One morning in 2010, while filming the movie ‚ÄúBridesmaids,‚ÄĚ I went into my trailer and saw that our wardrobe department had laid out my dress, my earrings, my headband, my shoes, and‚ÄĒlast but not least‚ÄĒmy underpants. On top of the underpants was a pretty pink card that read ‚ÄúEllie Undergarment.‚ÄĚ It had come to this. I was a thirty-year-old woman, having her underpants laid out for her as part of her job. One of my former classmates was writing speeches for Obama; one of his former classmates needed help dressing herself.
I like to think that I am tough and resourceful. So, when I stopped to contemplate the fact that the most challenging part of my workday might be to pretend that I had bumped my knee on a coffee table, I had to ask myself, ‚ÄúAm I not as brave and self-sufficient as my mother says I am?‚ÄĚ The glance between my hairdresser and my pedicurist confirmed my suspicion. O.K., yes, as an actor, I could be sensitive. But did my co-workers think I was a full-on wuss?
My alarm only grew as I learned that the highest achievement in my profession was getting to work on time. If you ask any crew member on any set what it was like to work with some legendary actor, punctuality is invariably one of the first things they will bring up. There is little mention of craft, or skill, or excellence at faking a British accent. No, it‚Äôs usually, ‚ÄúPacino? Always on time. Shows up to work five minutes early, even.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúStreep? You‚Äôd better believe that broad is never late.‚ÄĚ I once heaped praise on my three-year-old nephew when he came upstairs from the basement the moment I called for him. Even then, I remember noting that this encouragement probably would have been more appropriate for a dog. That is the standard of excellence I am expected to meet every day.
Mike Nichols used to say that he‚Äôd decided to make the shift from acting to directing because being an actor enabled him to behave like a baby. I know that this man went on to earn the kind of respect that most artists only dream of. In spite of that, I will now set forth all the ways in which Mike Nichols is wrong, and in which I am much, much tougher than any baby:
I can run a mile in under ten minutes.
I can run, period!
I can also walk!
If I don‚Äôt like something that someone makes me for dinner, I smile
and I swallow it. In other words, I don‚Äôt spit it out like a baby.
If it‚Äôs getting late but I‚Äôm not in my bed yet, I stay awake.
Falling asleep in public is really rude. Staying awake when you are
sleepy is really hard. Put the two together, and you might say that
I‚Äôm polite and I also do really hard things and don‚Äôt cry about them.
I don‚Äôt squirm around and act like it‚Äôs such an enormous burden to
be flying across the country on an airplane. Listen up, babies: it is
a gigantic privilege to be able to fly anywhere. Not only have lots
of people never even been on an airplane, but it is nothing short of
magical that we, human beings who have arms and not wings, can get up
in the sky in the first place. Of course, I‚Äôd be lying if I said it
didn‚Äôt get pretty uncomfortable being stuck up there for six hours at
a time. Guess what? It is uncomfortable. Guess what again? I do it
If there is something crazy in my stool, I don‚Äôt make a big fuss
By now, it should be clear to anyone that not only am I tough but I am also great at making lists. Still, I must remain steadfast in my resolve to behave like a capable adult. I have to frequently remind myself that I‚Äôm just one tantrum away from being known as a giant baby.
And here‚Äôs the problem: sometimes situations arise on a set that would challenge any capable adult‚Äôs maturity. Several years ago, I was filming a pilot called ‚ÄúBrenda Forever‚ÄĚ in Newport Beach. I exited my trailer and fell over a speed bump. ‚ÄúNo!‚ÄĚ I cried. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve fallen!‚ÄĚ Kay, our intern, ran over to help me. ‚ÄúYou know, someone should really mark that,‚ÄĚ I said, dusting gravel off my skirt. ‚ÄúThere are older people on this set.‚ÄĚ I looked closely at Kay. ‚ÄúNot everyone is as young as you and I are.‚ÄĚ Kay was a high-school senior and I was thirty-three. She nodded‚ÄĒwas that a smile she was trying to hide?‚ÄĒand finished brushing off my jacket. Then we both looked down at the speed bump and saw that it was, in fact, already painted neon yellow, while the rest of the parking lot was painted black. Also, there were two of those green plastic men on it, the ones that say ‚ÄúSlow!‚ÄĚ and are used to mark obstacles.
Two years later, we were in the middle of filming Season 2 of ‚ÄúUnbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.‚ÄĚ It was a cold morning, before dawn. I walked into my dressing room to change into my costume for the day and saw that there was no thong for me to wear under my skintight hot-pink pants. I knew that the only other underpants I had were my own Hanes Her Way comfort briefs, so I panicked. I ran into the hallway and asked if anyone had seen our set costumer, Ali. I was told that Ali was getting breakfast but would be back any minute.
‚ÄúIs there an emergency?‚ÄĚ our production assistant asked. I hesitated. Was this technically an emergency? I closed my eyes and gravely announced, ‚ÄúYes. There is an emergency.‚ÄĚ When Ali returned, I relayed the bad news. ‚ÄúI don‚Äôt have a thong,‚ÄĚ I said softly. ‚ÄúI need to wear a thong underneath my jeggings so there won‚Äôt be any underwear seams showing, but my thong¬†.¬†.¬†. isn‚Äôt here.‚ÄĚ Ali looked at me curiously‚ÄĒwas that a laugh she was trying to suppress?‚ÄĒand told me that she would grab a thong from the wardrobe truck. I remember thinking, I know this might seem funny to you, Ali, but I am the one with the wrong underpants. Ali found a thong for me to wear, and Earth continued its revolution around the sun.¬†‚ô¶