Last week I shared my harrowing Tale of Heigl and Woe, in which I spent more than three months (in late 2010) waiting for Katherine the Great (KtG) to read my script and decide whether or not she wanted it to be her next movie. The post not only called into question Ms. Heigl’s reading prowess, it also outlined her reputation around Hollywood as being something of a diva at the time.
As fate would have it, less than 12 hours after my story hit the Internet, KtG went on Howard Stern as part of an ongoing effort to rehabilitate her sullied reputation (and peddle her favorite brand of kitty litter):
In the interview, KtG called herself “an immature dumbass” for criticizing the very movie (Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up) that made her a movie star; she also acknowledged that it was one of many times that she’s put her foot in her mouth over the years. And while we can certainly debate the authenticity¹ and motive² behind the mea culpa, one thing’s for sure: it takes a healthy dose of humility and self-awareness for anyone [let alone a once (and future?) Hollywood A-lister] to admit to their shortcomings.
You know what else it takes? Time.
Someone³ once said that “comedy is tragedy plus time”, but can’t the same be said of perspective? I don’t know about you, but when I think about my life, there are really only two things that have ever allowed me to better understand myself: weathering adversity and the passage of time. It’s why – at the time – Katie Heigl passing on my script felt like a deathblow, but now — years later — I can see it as the best thing that ever happened to me. And let me be clear about this: it’s not the “best thing that ever happened to me” because I avoided having to work with a “difficult” personality; it has nothing to do with KtG — her part of this story (at least as far as I know) is over.
To fully comprehend the perspective I have now, first you’ll need to understand the fallout that came next. As I mentioned last time, KtG was just the first of many talented actresses that my script was sent to. This led to another six or seven months of waiting — a purgatory punctured only by the occasional stinging arrow of another “pass” — until, eventually, updates from the project’s producers dried up altogether and I had a dead project on my hands.
To make matters worse, I’d spent that same six-to-seven month period writing multiple (free) drafts of a different script for another famed Hollywood producer, who for the purposes of this story we’ll call Harry Blowsephson. Mr. Blowsephson rewarded my very hard (and very unpaid) work by doing
everything in his power to sell the project absolutely nothing, choosing instead to let the script rot like a forgotten banana.
As if my growing sense of professional impotence wasn’t enough, my personal life had become decidedly boner-less⁴ as well. My girlfriend and I hadn’t had sex in months, which was particularly galling given that we lived together and were sleeping in the same bed every night. (Of course, I probably don’t have to tell you that our lack of physical connection was symptomatic of a much larger emotional disconnect.) And by the end of that summer, my relationship was yet another “project” that I’d devoted over a year of my life to that hadn’t worked out.
With the breakup still just minutes old (and tears streaming down my face), I packed a bag, got in my car, and started driving. There was no plan. No exit strategy. All I knew was that I needed to get as far away from our apartment and the vortex of Hollywood as I could.
Five hours later, I washed up at my cousin’s house⁵ back home in the Bay Area, ostensibly to spend a couple of days clearing my head before I returned to LA. But something strange happened when I woke up the next morning: instead of sadness or despair, I felt… Relief. And it wasn’t just because I found myself in familiar surroundings. Honestly, it felt like I’d just dodged a fucking bullet:
Sure, it had taken months of nonstop rejection, a heart-wrenching breakup, and 400 miles of cry-driving, but now that I’d hit bottom, I was finally starting to see the Southern California swimming pool for what it was: a mirage. The life I’d constructed over the last year – my relationship, my work, and most importantly, my sense of self — reflected a man I barely recognized. Which isn’t to say that I’d turned into some douche bag stereotype, or that my (now ex) girlfriend was a bad person, or that the scripts I’d written were vapid Hollywood trash – not at all. But what I had done – albeit unknowingly – was make choices that slowly but surely reinforced the life that I thought I was supposed to have rather than a life that honored who I actually am.
Now, obviously this epiphany didn’t come to me fully-formed when I woke up that morning. But that unexpected sense of relief I felt was the catalyst — the itch that I’d spend the next few years scratching (through countless hours of soul-searching, therapy, and self-reflection), as I slowly came back into relationship with myself and began to figure out what I really wanted. The kind of writer I wanted to be. The kind of relationship I wanted to be in. The kind of life I wanted to lead.
Look, I’d be lying if I said that – even now – there isn’t a small part of me that still wonders what my life might look like if Katie Heigl had said “yes”. But if the perspective I’ve gained in the five years since she said “no” has taught me anything it’s this:
I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.