December 17, 2012
The End of the World As I Know It
Private Practice wrapped last Friday. We knew it was coming, knew for a couple of months, which is rare. The way these things go, we often don’t. With Judging Amy we didn’t know. We found out during hiatus, when the networks put together their season, and had to accept the verdict even as our team was disbanded.
It is a privilege to know. Shonda Rhimes, our creator and executive producer, had time to tell her story and end it how she saw fit. There was a myriad of feelings in the cast and crew as we approached December 7 (I guess a day that will live in infamy for another reason…) Some folks were scared, some nervous, some excited at the new opportunities to come. Most were nostalgic and all of us, to the one, were bathed in gratitude.
A television series is a unique artistic endeavor. A movie begins and then ends when the script does. There is a finite amount of days to the experience, and everyone knows the end date on day one. There are Broadway plays that run for years, not knowing the end date. But in that case the same story is told and re-told hundreds of times, with variations due to audiences and circumstances, but the story remaining the same.
A TV series is quite literally a living thing. We get to respond to current events. We get to know hidden talents of our cast and crew. Jillian Armanente, who played Donna in Judging Amy for five seasons, was brought in for one show. Donna was never supposed to be a part of the ensemble, but after meeting Jillian and her audacious gifts, we all thought, how can she not be? We had the freedom to write her into the fabric of the show. On Private Practice I watched KaDee Strickland play a storyline where her character was raped. Not only was she brilliant in the execution, but I watched my friend’s social justice consciousness become awakened around the issue of rape, and now she is a powerful advocate, testifying on Capital Hill. We open our hearts to character and story, that’s what we actors do, and in the process we ourselves are transformed.
But the best part of a long running TV series is getting to live life, over time, with my artistic cohorts and friends. Many, MANY families grew during Private Practice –Taye’s son Walker, Paul’s daughter Josephine, Catherina’s daughter Eliza and Shonda’s daughter Emerson just to name a few. Friends and family members passed away during the last six years, countless hugs on the set reflecting our collective concern. Folks got married, divorced, and reconciled. Other folks got sick and got better.
We all have our ways of dealing with endings. Last week I found myself alternately snuggling into my cast mates, hanging on for dear life — and wisecracking about others’ sentimentality. The last day brought many tears and while I was moved, I didn’t’ cry.
Sergio and I began embracing and suddenly I couldn’t stop weeping. For those of you who don’t know, Sergio Lopez-Rivera is Kate Walsh’s makeup artist and dear friend whom she graciously brought to Private Practice and who now is my bosom buddy as well. In the horrible fourth season of the show – when my colitis was in crisis ending with a full colectomy, ileostomy, and reconstructive surgery – when I was 110 pounds and bald from hair loss due to malnutrition – during THAT year, it was Sergio’s job, along with Shelley Scanlon who did my hair – to make me look human. Not just human – Private Practice glamorous. I don’t know how they did it. They nursed me through endless tears in the make up chair and a hemoglobin level that hit 5. They were my daily nurses, my jocular co-workers and my dear, dear friends.
When I returned to work, Sergio informed me he’d been diagnosed with lymphoma, which he then treated for the next six months, coming out with flying colors. It was my privilege to return the love that he’d bestowed on me as the patient and the caregiver roles were now swapped.
Last Friday Sergio and I wept because we hadn’t been alone during our brushes with mortality. That this thing that some call a job on a TV show had blossomed into a mutual ministry without which I don’t think I would have made it. So along with the gratitude for the cast and Shonda and the crew and along with celebrating Addison, Pete, Sam, Naomi, Violet, Cooper, Charlotte, Amelia, Dell and Jake – I also celebrate the fates for giving me a remarkable family for the past six years. And because of you all — the loyal watchers, the rabid fans and the Twitter commentators – we were able to extend our family to include all of you.
A TV series that runs for six seasons is many things. A miracle is one.
December 11, 2012