The actors in James Franco’s brilliant debut novel include a McDonald’s drive-thru operator who spends his shift trying on accents; an ex-child star recalling a massive beachside bacchanal; hospital volunteers and Midwestern transplants; a vampire flick starlet who discovers a cryptic book written by a famous actor gone AWOL; and the ghost of River Phoenix. Then there’s Franco himself, who prowls backstage, peering out between the lines—before taking the stage with fascinating meditations on his art, along with nightmarish tales of excess. “Hollywood has always been a private club,” he writes. “I open the gates. I say welcome. I say, Look inside.”
Told in a dizzying array of styles—from lyric essays and disarming testimonials to hilariously rambling text messages and ghostly footnotes—and loosely modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, Actors Anonymous is an intense, wild ride into the dark heart of celebrity.
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JAMES FRANCO is the talented, ubiquitous, popular, and provocative actor, director, author, and visual artist. His first book, the story collection Palo Alto, was published in 2010.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :
We of Actors Anonymous are more than fifty men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body.
In this volume, we relate our experiences in dealing with existence, modern society, and identity, in order to find suitable ways of acting and being in the world.
Sometimes it is painful to be oneself; at other times it seems impossible to escape oneself. The actor’s life has provided escape for many that find their lives too dull, painful, and insular. But the actor–escape artist can go too far as well.
If one puts on too many different personas or goes too far into character, one is liable to lose oneself. Some have believed that this loss is a positive, and perhaps it is for those that enjoy a rootless swirl of personality in the void, but others, like those who have come to comprise Actors Anonymous, believe that there is a balance to be struck between life and art, between self-creation and the veridic self.
We have put down our experiences in these pages in order to guide others—professional actors, amateurs, and nonactors alike—to a way of life that both defies psychological determinism on the one hand, and freewheeling insanity on the other.
We are people who work in the world as professionals, whether we make our money from acting or not, and it is important for us to maintain our anonymity. There are centuries of prejudice piled on the actor and thus it is important that no one of us is thrust into the spotlight. (God knows that some of us get enough of the spotlight as it is.) So much money is made off the aggrandizement and defamation of actors already that we ask the press, especially the tabloid press, to hold their pens, video cameras, paparazzi flash blasts, and blogs, and respect our organization’s anonymity.
This is a serious text that is intended for actors: “actors” in the most essential sense, not necessarily actors of stage and screen, but actors in the sound and fury of life. Anyone who wants this message is encouraged to glean what she will.
We are not an exclusive club; the only requirement for membership is a desire to change oneself, to be able to act decently in a controlled manner. Everyone can act, but not everyone can act well, and not everyone knows how he actually presents himself to others.
We have no spokesperson, and there is no hierarchy. We have no dues or fees, and we are open to all regardless of race, religion, nationality, or acting style.
We do not oppose anyone—even those actors trained by I_____ C______ or L_____ M____ or any of the other charlatan acting teachers sucking actor blood in dark classrooms across the Los Angeles sprawl.
Our simple desire is to help. Not to train, but to save individuals from training, whether that training was given in a classroom, by a parent, or by what can only be called contemporary life. We of Actors Anonymous subscribe to the following twelve steps and twelve traditions, not because they were handed down from on high by a bully studio, nor from a dictatorial director; we have no concern for deskbound screenwriters proclaiming Napoleonic ambitions of control, and we are certainly not adherents of the steps and traditions because we are beholden to the hordes of critics, both high and low, who proclaim to know something of which they write and speak but hardly do, these sideline vipers who sting and snare and then duck into their holes when the real animals of acting turn on them in anger.
We salute and live by these principles because they were generated by the blood experience of those who have lived through the profession, its trials both on and offscreen, on and offstage, for surely the pitfalls of everyday life are increased in proportion to the heights one reaches in the realms of performance. One cannot live solely in the airy realms of the imagination.
Let these steps and traditions guide you to a balanced life of creativity and truth in a world of surfaces and untruths, through realms of materialism and jealousy, past the vortices of public humiliation, and the private, tooth-ringed maws of self-doubt. We are here for you. Let us love you and guide you.
We speak of what we do.
The Actor’s Opinion
We of Actors Anonymous believe that the reader will be interested in a professional opinion regarding our situation. There are so many hucksters in the world of performance training that it is important to receive some corroboration from a professional with experience on all levels of the acting strata.
To Whom It May Concern: I have been a professional actor since I was eighteen. I trained for eight years, and I have been working as a professional actor for fourteen years. I have met many actors from all over the world. It is hard to find a common denominator, but there are many similarities in most of the actors I meet. There is usually an ingredient of self-hatred that underlies actors. This hatred manifests in different ways; sometimes it is so buried that it is virtually unnoticeable, but don’t be fooled, it’s there. Anyone that is driven to play dress-up for a living is trying to hide something either from himself or from others. Or the self-hatred may be manifested in the drive for success and fame, the algorithm being: “If many people love me, then I must be important.” This can be written a different way: “I hate myself, but I am going to transform myself into something charismatic so that everyone loves me, and if people love me, then I won’t hate myself anymore.”
Most actors are doomed, because the self-hatred never goes away—even for the few that achieve the kind of success that is recognizable by the greater population. I speak about fame. Roughly one tenth of SAG is made up of actors able to support themselves by their acting alone, and only 2 percent approach what might be called famous. So even for those fortunate few, the demons of self-doubt inevitably whisper songs of unworthiness, or else the subject is so insulated in fantasies of grandeur that he lives a life of hermetic madness: He might function in the world, but his eyes see hardly beyond his own pumpkin head. Nothing lasts, not even the films themselves: Look at Edwin S. Porter’s Jack and the Beanstalk, Life of an American Fireman, and The Great Train Robbery and George Cukor’s A Star Is Born—works of art, ripped and deformed. This speaks of the destruction of film classics, the ostensibly most durable vehicle and storage facility for actors’ souls, nonchalantly defaced—and these are the respected films of their day, goodness forbid the contemplation of the fates of the lesser known films, ships of fool actor souls adrift and lost in the tides of eternity. So, the actor is someone with the need for immortality who will never find it, often a locus of intensely driven ambition that can only flare out or burn up in a quick bright moment. This situation has left generations of actors broken on either side of the divide of success, and until now there has been little consolation outside of SAG-funded actors’ homes for the elderly.
I can honestly say that until this volume I thought actors were fucked, but here hope has miraculously touched down on earth, one hundred years after the advent of the moving picture, six hundred years since Everyman and the religious morality plays, four hundred years since Shakespeare played Hamlet’s father’s ghost, and thousands upon thousands of years since the Lascaux population did ritualized dances for campfire roasted venison. Here is a collection of experiences that can give the actor not a way to act better, but a way to live better. For so long actors have carried the conscience of the world across screen and stage and in their personal lives, but they have received little consideration for their pain. They are considered arrogant and self-centered by their fellows, at the same time that they are being applauded for their brave explorations of the darkest places of human experience. Now, with the advent of computer-generated images, actors glance timidly at the future in which their luminosity will be dimmed to the dullness of the poet, novelist, and painter. But all is not lost; there are others who understand, and that understanding in conjunction with a spiritual connection is already guiding dozens if not hundreds out of the wasteland of Hollywood into Elysian Fields.
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