To many, acting is the ultimate expression of fantasy. With every new role, an actor or actress gets to become someone else - to live another life. This chameleon-like indulgence, coupled with a hefty paycheck, makes being an entertainer a fairly desirable gig. Yet, there is a desire held by some in the industry to escape from the fantasy and retreat to a more grounded existence. For every diva who basks in the spotlight like a natural celebrity, there are many more to whom fame does not come so easily.
Fame certainly did not come easily to Thomas Mapother IV. Mapother's family moved often throughout his childhood, and Thomas found himself constantly attending new schools and performing odd jobs. The former New Jersey resident was also deeply religious. At one point, he was enrolled in a Franciscan seminary with hopes of becoming a Catholic priest. Not long thereafter, he received his calling; not to a religious order, but to the silver screen.
Today, Mapother, better known as Tom Cruise, commands universal recognition as well as a great personal fortune. Despite his rise to fame, Cruise still has not changed his eclectic ways. Just as he did not stay in one place for very long as a child, he has not settled on one solitary role in life. In addition to being an actor, Cruise has been a father, a husband, an activist, a pilot, and more.
He has also not abandoned his religious fervor. Instead of being a devout Catholic, Cruise is one of the foremost celebrity supporters of the Church of Scientology.
Unlike Cruise, Edward Norton always had an interest in acting. He did not, however, look to become an instant celebrity. As a student at Yale University, Norton majored in history and learned to speak Japanese. His knowledge of the language enabled him to work for his grandfather's company, the Enterprise Foundation, in Osaka, Japan.
Upon his return to the United States, Norton immersed himself in the culture of New York City. He applied to become a taxi driver, but was rejected because he did not meet the age requirement. Instead, he worked as a waiter, proofreader and director's assistant until he was eventually discovered by famed playwright Edward Albee.
Even after launching a critically acclaimed film career (he received two Oscar nominations before turning 30), Norton continues to do more than act. He serves on the board of directors for the Enterprise Foundation and harbors an active interest in poverty and urban development. Despite his prosperity, Norton still favors public transportation. "If I ever have to stop taking the subway," he said, "I'm going to have a heart attack."
In some instances, actors and actresses don't just fill roles as much as they echo past experiences. Dennis Farina, who portrays a detective in television's "Law & Order," was a Chicago police officer for many years. R. Lee Ermey, notorious for portraying hard, military types like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, was a Marine drill instructor and a decorated Vietnam veteran. Fred Dalton Thompson, who portrays District Attorney Arthur Branch on "Law & Order," was a U.S. attorney for the state of Tennessee from 1969 to 1972. He later became a senator.
Despite its obvious and abundant rewards, fame, as Norton put it, is "corrosive." Many people in the entertainment industry lead busy, complicated lives and have little time to develop normal relationships. They are exposed to immense public scrutiny and are faced with ever-present temptation. Some, such as Michael Jackson and Paris Hilton, embraced celebrity practically from birth and never let go. Others, like former firefighter Steve Buscemi and ex-convict Charles Dutton, arrive at it through determination, patience, and often sheer coincidence.
The latter category has made for some interesting departures as well as arrivals. Entertainers who have made the leap from fantasy to reality have become successful journalists (Andrea Thompson of "NYPD Blue"), ambassadors (child star Shirley Temple), governors (Predator co-stars Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger), and businessmen. As Ronald Reagan illustrated, even the presidency of the United States is not out of reach.
Actors and actresses who are serious about other pursuits need only to think of it this way: a career is nothing more than a role that does not change when a director yells, "cut!"
Zac Goldstein is a senior Journalism major with minors in Creative Writing and
Law And Justice. He is opinions editor for The Signal, the student newspaper
at the College of New jersey, co-editor of The Siren and a member of INK and
Sigma Tau Delta. He also does public relations work for Princeton Public Library
and hopes to find a career that involves writing.