benefit and enlightenment of those who still pant after fame and ego-gratification in this brutally cruel field. It would serve as a warning to some, open some eyes for others, and offer guidance and wisdom to all.

  13. When I first stumbled onto your site, I was honestly expecting a lot of sugar, a spoonful of politics, and maybe a shout out to fans. Instead, I'm pleasantly surprised to see a lot of brutal honesty. Not tabloid fodder (everything is presented very tastefully), but a non-glossy portrayal of the crap actors go through while making their mark. I've always been a fan of your work but mostly for superficial reasons. Heck, isn't that the gist of all fan/star admiration, what with all contact filtered through Hollywood? But on this blog you've publicized a piece of yourself (unadulterated and free from any PR machine), and I can admire you now as a person as well. Looking forward to future posts.