I began professionally acting in 1986. I was 11. Layered fluorescent thermal tops were all the rage, lip gloss was the only make-up most girls were allowed to wear, and high top Reeboks, Swatch watches, and Cabbage Patch Kids were all you needed to be considered cool. (Though I owned all of those and still wasn’t cool, but that’s not my point.)
Despite the fact that women are still presented as eye candy, can never be too thin, and spit-takes are still awesome, the entertainment industry has changed a lot since 1986. I have the unique perspective of someone who lived through it then (crazy amazing grateful opportunity) and get to experience it again now (ditto times 1,000). So what has changed from my perspective?
1) Mama Mia. As a child actor, a legal guardian (in my case, my mother) was required by law to be with me for all of my working hours. Where many child actors become legally “emancipated” around age 14 and came to sets alone or with a cool young “assistant,” my mother and father would have none of that. They stuck with me like… well, like stage parents to a child actor. Now that I am an adult actor, I go to work alone. I sing as loud as I want to in the car. I don’t have to wait for anyone else to pee or finish chatting with Joey Lawrence’s mom before we go home. Sure, it was important for me to have my mom on set with me when I was younger, but it’s nice to be a grown up and get to experience the industry as one.
2) Get Crafty. On sitcom sets in the 80s and 90s, snacks and such were provided throughout the day by the props department. This “craft service” usually consisted of a few open jars of candy, pretzels, gum, and maybe some salted peanuts if you were lucky. In the 21st century, there is an entire job devoted to craft service. This lucky man or woman masterfully prepares and supplies catered food throughout the day for the cast, staff, and crew. Warner Brothers provides full lunches which, when vegan-friendly, are really yummy. There is an omelet bar every Thursday (I don’t eat eggs, but I steal avocados, tomatoes, and cilantro and make my own breakfast salad), an oyster bar and shrimp cocktail mountain some tape nights (I don’t eat shellfish, but it’s still something to marvel at!), and the food is really a huge step up from M & Ms and Juicy Fruit. It may sound silly, but it makes a huge difference when you know you can eat regular food all day, even though the diet of many people in Los Angeles on any given day is, indeed, M & Ms and Juicy Fruit.
3) Collation Revolution. Sitcoms like ours get small to moderate “rewrites” every day from the first day of rehearsal up until we film the show almost a week later. When I was acting in my childhood, only the script pages that had lines that had been modified would be delivered to my dressing room door each morning, and it was my responsibility to “collate” my script, inserting the new pages (which were printed a different color every day so as to tell them apart) amidst the original script. This was often time-consuming, since out of 52 or so pages, sometimes more than half had to be replaced, but not necessarily consecutively, but I figured that’s why we got paid such ridiculous amounts of money, right!? I guess not, because in this day and age (recycling fanatics prepare yourselves…) we actors receive a fully collated script every day! I kind of miss the fun challenge of inserting all of those pages, but this collation revolution also adds to me feeling like a very fancy busy actor, so I guess I’m okay with it. And for the record, NO ONE made as much money in the 1980s and 1990s as sitcom stars make today. NO ONE.
4) All Access All the Time. The internet did not exist as an in-your-pocket (or even in everyone’s home) thing when Blossom ended in 1994; I got my first email account that very fall when I enrolled at UCLA. These days, every actor, writer, producer, and crew member has a fancy cell phone/computer at their fingertips. We watch videos from the internet on set on breaks (one of our actors showed The Maccabeat’s “Candlelight” on a break last winter!) and several of our actors check Facebook, Tweet, or email and text in between scenes. I can’t put my finger (or thumb!) on exactly how this makes show business life different, but there is something about–and I am guilty of this, too–all of us not entirely being present when we are constantly plugged into the global internet universe all of the time. I don’t think there is any “going back” and I can’t say that there should be; it’s simply an observation.
5) Publicity, Press, and Primping. I have written extensively for Kveller about the demands made on actresses to always look fantastic, skinny, and Hollywood’s definition of “desirable” for events like premieres, the Emmys, Perez Hilton parties, red carpet events of Kate Hudson movies and such. In my Blossom days, teenagers were not as included in “adult” publicity and socializing as they are now, so I rarely went to red carpet events. Publicity itself was not that big a deal, largely because the internet did not exist, and it now can truly make or break a career. Actors are expected to spend thousands of dollars on stylists, hair and make-up, and limousines for each publicity event, and the expectations and pressure are enormous for introverted adults; I can’t imagine what it must be like now for teenagers and young people.
6) Cover-Up. Dude, the amount of cover up my make-up lady uses on
The Big Bang Theory
to make me look presentable is about equal to the amount of cover-up needed to cover up everyone’s under-eye area on Blossom for a full 5 years. It’s pitiful. I am old and it shows without that cover-up! Don’t be deceived by the pretty images on the flashing screen: we are real people under all of that make-up!
7) I’m a Celebrity, You’re a Celebrity. With the mixing of movie stars and TV stars, internet stars and reality stars, the show business world feels kind of intimate and it’s kind of bizarre and neat. I get the hello “nod” from celebrities I have never met before, and I find myself nodding back. Zachary Levi knows my name. On Conan O’Brien, Jennifer Aniston mentioned that she and I worked together in the 90s. Bette Midler recorded a “I’m so proud of you sweetie” message for me on a popular LA morning show we were both on. Demi Moore and I met at Chuck Lorre’s house outside the bathroom and giggled “hello” to each other. The Yeshiva University Maccabeats found out I am a huge fan of theirs last winter and I am now Observant Celebrity BFFs with a few of them. For someone who was a very simple and plain 11-year-old and then went on to be recognized all the time within two years, becoming a “celebrity” was freaky and overwhelming. At this stage of life, celebrities may not all know each other but you can easily get help trying to know pretty much anyone you want to try knowing.
And no, I have not yet contacted Clive Owen to tell him I would like to be his mistress. Let’s let my boys get at least past their Bar Mitzvahs before we open that can o’ celebrity worms, shall we?