In this rare collaboration with NeueJournal, Brigitte creates a series of portraits investigating the most nuanced and directional voices in contemporary art, film, music, and science. An ongoing personal series captured in her Lower East Side daylight studio, these images are underscored by a quiet intimacy unique to the space itself.
I was lucky enough to grow up on a magical piece of land that included fields, an apple orchard, a small lake in the woods, streams, rocks to climb, and a hay barn that seemed as big as Grand Central Station. Our little gang had the run of the place and we made the best of it—playing outside from dawn to dusk. We rarely watched television, but when we did it was the Big Top Circus on Saturday afternoons, or either Hopalong Cassidy or The Lone Ranger. That’s how old I am! Because my sister was the leader of our gang, she got to be Hoppy or the Lone Ranger. I was thrilled to be her sidekick, Lucky or Tonto. On rainy days, we had a chest full of hand puppets and would play with them endlessly, making up stories and using different voices, spending hours in a world of make believe.
In his wonderful book Utopia and Other Places, Sir Richard Eyre writes, “‘Scratch an actor,’ said Laurence Olivier, ‘and you find an actor.’ He should have known, but I don’t think it’s true, or any truer of actors than politicians, or priests, or teachers, or strippers, or anyone else engaged in acts of public display. What is true, I think, is that if you scratch an actor you will find a child. Not that actors are inherently less mature than politicians, priests, etc, but actors must retain a child’s appetite for mimicry, for demanding attention, and above all for playing. They must see with a child’s heart, innocent of judgment.”
That is what I love most about acting and actors—we have the ability to use our imaginations to actually think like the characters we are being asked to play, to imagine the seminal scenes from their lives that consciously or subconsciously dictate their behavior. The richer your imagination, the more fascinating your character is to an audience. They may not know all your secrets, but they are pulled in by the fact that there is much more than meets the eye. And I have to love a character in order to do her justice. If I judge a character, I am distancing myself from the truth of who she is and why she acts the way she does. The only evil character I’ve played so far is Cruella de Vil. She is a classic witch in a fairy tale and must be defeated for children to know that good should and can overcome evil. The other women that I’ve played—so blithely labeled as evil or bitchy—all have reasons for their behavior. I’m not saying that their behavior is acceptable, but they exist in the gray areas of life—where we all live. Alex Forest is a soul in crisis, in need of help. For reasons that are only hinted at in the screenplay, she is incapable of a mature and sustaining relationship and is destructive to herself and others. The Marquise de Merteuil is a brilliant woman in a man’s world who refuses to be ruled and ruined by men. Patty Hewes, as we learn in the very last episode of Damages, was abused as a child, damaged herself from the very beginning—unable to give or receive love—and yet still able to bring down the bullies she so despises. Albert Nobbs is surviving as best she can, uneducated, unloved, and full of unattainable dreams, yet void of self-pity, with a dignity that is moving and deeply human. All of us have our own stories and all our stories are unique and deserving of attention. With all the characters I’ve played, if I dig down deep enough, I’ve always come to a place of fragility and need, a place worthy of love and empathy. So, yes, I love all my ladies, and I consider myself blessed by the fact that I can still take a thrilling deep dive into my imagination. . .and play, and play, and PLAY.
Photography: Brigitte Lacombe for NeueJournal
Guest Photo Editor: Janet Johnson