Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The best laid plans of mice and men.

I have a confession.....when I got the script for "Of mice and men" I had never even read the book.  I am a high school drop out and when I did drop in between all my crazy teenage dramas, reading was not my strong suit. So all I knew was that this was written by a classic American writer John Steinbeck. And that the amazing John Malkovich would be starring in the lead role. With his dear friend Gary Sinise directing and starring in it as well. That they came out of the prestigious Steppenwolf theatre in Chicago.

Theatre....like a dirty word to me. I could barely act on film but in the theatre. Never. Too many people watching you at one time. I got nervous when there were too many people on the set. I am not a ham. That is not what has kept me acting all these years. It has been to look at all my stuff so I did not go crazy in my life. Hmmmmmm, I don't think it worked.

I remember sitting on my bed in my cool little house on Cynthia street in West Hollywood. It was post "Twin Peaks"," Ruby" and "Diary of a Hit man" that my dear teacher directed me in with Forrest Whitaker. I was now mother to not only my Persian cat, Chanel but a beautiful young Akita male named Yogi. Named because he was a great teacher of patience for me. He always made me feel so safe living alone as I did.

Upon closing the last page and reading poor, sweet Lenny's inevitable demise I cried and cried and cried. To me it was a real love story between two friends. Best friends. On the surface it looked as though Lenny needed George more than the other way around. But I felt differently. They both equally needed each other, took care of each other, were life partners until the last breath. I often wondered what would become of poor George with Lenny gone. I feel he was not long on the earth after that. That he'd never make old bones.

My hair was still in a Cruella DeVille mode. I has bleached only the hair line around my face for Ruby and wore a wig over the rest. This was to avoid having a lace front wig glued to my head as is the practice. And I liked this odd look anyway. Best of both worlds. But not for auditioning for most roles I came to find out.

When I went in to meet and audition for Gary I had to put a temporary color over the platinum blond. I think we still had to do more filming or re shoots or something. So it looked a little dodgy to me but I went with it. It was better than walking in looking like a calico cat for a piece of classic American literature.

It went well and I was asked to screen test for the role with John. It was between me and two other girls. One an unknown who knew the guys from Steppenwolf.......shit!!!! The other I do not remember who it was or if I even knew. I was told later that Diane Lane was asked to test but she would not. Her loss , I"m afraid. I would have done anything to be a part of such a beautifully written, heartfelt story with this amazing cast.

It has only happened two times in my 26 year career that the director made the call to me personally to say I had gotten the role and this time was the first. It came out of nowhere and at a painful time in my life. The man I had been dating a year left me for Julia Roberts....another blog for another time.  I answered my phone and was shocked to hear Gary's scratchy voice on the other end. He simply said,"Will you be in my movie?"I am sure he never heard the same after my screaming shrieks of delight.

And so it began...... I felt so proud. I felt accomplished. John Malkovich. My first love Johnny had turned me onto him. It was one of his favorite actors and for good reason. He was and is a wonderfully unforgettable actor. He was also quite kind and low key at the screen test.

We would be filming in the Santa Inez valley. I had not ever been there. It was the perfect location with  farm land for as far as the eye could see. The production had rented me a house. Me, my best friend from high school Susie and Yogi, my Akita set out for location to settle into farm life. With one old school local store where the guys would actually meet and throw horse shoes. A millions of stars in the sky every night, I could escape the pain of my life and express it in the pain of anothers.

It was idyllic. We ran around in summer dresses and boots. Otherwise your feet would get filthy as there were many dirt paths and roads. You could smell the green in the air. And a kind of sun stroked grass.The fine  granulars of dirt seemed to get everywhere. In your ears, eyes and hair. It was all oddly charming. It made my job so much easier with all my senses responding to all of this new input.

The creating of Curley's wife......

We played very subtle but specifically with her look. Each seen carefully thought out. The most vibrant we would see her is the very first time she appears on screen and meets Lenny and George. A dress with fuchsia-purple flowers on it. And even a strong colored lip to match. Her hair finger waved to match all the movie magazines that with her records were the only joy this abused young woman had known.

 It was kind of a psychological thing that I had worked and plotted out with my beloved teacher Roy London who was still alive at the time. Gary and the costume and hair dept embraced it whole heartedly. Nothing was arbitrary.  They could only see her outside at that point. Judging this book by its cover.  And she was a threat. Because not only was she pretty but she was also needy and open. Although the later was yet to be revealed.

In each following scene, she would become less and less outwardly made up and more and more inwardly opened and revealed. That is the real beauty anyway. All the way until her very last scene where she was in a white dress with little, tiny red dots all over it. Almost like the red cross. As undone and vulnerable as we have seen her. Just kind of coming apart.

Another deeply touching thing is that Gary decided that Daisy [as I named her because she was always just called Curley's wife] was going to be written another scene to deepen an understanding of her. This was not in the book. I was so flattered. Another point for the "sad angel." And later as the film was too long, the studio suggested this scene be cut as it was not in the original. But Gary refused to cut it and found other places to trim and leave what little we saw of Daisy in tact. My hero...

 It was a scene where after Lenny broke Curley's hand and he and George are talking outside, she comes over to them to talk and connect. To tell them that Curley had broken all her records. She is crying and then she thanks Lenny for hurting him. They reject her and she runs away..... Its heartbreaking. Well, it felt that way. I don't see my work. I just feel it.

My final scene with John was the most difficult. It was a very long scene, many pages. It was also so hot in the barn. I felt so raw doing it. And I was beating myself up wanting it to be so perfect. Wanting John's and Gary's approval. Maybe I wanted my own. I should've known that whatever I do I never feel it is good enough. Again, my training.

 "No artist is pleased.... there is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."
                                                   Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille

We shot all day. During my close up I will never forget the kindness of sweet John. I would be thinking, planning, stressing and he would tickle me and say relax, you know this. He was the type who would do the most magical takes, then walk over to his chair, sit down and read the paper. Or want to talk about the latest. He loved gossip. He was so much fun to work with.

This was the time of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings and we would gather at my house sometimes to watch the latest footage.  The ultimate gossip. John came over and would make his amazing bruschetta. My best friend would bring us amazing pasta sauce from our favorite restaurant in LA, Madeo. We'd sit around the best thing there was to watch on TV at that point. A sign of the reality TV craze to come. John would say again and again,"They fucked....you know they fucked!!!" It was our little groups general consensus.

My friend Susie was ever present but sort in the background. So John called her the ranch wife. He said years down the line he would hear a news story of how Susie pulled out a shotgun and blew many people away.  Funny for she is sweet and mild mannered and polite. But she will eternally be..... The ranch wife. We still laugh about this. So far, she has not lost it. But did, by her own admission come close a few times. Who hasn't???

The story would not be complete if I did not say that I was not completely proud of all of my actions while I was making this film. I would not hurt anyone to say why specifically. But if you happen to read this, I am deeply sorry for my at times young and selfish actions. I deeply apologize for that.  To the rest of you, none a yo business. I intended to be a good girl and tried....but the best laid plans....


  1. I love reading these stories. Never stop sharing.

    -A. <3

  2. I actually kind of feel bad for missing out on this film now. The interesting thing is that we were required to read Of Mice and Men in high school, but the school year was coming to a close, so they decided to let us watch the movie adaptation instead of reading the book.

    I was kind of upset that they were going to force us to watch the movie without giving us an opportunity to read the book first, especially since the teacher's assistant was telling me what a great book it was. I ended up deliberately sleeping through the film -- nothing personal ;) -- and read the book myself that night, then took the quiz on it the next day. I've re-read it a number of times since then and it has always been one of my favorites. Still haven't got around to your movie... but I think I might do that soon.

  3. Not to break away from the Of Mice and Men theme...but I have been writing recently regarding my time in Seattle in the early 90's and recalled how a great many of the guys had pictures of Audrey posted in their cubicles, and when others found it strange, they were accused of suffering from "Audrey Envy"

    One guy even offered to drive me out to the Salish Lodge to some spot where the character stood or sat so I could scrape grout off of the wall, or whatever.

    Which brought me on to this site.

    Great character. Great Look. Memorable times.

    Thanks for that!

    I'll certainly keep looking back at this site.

  4. I'm a huge Steinbeck fan, I must have been barely a teen when I first read Of Mice And Men. And I've always thought Gary Sinise's film captures the film perfectly, and your performance in it is your best. There's a seething energy in it that at first appears little more than flighty immaturity, then is delicately revealed as being something delicate and tragic. When I was casting for my first post-uni short film, I gave the actress my dvd of the film for her to watch your performance in it.

  5. I saw this film a few years before I met you. It was one of my favorite books in high school and one of few that's been well-translated to the screen. Thank you for sharing!

  6. I really appreciate your posts, especially the ones about your experiences acting on various projects that you have been a part of, and I have to admit that I have been surprised about how thoughtful you are about your craft and the decisions that go into your performances. To be honest, prior to reading this blog I thought you had natural talent and a unique look on the screen, but I had no idea how much you found self-expression through your roles.

    One suggestion would be for you to write more about your experiences on the projects that didn't turn out well for you and on the ones you did when you were an up and coming actress and feeling your way into your craft. I am curious to know how you dealt with being on movies that were riddled with plot holes,mostly bad acting, wooden dialogue and poor production values. How did you rise above it and still give your best effort, endeavor to be authentic?

  7. Another wonderful blog, Sherilyn. Great storytelling, & a little teaser at the end to keep us guessing! :)

    I _loved_ this film, and showed it to my ex-husband about 10 years ago. It's one of the few times I ever saw him cry. Thank you so much for being part of such a moving piece of art!

  8. For those of you asking for me to write a story about a less favorable film experience, here is one of my earlier posts that chronicled the making of "Crime Zone."


  9. Perfect! :-)

    I had seen this movie there is 4-5 month ago.
    I find you very natural, like you has been always on this farm, your character is strange in this manner but strange in a good way

    I would like to read from you about Rude Awakening, I like the tv show and I would like to re-watch it un DVDs! (no release planned :-( )
    I have in my memory a monologue of you in this tv show which is incredible...

    Love and light,


  10. S.F.,
    Your words mean a lot to me right now (dealing with drama in my life - as we all do). I'm glad working on this film was a positive experience for you. And I really admire you for apologizing for your actions. I know it's a cliche, but sometimes just saying sorry can take a major act of courage.

    Bises =)

  11. I bought the DVD of Mice and Men years ago because you were on it.I thought you were brilliant.To me,in that film, you emanate the same energy, beauty and talent of Vivien Leigh. Honestly!

  12. Been such a big fan of yours Sherilynn for years. How cool to read your profile and see some of our favorite Movies are the same: Being There, On Golden Pond, Agnes of God. Very cool.

    Love you from Twin Peaks, Two Moon Junction...everything! Was just watching a clip from Blue Velvet on Youtube of a song Ive not head in years, Mysteries of Love. Why doesnt Mark Cherry of Desperate Housewives cast you in some guest role as a therapist for Orson ( Kyle Mc ) And write in some funny inside stuff between you 2 from Twin Peaks Days ( havent we met before, etc, etc, ) lol.
    God your beautiful..and like I tell people to this day, Sherilynn Fenn has the most beautiful eyebrows in the World!

  13. Sherilyn - I notice you've removed yesterday's post. I really hope it wasn't because you received some kind of negative feedback to it.
    It was a courageous and honest post and had stuff in it that is relevant to a lot of people.

  14. One of my favourite pieces of work of yours. Obviously, some of the best material you've had to work with, but you were great, and really brought the character of "Daisy" to life (I had barely remembered her from reading the book at school). Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

  15. I remember the night I saw this film like it was yesterday (1992!). My Photography teacher (who I majorly crushed on) asked if I would volunteer to take pics at the Steinbeck Center reception & premiere of the film. Duh! I was all over that.
    What I remember most was that I COMPLETELY FORGOT that I was watching John M, as he was so lost inside Lennie, until like halfway through the film when I remembered, oh yeah, actors. It blew my mind. And the movie was absolute perfection, and as always, you were compelling and lovely.
    My epilogue was when weeks later, hot teacher came by the bookstore I worked at & had just than seen the film himself in a nearby theater & said that he thought of me whenever he saw you on screen. Which is absolutely ridiculous, as I look nothing like you, but Oh what a dreamy compliment from a teacher crush.
    Great memories.
    Love your stories.

  16. "No artist is pleased.... there is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction; a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others."
    Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille

    I'm going to get this made on a plaque for myself to look at every time one of the bastards gets me down!


  17. Fenntastik!!!

    "Of mice and men" become a great film thank You and John Malkovich!

  18. I am an English teacher in Houston, and just completed our "Mice and Men" unit. As a reward for reading the book, I showed the video version that Gary Sinise directed. Sherilyn, you really nailed the character of Curly's Wife. You managed to be very sympathetic, while maintaining a self-destructive sexual energy. My sophomores often remark that they have no sympathy for Curly's wife in the Steinbeck book, but seem to understand what I mean about her being driven mad by the ennui of her situation on the ranch AFTER seeing you in the film.