7/17/2010

guidepost.org: What Inspires Emily Procter

What Inspires Emily Procter


The CSI: Miami
actress recounts the story of how she finally found happiness in Los
Angeles, and who helped her get there.


By
Emily Procter, Los Angeles, California


I've lived in Los Angeles for 18 years, and for the past eight, I’ve been blessed with what actresses dream of—a starring role on a hit television show, playing Detective Calleigh Duquesne on CSI: Miami. I’m comfortable here now, content with being my down-to-earth southern self in a tough and glitzy business. But I wasn’t always.

There was a time when I was starting out that I was really struggling. Not so much with acting—I was getting enough work doing guest roles and TV pilots to pay the rent—but with how unmoored I felt. I’d moved to L.A. after college and I knew there’d be an adjustment. I just hadn’t counted on how hard it would be.

Life out here was nothing like back home in North Carolina, where all of my family was, where I’d had the same friends since kindergarten, people I could count on. Even after four years in L.A., I still didn’t know who I could trust. I felt lonely. And a little lost, as if something was missing from my life.

So far my closest relationship was with my cat, Kevin. He was rescued as a newborn from a hole in the wall—literally—of a friend’s old beach shack. From the get-go, he was gentle and sweet and had this calm about him that I only wished I could find. It was like his rough introduction to the world hadn’t closed him off but rather opened him up. He’d come when I called and flop onto his back so I could rub his belly. He’d even jump into the bathtub with me. Kevin was the picture of contentment. How could I help but fall in love?

Still, in the fall of 1996 it hit me that except for taking care of Kevin, my days were all about me. Was I thin enough? Did my hair look right? Did I prepare enough for my next audition? Where was my career going? I really need to take the focus off myself and do something for someone else, I thought.

I could almost hear my mom saying, “Go for it!” My parents were big on helping others—my dad was a doctor, my mom volunteered at a home for people with AIDS, and we were always signing up for service projects at church. When I heard about the soup kitchen at All Saints Episcopal a few blocks from my apartment, I decided to volunteer.

Monday lunch was my shift. Every Monday I’d put on my green corduroy overalls—for some reason, that became my serving-line outfit—and walk up Bedford Drive, cross Wilshire Boulevard, then turn right onto Santa Monica Boulevard to get to the soup kitchen.

I kept noticing the same guy at the corner on Wilshire. A homeless man in a wheelchair. He was in his fifties and sat quietly in his shorts and red windbreaker, reading. He didn’t hassle people, just said thanks when someone dropped money into his cup. I’d say hello, but that was it. He seemed reserved, and I wanted to respect his privacy.

But one Monday in December something made me stop and say, “I work at All Saints soup kitchen. Want to go with me and get lunch?” He looked up at me with these bright blue eyes and said, “Yeah!”

“I’m Emily.”

“Jim.”

I grabbed his wheelchair and started pushing, but I couldn’t maneuver it in my clunky clogs. “I’m sorry, Jim. I’m not going to be able to get you there today…not in these shoes.”

He didn’t say anything.

“I’m going home for Christmas, but I’ll be back. We’ll go the first Monday after New Year’s,” I promised.

“Okay,” he said, but it seemed like he didn’t believe me.

That Monday after New Year’s I put on tennis shoes and ran to Jim’s corner. There he was in his red windbreaker and wheelchair. His eyes got really twinkly when he saw me. “All right!” he exclaimed. “Let’s go.”

I wheeled him to the soup kitchen, got him settled with some food, then took my place in the serving line. After lunch we went back to his corner. “I’ll meet you here next week,” I said.

That became our little ritual every Monday. I’d pick him up at the corner and we’d head to the soup kitchen. We talked a bit, but mostly we just enjoyed each other’s company. It was a relief not to get into the typical Hollywood conversations—What do you do? Who’s your agent? What roles are you up for?

One day about three months after we met, Jim seemed more serious than usual. He took my hand and pressed some money into it. Forty dollars. What’s this for?

“I want to tell you something,” he said. “I think you’re very pretty, but you need to buy a new outfit. I saved up this money.”

I realized every time he saw me I was wearing my green overalls! “Jim, I didn’t get around to telling you, but I’m an actress. I have other clothes.” We had a good laugh.

Our friendship grew from there. When I didn’t have an acting job or auditions, we’d have breakfast at a place across the street from his corner. We’d sit and talk about our childhoods, our families, our experiences. Well, Jim shared his life wisdom with me because it wasn’t like I’d acquired much yet.

Once I asked Jim, “Were you in Vietnam?” I’d assumed he was a veteran, so I was surprised when he said no. “Then how did you end up in the wheelchair?”

“Emily, ending up in this chair saved my life. So I don’t want you to feel bad about what I’m going to tell you.” He went on. “I was a terrible alcoholic.” During a binge, he got into a fight and was beaten into a coma. When he came to, he realized, “God stood by me even when I wasn’t standing by me.”

He wanted to make the most of the second chance he’d been given. He quit drinking. He read every book he could get his hands on. He couldn’t afford regular therapy appointments, but there was a nighttime radio show where the host was a therapist. Jim called in every night for two years and worked through his issues.

The closer we’ve gotten—and we’ve been good friends for almost 15 years now—the more I see that Jim really lives by the advice he once gave me: “If you don’t like the way your life looks, change the way you look at it.” He’s more content and at peace with himself and with the world than anyone I know—well, except maybe my cat.

Jim listens without judging and tells you not what you want to hear but what you need to hear. He savors every moment, even the struggles, because they often turn out to be  blessings. Like the time I felt lost and lonely and set out to do something for someone else. And look what I ended up finding—the contentment that had been missing from my life…and the inspiration for how to live it.

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