Christine Ebersole

Over-the-hill? Not when you construct your own hill. The actress makes a life-defining, career-sparking move.
I began my career performing in plays and musicals in New York, but by the mid-'80s, opportunities in Hollywood beckoned and I made the move to Los Angeles. It was a good decision. Work took off, but most important, I met my family out there—my husband, Bill, and the children we would adopt: Elijah, Mae-Mae, and Aron. We had a beautiful home, a big car—all the trappings of success. But in 1998, the acting roles suddenly bottomed out. I was no longer getting scripts; even my agent stopped calling. When I finally got him on the phone to ask him what was going on, he paused, then said: "Well, Christine, you're 45."

I got rid of him.

But I still needed work, so when a casting director friend called me in to audition for a six-line spot on Ally McBeal—a role my dry cleaner could have filled easily—I agreed. As it turned out, I'd worked with the producer on a TV show I had starred in 10 years earlier, and here I was reading six lines for him! Needless to say, I got the job, but the experience was humbling. I knew my talent hadn't changed in that time—if anything, it had improved—but all Hollywood saw was that I was 10 years older.

On the set, a courtroom, I said my lines and took my seat to wait out the rest of the scene. As the cameras began rolling again, I suddenly saw Lucy Liu pointing toward me and saying to the judge, "You let that old woman talk." I had read the script only up to the end of my lines, so, not knowing to whom she was referring, I looked behind me. One of the extras started laughing, thinking I was doing a bit. Then it hit me: I'm that old woman.

Back in the dressing room, staring at myself in the mirror, I put my hands on either side of my face to do that instant facelift we all do, and whispered, "You gotta get out of here." In that moment, I knew I could stay in Los Angeles and end up futilely trying to look young, like everyone else, or leave and make my life not about my age or looks but about the gifts I'd been given and worked my whole life to nurture. The decision was clear to me, and when I presented it to my husband, he offered his unconditional support. "We need to be in a place where your talent will be recognized above anything else," he said. I had to get back to the stage, go back to my roots. I had to return to New York.

Six months later, based on nothing but faith, we sold our house, packed up the kids, and moved east. The next couple of years were like starting from the ground up again, but by 2001, I was starring in a Broadway revival of 42nd Street.* And now I'm having the time of my life in Grey Gardens.** Thinking back, I've realized that when barriers are put in front of you, it's God or the universe asking you to remember who you are, and reminding you not to let yourself be defined by things outside of you. Because let me tell you, "over-the-hill" has never felt so good.

As told to Naomi Barr

*Christine is too modest to mention that her performance won her a Tony Award.
**Christine won her second Tony Award in 2007 for her brilliant performance in the dual role of "Little" Edie Beale and Edith Bouvier Beale in Grey Gardens.


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