The actor needed to chart his future and make peace with the past. A passport and an impulsive trip helped him find his way.
I was 19 when I got my first passport as an adult. I had moved from California to New York City and was living out of a suitcase, staying with friends. I'd just finished filming my first movie, Ordinary People, but I didn't know whether acting was what I wanted to do with my life.

While riding the subway uptown, new passport in hand, I flipped through its pages and imagined them filled with stamps. I had a lot on my mind that day. My father had passed away suddenly two years earlier, and soon afterward I found myself working full-time as an actor, so I hadn't had time to reflect on his death. Plus, I was trying to decide whether I wanted to work on a film called Taps. I started to put a lot of pressure on myself—I had to get home and make phone calls and read the script. But then I realized I didn't have anywhere I actually needed to be; therefore, it was time to be somewhere else.

A thought came over me: "I have a passport, I have my first credit card, and I have $7,000 in the bank." I figured the best thing to do with a credit card, a passport, and a lot on my mind was to head to the airport and then decide on a destination. I'd done some spontaneous things before—the occasional road trip, a last-minute weekend skiing trip—but nothing like this. Yet it seemed like such a perfectly reasonable and logical thing to do.

I got out of the subway at the next stop, hailed a cab, and went straight to Kennedy Airport. I had absolutely nothing with me, just the T-shirt and jeans I was wearing. The cabbie drove me around while I looked at all the different airlines and destinations; I finally settled on Air France. That was it. I plopped down my new credit card and asked for a ticket. When the counter agent asked me if I had any luggage, I answered no. A carry-on? No. Soon I was on my way to Paris.

I took a taxi to the one French hotel I'd heard of—the Ritz, where the only room available was the $2,000-a-night Chopin Suite. In three days I'd be broke. But instead of freaking out, I booked the room and went for a long walk. I had time to think about my life, about the intense couple of years I'd just been through.

In Paris I felt free for the first time in years. Over three days, I must have gone to almost every museum and jazz club in the city. I saw The Deer Hunter and was blown away by the soundtrack and the passion of the artists involved. Things settled down, and I felt a sense of peace. I returned to New York with a depleted savings account but a good idea of what I wanted to do with my future.

That trip made me a spontaneous person. My life's different now; I have two sons and responsibilities to juggle. Just last year I found myself on a spur-of-the-moment drive from New York to western Pennsylvania, because I had the time and a desire to be alone. What I learned at that moment on the subway 30 years ago, staring at my blank passport, was this: If you have an impulse to do something, and it's not totally irresponsible, why not do it? It might just be the journey you've always needed. 

As told to Rachel Bertsche

Hutton, who won an Oscar® for Ordinary People, now stars in Leverage on TNT.



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