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For years the actress—who stars in the comedy Our Idiot Brother—shied away from the challenging parts she craved, until the role of a lifetime helped her face her fears.
In my first few years as an actor, I took one terrible TV job after another. But even as I laughed off my awful roles and made fun of myself to friends, my work made me cringe—I dreaded anyone's seeing it. I was crushed that I wasn't doing anything I was proud of.
Finally, my husband, who's also an actor, asked me, "Do you really want this or not?" I decided to give acting a serious, committed try, and soon after, I read the script for Lovely and Amazing. The story was beautiful and honest, and the characters struggled with the same insecurities many women—including me—face. I didn't think I had a chance in hell of being in the film, but I knew I had to go for it.
Somehow I got the part, and suddenly, for the first time, I was cast in something I believed in. I knew that in one of the film's key scenes, I'd have to stand naked in a bedroom while a sleazy guy, played by Dermot Mulroney, analyzed my body from head to toe. On the day of filming, right before we started shooting, I was in the bed with the sheet pulled up to my chin. I remember thinking, "I wish my mum could come and rescue me". The speech had been written about the flaws of my own body, so my droopy breasts, yellow teeth, and untoned arms were all fair game. When we began shooting, I walked to the foot of the bed and stood there, listening to the critique. The scene was about a woman laying her insecurities to rest—she's asked this man to tell her everything that's good and everything that's bad about her body. And in that moment, I felt as vulnerable and exposed as the character I was playing, but also just as brave. I was frightened, but I was fully invested, helping to tell a story I really cared about.
I realized then that I'd spent my whole life peeking out from under the covers. I'd been shy since childhood, constantly full of self-doubt. And as an actor, I'd been so scared of failing that I made my career—and myself—a big joke. But doing that scene showed me that even when I was afraid, I could still close my eyes and jump.
Don't get me wrong. I'm still shy—I'm no good at my children's parent-teacher conferences, and I'm slowly learning how to ask for what I want. But I now know that I have a reserve of courage to draw upon when I really need it. There's nothing that I'm too scared to have a go at. It's like I tell my 8-year-old son, Sam: "You don't have to be brilliant at everything. You just have to have the courage to put yourself in the line of fire."
How to Be More Confident
From the September 2011 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
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