Grace McCabe

Lifting the Veil

Grace McCabe

Lifting the Veil

When I was an acting student, I had a very old school belief of what acting was. I thought it was about trying to step outside of myself into an imaginary ghostly figure and proceed to avoid all the complex human emotions I was trying so desperately to get away from.

Now, my opinion is quite the opposite. Eventually I discovered that you find yourself in the character – even the characters who, at first glance, you think you’re nothing like. When you dig deeper and find out more details you realise you actually have a lot in common with them. In a way it makes your feelings no matter how outrageous seem normal and valid.

A bit about me: I am a country girl from a huge Irish clan akin to that of the Von-Trapp family.

A West Midlander with barely a hint of the Brummie twang, who was brought up as a typical 90’s kid on a strong cocktail of Disney, musicals and Harry Potter. But I was also watching ‘Gone with the wind’ at the age of four…..so maybe not that typical for my generation. Scholastically, very bright, but with the attention span of a gnat. Highly artistic, mathematically inept. In school, I was referred to as Gracie-Lou Freebush (see Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality for full reference). Overall, I am fully aware that I have had a fortunate upbringing for which I’m very grateful.

But when I went to University, everything changed. I really struggled throughout my degree. I felt like I was in the wrong place around the wrong people and I almost dropped out, a few times. I knew I needed therapy, but didn’t want any one to know, even a therapist. I felt lost for a long time because I didn’t know who I was – and as an actor sometimes your lack of identity makes you wonder why you’re even pursuing this career. After all, who am I to tell the stories that people need to hear when I feel like I have nothing important or interesting to say? Teachers, fellow actors and directors were able to provide me with a small clue of who I was. Regarding my appearance, I was told I will only get cast in period roles, which is nice enough; I guess its quite alluring to be placed in a century that isn’t your own. And apart from the physical pain of wearing a corset, it is fun to be dressed in full regality sauntering around a castle and pretending you live there. But I also love the stories that are set in the present day and I’ve always wanted to do it all – comedy, musicals, horror, psychological thrillers, etc. However I was also made aware of something that I didn’t think would be a problem until I was told it was a big deal; my height. I am 6ft tall, and an acting teacher once told me it could be a huge disadvantage. Foolishly, my teenage self believed them. But when I was a working model, it was an advantage. When I auditioned to play a 16th century monarch who was described as being 6ft tall, it was an advantage. Still, I became paranoid regarding auditions. I believed I was too tall for everything, or simply not talented enough, or both. After all these experiences, it turns out it’s neither. The bottom line was I just wasn’t happy with myself for a long time. Those excuses you keep telling yourself – the external physical factors you think you have no control over? Bull. Do you think Nicole Kidman or Elizabeth Debicki let their height get in the way of their careers? Not for a second. My physical appearance is only a fraction of who I am, and I have so much more to give than that.

Luckily I didn’t drop out of university and just about made it through to graduation. I was then offered a place at one of the American drama schools, but something didn’t feel right about going. I wasn’t even upset when I turned down the offer. The conventional route into this industry isn’t the only route, and somehow I knew it was right to stay in the UK. A few years ago, I went through a period in which I became a bit of a recluse. I lost touch with so many amazing friends, I stopped acting completely, even left the theatre company I was with. All my hobbies were abandoned, I lost both grandmothers in the space of a year, and the relationship I had been in for way too long hit a dead end. The hundredth dead end – and I finally left him.

Once I had closed all doors to the past and accepted the fact that they no longer served me, everything slowly started to change for the better, everything started to come back into sharp focus. I got back into acting class in London (AMAW, best scene study class in existence), started singing again, and moved to Greenwich. In the end it is down to you to heal yourself because no one is going to do it for you. My life started to fill up with, well, life, again because deep down I knew I deserved better. It’s unbelievably scary to let go of things that no longer serve you even when there’s no breath left in them. But I learned the hard way that you just have to do it. I went on the biggest detour, but it was absolutely necessary. And now I’m happy to say I love acting again. And having long legs. I even love early call times – that’s how you know you’re in the right profession – what’s the one thing you would happily get up at 5am for?

So looking back on the last few years, everything I experienced that tested my mental and physical strength has led to something good. I have no regrets at all and I do have stories to tell, in fact many stories – this piece was originally six pages long. Whats more is I no longer need to rely on others to know I am talented – though admittedly its still nice to remember a compliment or two.

Coming full circle regarding my belief about acting, maybe it’s more relevant to say that my belief about myself has changed for the better; no longer pretending to be someone I am not, and embracing who I am. Flaws and all.