Today I have given up all my earthly possessions and joined a cult.
Or rather, I’m portraying a person who has on the original Hulu series, The Path, starring Aaron Paul and Hugh Dancy.
I don't think I could ever really join a cult for a colorful myriad of reasons. One that comes to mind first is having to give up my books. Not just the physical item with its nostalgic sourly sweet smell of old paper but the ideas represented in books. All different planes of thought from Ayn Rand to Clarissa Pinkola Estes to David Foster Wallace. Having to share a unified, unobjectionable, devout truth sounds terrifying. Kind of like organized religion.
And yet, when I try to imagine life without my iPhone, Seamless, Netflix, Facebook, Gmail, Instagram… it feels almost nice. I wonder what would happen if I rent out my apartment for a year and actually join a cult. Would they take me if I just showed up? What if they ask me for money to join? Couldn’t I just tell them I have nothing and that I was living on the corner of a dirty street or in my Mom’s basement and have no possessions? Would they ask me for a passport or a driver’s license? How do I apply?
On set today I'm at the location of “the compound.” It looks like it belongs to an actual cult if there was a cult of Jesus Christ- holding is in a church/barn with crosses everywhere and on campus there are a dozen tiny one room houses that have a log cabin-like exterior, the kind you’d imagine girl scouts having meetings in. I’m counting all the crucifixes that are hanging around me- one, two, three… Three big ones on the wall and a large Mother Mary/ Baby Jesus statue on top of a mantle. There’s a smaller Jesus figurine in the back and he’s wearing blue and white robes- the one where he holds his hands at his sides with arms out and palms up; relinquishing. There is no air conditioning in here which isn’t great but isn’t so terrible yet since it’s so early in the morning (I had to wake up at 4:30 am to get to work so if any of you think movies and TV are so glamorous, I can assure you they are not.) Come afternoon, the room will heat up and the sweating will increase too strongly for the provisional Walmart fans to calm. There are bees outside buzzing all over the place. I haven’t seen a bee yet this summer. It looks like even they can’t afford living in the city anymore and had to relocate to the suburbs. As BG waits outdoors in a slow moving line to get props, the bees dart around us, threatening and jealous of us city folk. Who will be(e) the first to get stung? Will it be a union actor? Will they have an allergic reaction? Will they get pissed? How will the PAs handle this?
A lot of life on set is shaped by the Production Assistants although not many are given the deserving credit. For BG, the PAs are some of the most important people with the power to create the overall mood and comfort (or discomfort) on each given day. PAs that shout, are aggressive, and don't give BG the benefit of the doubt or trust will never receive it in return. I've been on set with PAs and ADs that I remember working with from my PA days and it makes me sad when I see that they have become rude and uncaring towards the people they are in charge of.
The BG PA on this show is the opposite of that and is one of my favorite PAs. She's firm but thoughtful, authoritative without arrogance, calm but careful, and above all, she is kind. She sweats with us and makes sure we remember that she’s in the same boat. I think a lot of BG forget that doing BG is a really easy job compared to the other jobs on set and that BG PAs work just as hard, and often times much harder than we do. She’s wiping sweat off her own face, same as we are, and tells us to imagine a cool breeze like we are by the ocean. Though that sort of actualizing might not help some, it doesn’t hurt either. I personally appreciate attempting mind over matter type tricks. I do it all the time, how else would I get through some days?
As I'm taken from holding to set and placed on a blanket in yoga meditation position, Hugh Dancy is on a small stage rehearsing his speech in the scene. As he practices, I can't help but look at him. There is nothing more interesting to me as a director than watching actors in their process, and that's when it hits me.
I am in a cult.
Hugh Dancy is in a cult.
Everyone here is.
Cast and crew alike, we've all been working since before the sunrise and we will all likely still be working as the sun sets. We are a group of people, each assigned with a specific task from acting to camera operating to hairdressing to directing, and are all working together for a common goal. We have all sacrificed large parts of our personal lives to the film and television Gods and in many ways have trouble fitting into the "normal" world. Explaining my job to a date that works in an office five days a week and sleeps in on weekends has often led to them reacting with facial expressions that make me feel as if I'm explaining I live with a severe chronic illness.
I've given up a lot to be part of this world and I wouldn't know how to live without it. While I always wish I was doing more, getting better opportunities, and higher recognition, there are moment on set where it doesn't take mind over matter tricks to remind me of a simple fact:
I am extremely lucky.
I am extremely lucky just to be here, as small a part of this family that I am and as simple as my job is, I still belong here, I'm still necessary, still contributing.
So often do many of us with great ambitions have this amazing, statuesque, epic idea of who we want to be and what we want to do, that we worry about ever being able to make it a reality. And if it does become a reality as imaginable as our wildest dreams, it’ll be by magic or it’ll be because we worked so painstakingly hard that glorious amount of success and achievement feels somewhat owed to us.
This is what David Foster Wallace worried about- the folly of the American Dream; the materialistic importance of what kind of car you own or how many Prada purses are in your closet; the belief that if you achieve the things you have been led to believe will make you happy (X, Y, and Z; career, family, wealth) then you will definitely be happy.
As if the human heart is an algebraic equation.
In this wide world of plenty, it's not so hard to imagine why some people might want to join a cult. We are constantly told in more ways than one, more ways than we ever realize, that we should want MORE.
If you are always wanting more you will NEVER feel as if you have enough.
That's a sort of twisted kind of cult in itself. The cult of HAVING that espouses the belief that HAVING=HAPPINESS and that HAVING MORE=MORE HAPPINESS.
And what happens when you achieve X, Y, and Z and you're still unhappy? This is when you have to escape from this sort of living, this sort of thinking, in order to find your own way of being, working, feeling. Maybe sacrificing your personal possessions and joining a cult isn't the worst thing. It all depends on what we see as a sacrifice and what we are glad to give.
Whether I sleep less because I have to wake up at 4:30am to get to work or be on set until midnight, this is where I belong. There are so many things I'm dying to direct, write, create but I can't overlook the things that I have done, the opportunities I've been given, and the people I've formed my own kind of cult with.
There is no place else I'd rather be.
And if this is what it's like to be part of a cult, why would anyone ever want to escape?