‘It’s a wrap!’
The end of another shooting day. The crew is bustling around me. We’re on the grounds of a beautiful castle in California (I didn’t know there were castles in California!). The DP, a very talented chap, looks over and says: ‘So, what’s your deal? Tell me about yourself.’ Ah, there it is – the ‘tell me about yourself’ question. We get it in auditions, we get it at networking functions, we even get it on set. Such a small question, and such a big opportunity to leave a lasting impression or be exactly the same degree of memorable as the three kids before you and the five after you. So I give my answer to the DP. He does a visible double take, stutters in his busywork, gives me a long look, a slow blink, a thoughtful nod and I know I just acquired a piece of his mental real estate. A fellow actor comes along and the DP asks him the same question. My co-star launches into a bit of a ramble, the DP listens absentmindedly, and finally acknowledges my fellow actor’s answer with a pretty unimpressed ‘mhh-hmm’. Two minutes later he remembers nothing of my co-star’s answer. What happened?
My answer was not stutter – or ramble-free. My answer was not the most eloquent I’ve ever been. My answer was not perfect. But my answer was unconventional, vulnerable, from the heart and therefore, arresting and memorable. My answer was my ‘why’. Rather than launching into my biography, I took a deep breath and took that scary leap off the cliff by choosing to interpret the rather mundane ‘tell me about yourself’ as the infinitely more fascinating ‘tell me about why you do what you do’. And by sharing my why, I automatically tapped into my authentic vulnerability, and I connected with the DP through our shared artistic passion. An intellectual exchange became an exchange from the heart, and while people will forget what you said, they won’t forget how you made them feel…
Like the first time I watched Atonement. I was alone, late at night, huddled under a blanket in a dark room in a house I didn’t feel welcome in. I was mesmerized and entranced by the rhythm of the cinematography, mirroring the score; I was seduced by the stark angles and flowing lines of passion gifted to me; and I was excited by the new perspectives each frame revealed. Then I was plunged off a cliff into torrents of tears by the twist thrust upon us. My chest tight, I was caught up in the pain of what could have been, the loss, the kindness of illusion, the aching hope for redemption, and my feelings in that house were no longer small and lonely, they were connected and shared. Indeed, I will never forget how this film made me feel; that night as I was free-falling into emotion, and the days it stayed with me.
This is my love and reverence for movies, or TV for that matter: The power that stories told well have to make us come alive in emotion, to make us feel seen, to connect us, to reach deep and shake us awake, to jar us into new perspectives, and to spark us into action. We have all found ourselves blubbering or laughing at the screen, we have looked in the mirror and out the window and realized that, thanks to a story, we now see ourselves and the world differently, we have been incensed or inspired about something and found we finally had to go out and do something about it. Movies will mirror real life, and real life will mirror movies: Remember that shiver inducing use of the Hunger Games salute by Thai protesters?
This subtle, sometimes quiet and sometimes roaring, tidal power of story; this knowing that stories can and will change the world – it is both the privilege and the responsibility I bear as a storyteller. I tell stories for those who need to be heard, who need to be seen, who need to be felt.
And here’s the thing: Knowing exactly why I feel that what I do matters? It is the source of my drive, of my courage, of my resilience, and also of my fulfillment.
When you have clarity around the impact and relevance of your work as it is true to you, it keeps you going and will make you push beyond the limitations you perceive – they’ve done studies on this. In an ever-moving, ever-challenging, never predictable environment, your why will give you a mindset that will help not hinder you, will be your safe heaven and the ship to carry you through rocky waters. And knowing just why you do what you do… what parts exactly light you up and you value about it… will enable you to be fulfilled. Happy. Content. To not be someone who achieves everything they thought they wanted but still find themselves not quite satisfied, and instead to be someone who is satisfied even long before they’ve achieved everything they wanted.
I discovered that my why as an actor included the feeling of making magic and collaboration on a set, as well as the experience of truly reaching someone with my art; having an impact on them that they reflected back to me. Within days of really getting clear on that for myself, someone reached out to me to personally thank me for a specific piece of my creative work that was out there in the world – how it had resonated with them so deeply, had made them feel seen and heard and understood in what they were experiencing in their life… It was the exact core of why I act, why I’m an artist, why I express creatively and tell stories.
Somewhere between Witch, Queen and Ocean girl, Mera Mayde is a thriving award-winning British-German actress and alumna of the University of Oxford. She has worked internationally on stage and screen for two decades, collaborating with peers such as Cannes, BAFTA & Oscar winning directors and Platinum awarded singers. With several projects in early development and post-production, and a busy pilot season taking her for a whirl, she continues to be inspired and lit up by the connecting and transformational power of story.