Timothy Hutton's Aha! Moment
The actor needed to chart his future and make peace with the past. A passport and an impulsive trip helped him find his way.
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.