"Eat Your Heart Out": Katie Boland on Being a Writer and an Actress

Book Cover Eat Your Heart Out

I am, or at least, I view myself as being a private person. My friends wouldn’t agree with this, but almost every interaction I have is veiled in elsewhere.  ‘My father looks sad when he’s happy, how can I act that?’ or, ‘How would I describe this feeling between my friend and I, sitting in the car, on this Sunday when we can’t talk?’

In conversation, I have mastered the difficult art of learning a lot about you while revealing very little about me. I like to get under the skin and understand why people do what they do. But I have a hard time understanding why I do what I do. On some level, I write and act to answer these questions about myself, and therein lies a danger for a very consuming romance. Acting and writing (fiction) allows me to be honest in a way I will never be in reality.

Let’s backtrack. For me, there is a thin line between clever and stupid and there is never any trap so deadly as the trap I set for myself. I started writing when I turned twenty. It was a slow period in my acting career, that time between teens and twenties, when characters fit into less definite boxes. I had been busy working as an actress since I was eight when suddenly, I was stuck in the no-man’s land of lean years. Who was I when I wasn’t on a set?

I was single for the first time in my adult life. I was bored. I was restless. I was lonely. I knew myself at this point, at least to an extent. I had to do something to fill my time. The flip side of being addicted to work is being addicted to the space that no structure provides. I started writing because I have a self-destructive streak. So, in this sense, my acting career and my desire to write have always been interconnected, held hands.

Then, and sometimes still, I felt about my acting career how you feel about a marriage. It wasn’t perfect but I loved it. I had for so long. Or maybe, I had just committed so much time to it that I couldn’t picture leaving. I was certain that it would be the only love of my life, something nothing else could touch. But there were problems. Acting didn’t always love me how I loved it. What if I never got another job again?

I needed an out.

When I started writing, I felt about it like a man feels for mistress. The first few months I thought about her all the time, eaten by a desire to never be apart. I couldn’t sleep, consumed by ideas and feelings that I wanted to take from me and give to her. I lived outside every conversation I had, studying, wondering how I could use the person I was talking to. I loved writing in a way I didn’t know I could love something, without complications and expectations. I didn’t have a writing agent. I didn’t have to make money from it. I didn’t have to do it for anybody but me.

Writing was also something I’d never have fully. Nothing came out on the page as vibrantly as it moved before me. What I didn’t realize until later was that acting and writing were not so different at all. They were both something I could never do as well as I wanted to and that’s why I loved them.

But, from the outside, writing and acting did seem different. As a writer, you create everything, every part of the universe.  You are responsible for the whole. As an actress you are responsible for a part. You are hired to service someone else’s vision; the writer, the producers, the director. It’s important you don’t forget that someone picks you. If they don’t pick you, you can’t work. You are a collaborator before anything else. You work in a community.

As far as I’m concerned, as an actress, I work from the inside out. I read a script and my first thoughts are, how would I feel in this situation? I listen to my own voice. I am my jumping off point. As a writer, I start from the outside. I look at people I know, relationships they have, and I think, what would that be like? I hear voices that aren’t my own and I follow them.

Writing is by definition, lonely. You work independently, in a vacuum. You answer only to yourself, for what feels like lifetimes, before people read what you’re working on. That kind of autonomy is what was most appealing about writing but what is also most difficult. No one else needed to give me permission to do it. But, I would get lost in my own mind for hours. It got hard to find a way out.

Being a writer has seen me through three of the most significant romantic relationships of my life. What’s attractive and dangerous about being a writer is that I can assign my experiences meaning. Creating characters and mapping out story arcs is to employ the garbage dump or holy cemetery of my past. I can put things back together. I can arrange them how I want to. I can make things work again. I can spend time with people who have left. But also, the more I write, the more I realize what an unreliable witness I am. I cannot be true to the events unfolded, only to the impressions they left me with.

People often ask me the difference between being a writer an actress. I always answer, “I use the same part of my brain.” That’s true in that I climb the same staircase of thoughts. I stop looking at the world as just myself. I work to see it from a multitude of perspectives. Something about that is a relief. In both cases, I want to live as other people. I get to escape myself.

I am, in my opinion, a better actress since I started writing. I feel less desperate. I don’t need my next job in the same way. I can appreciate what it’s like to create a character and want them to live as you’ve imagined. I take it less personally when I don’t get something. I think more deeply about characters. I think I understand the world better.

So, now, acting and writing are two things that need each other. I need to write to be able to handle the difficulty of being actress, a buffer for the downtime and rejection. I need to act to jar me out of the remote universe of being a writer, to leave my thoughts. I can’t picture one without the other. 

Katie Boland

Katie Boland is an actress and writer who divides her time between Los Angeles and Toronto. She was chosen as one of the Toronto International Film Festival’s “Rising Stars” and as one of three Canadians to watch by Elle Canada. She has appeared in over 40 films and her writing has appeared in the Toronto Star and TChad Quarterly. Eat Your Heart Out is her first published book. Visit Katie online at katieboland.com or follow her on Twitter at @katieboland.

April 15, 2013
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