Film is my passion, simply put. Watching, studying, analyzing, and writing about the art form gives me true delight. One of my all-time favorites is Mona Lisa Smile (2003) starring the always-great Julia Roberts, and the underrated, yet superb-in-everything Marcia Gay Harden. On Thursday, October 30, 2014, I attended the Hawaii International Film Festival’s (HIFF) opening-day press conference, and Ms. Harden was there, though I wasn’t aware she would be. She gave a few words, and I felt lucky enough to get a picture with her afterward. My day had been made: I finally got to meet a movie star! Of course, as a typical fanboy would, I posted the picture on Facebook and Instagram and got a warm response from both networks, but nothing would prepare me for what would occur that night.
That evening, I saw two films: A Teacher’s Diary and immediately after, I’d have to migrate over to a different room to see A Year in Champagne. Toward the end of the former film, only two things crossed my mind: popcorn and the bathroom. Exiting the theater and seeing the concession line, nope!, I passed. On my way to the bathroom, I by chance happened to look to my right, and there she was: the underrated, yet superb-in-everything Marcia Gay Harden, sitting alone on a bench, noticeably fatigued but complacent, so after the lu, I rounded up a bit ofcourage, approached her, greeted her with a “Hello again!” and, as they say it, the rest became history. We struck up a conversation, but before getting too far, she noticed my Press Pass and verified that my intentions were pure. Then after, we continued what turned out to be a seemingly normal conversation. By normal, I mean that the fanboy-ism was essentially left out (except when I couldn’t resist asking about Julia Roberts). I was humbled when she asked about my life: where I’m from, what I do, study, etc. What further humbled me was her statement that being in the field of education is a “beautiful thing.” Upon detailing how I once had a drive to pursue the film industry which has of recent fizzled and instead a desire to teach film studies, she graciously wished me the best of luck. My conversation with Ms. Harden was cut short when she had to leave to get her seat for the opening night film, The Vancouver Asahi. We parted by her saying “I hope we can talk further.”
I don’t write this article as a means of gloating; rather, to recount my experience talking to a movie star, a humble one, who is above all, a down-to-earth human being. What made this moment special, though, is the fact that the film she was in attendance for was to be screen at Ward. Due to a power outage, the screening relocated to Dole. Some might call it serendipitous, my encounter with Ms. Harden, while others might call it lucky. I would like to think of it as a true blessing.
The coming Saturday, Ms. Harden had a talk open to the general public at the Doris Duke Theatre. I saw her sitting alone, so I approached her, and sure enough, we had that follow-up conversation. I asked about her visit—if she’s enjoying herself, getting some sun, etc. Unfortunately, she became sick and had to rest…indoors. As an aspiring musical theatre performer, I recently auditioned for Diamond Head Theatre’s production of White Christmas. I didn’t make the cut, and asked Ms. Harden about coping with rejection. Instead of being overly sympathetic, she gave the industry’s lowdown: how “one in every 200 auditions will end in a callback.” She said words of encouragement, and subsequently made her way on stage. The stories she conveyed on that stage pertained to her audition days pre-stardom/A-list, her family, and even incorporated neuroscience by talking about Mirror Neurons, a neurological concept she recently learned of which tied into acting and life. She said how “Storytelling is one of my favorite things in the world because it connects us all together.” The presence of this movie star on the Doris Duke Stage, watching her speak while I reflected upon the past couple of days conversing with her, left a profound impact upon me. Though I may never see Ms. Harden again, the impact she left upon me was so profound, that I am even more determined to pursue the arts and not let rejection deter me. I will continue to better society as a teacher, because she praised it as “beautiful.”
I write this as a letter to Ms. Harden, and though she may never come across it online, all I can truly say is “thank you,” for such inspiration.
Marcia Gay Harden can be seen next in the hotly-anticipated adaptation of the best-selling Fifty Shades of Grey, and recently landed a recurring guest spot on ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder.