Jody Rosen Knower on the Joys of Sharing One’s Life with a Working Actor
Jody Rosen Knower has appeared in the same unscripted drama, opposite the same leading man, every day since 1990. She lives in Los Angeles and blogs at Once More Unto the Breach.
When the phone rings, I’m already on another call in the midst of another busy day at the office. A long to-do list and a screen full of e-mail wait their turn for my attention.
I see that it is Zach calling, and I answer in a distracted hurry: “Hey, can I call you back? I’m on the other line.”
In a split-second, everything freezes. I hear the giddiness in Zach’s voice, the sound of his “happy dance” on the other end of the line, and I realize that this is one of those calls, one of the singular celebratory moments that reward this peripatetic life of ours.
Yes! He booked the part!
Over the very many years that we’ve been together, I’ve been on the receiving end of many of these glee-filled calls, and they truly are a thrill each time—and a reminder of just how fortunate I am to share my life with someone who belongs to this manic and maddening profession.
Those of us outside “the industry” tend to labor away at careers (or, more often, jobs) that may never produce even one of those ecstatic phone calls. Even if we are passionate about what we do (a big if for many people), professional thrills tend to be hard to come by.
Not so in the actor’s life, which—for those of us on the sidelines—has the inherent drama of a good sporting event. There are close calls, fleeting victories, reversals of fortune, moments of brilliance. Every audition is a quarterback’s pass, and we bystanders are all invested in the outcome, hanging on every second of hang time while the drama plays out, willing this pass to be complete—our eyes fixed on the end zone all the while.
Professional disappointments abound, of course. For Zach, it’s not getting a part—or not even getting in to read for a part. Or, worst of all, walking out of an audition knowing that he didn’t show his best work. For the rest of us, it’s not getting that promotion, or not landing a big account, or becoming disillusioned with a job or a boss or a project. We can all commiserate—actors and civilians alike—about the low points in our careers. But it’s the height of the highs that sets the performer’s life apart. And for those of us who have cast our lots with these high-wire artists, vicarious thrills are thrilling nonetheless.
There is also something undeniably cool about the actor’s life—the perceived glamour of it all. Most of us spend our days racing the same old rats in the same old cages. We don’t get to work “on location.” We don’t spend time in Hair & Makeup. We eat in cafeterias, not from craft services. And very few of us rub elbows with people who populate the pages of People.
Instead, we gear up for the daily grind, working without a script and wearing not what Wardrobe provides but whatever our wardrobes provide—sometimes no better than what offends us least that particular morning.
Sharing an actor’s life is a wonderful counterbalance to my comparatively dull professional existence, with its salary and benefits and other trappings of stability. Unlike Zach, who might get an unexpected residual payment—found money!—I always know when my paychecks are going to arrive and how much they’re for. And my health coverage (which is sometimes his coverage, although it’s also been the other way around) is guaranteed—not something I have to qualify for based on the results of an arcane formula applied to my earnings or to the number of weeks I worked during the latest “look-back” period.
To be sure, there are down sides to life with a thespian. In some ways, they are the same as the drawbacks of having fallen for an entrepreneur, who likewise works long hours on long shots and gets no sick days, no vacation days, and no 401(k). We’ve made plenty of sacrifices in our retreat from the altar of financial security, some more painful than others. But we’ve also lived long—and through—enough to know that we would (and likely will) make them all over again.
Other disadvantages are specific to actors, for whom the words “I’m in tech” amount to a get-out-of-jail-and-everything-else-free card. I’ve become inured to the last-minute cancellations—of dinners, appointments, getaway weekends—when a big audition comes up, which also means being asked ever so subtly what time I’m leaving for work in the morning so Zach can do a full vocal warm-up in our charming, cozy (read: tiny) place without an unwanted audience.
Television production schedules mean that late nights and early-morning calls are part of the package, wreaking havoc on both of our sleep schedules and shrinking our quality time down to a rounding error. Togetherness also suffered when we lived in New York, with extended separations in the service of regional theater (six weeks in Maine, 10 in Baltimore, 12 in D.C., not that I’m counting). Even local gigs took a toll—eight shows a week meant dinner on my own six nights out of seven.
Being married to (or living with, or dating, or sleeping with) an actor somehow gives people license to ask about his (or her) professional prospects—and résumé. “Is he a working actor?” and “What would I have seen him in?” are popular refrains. (I’m pretty sure no one ever asks Zach about my job security or wants him to recite my curriculum vitae, scintillating though it may be.)
“Is he still acting?” is another favorite.
Yes, I want to say, because he’s still breathing.
In our just-shy-of-20 years together, there have been countless indelible moments of success and fulfillment and validation, and it has been my unalloyed joy to share in them. A few:
* seeing his face plastered all over a New York City subway car as part of a Dewar’s print campaign
* getting the news that he’d been accepted to a prestigious conservatory program, and seeing his hard work pay off three years later in a showcase scene that made me weep
* finding out that the director who auditioned him for a small role in a major regional-theater production cast him instead as the lead
* every ecstatic call or message from an unsuspecting friend who’s spotted him on TV—especially the ones that start with screams of delight.
We have come a great distance in these two decades, from the days in which Zach wouldn’t tell me about his auditions (a superstition I respected, even if I never understood it) to recent years, when he asks me to help him run lines before going in to read for a casting director or producers. Yet we have always shared a love of theater (and its distant cousins, film and TV). Mine was born in English classes and on field trips, at performing-arts camp and in drama club. Zach came by his through nature and nurture, raised by parents who taught theater by day and wrote, directed, and performed in it by night.
We relish the time we spend not only seeing theater, or watching what’s on the big or small screen, but the luxury of dissecting the experience with each other on the way home or while we get ready for bed. Together, we have shared countless cultural experiences, each embedded in our collective memory—a private, cherished lexicon we draw on in nearly every conversation.
In the midst of our long marriage, we have forged a creative partnership as well. Zach knows he can rely on me not only for unwavering support but also to be an attentive and honest critic of his work, as he has always been of mine. It has been amazing to watch him grow as a performer, to see him become a savvy professional in this most unbusinesslike business. And it has been inspiring to live my life with someone whose passion for his work has never ebbed, whose every triumph is mine to share.