This is going to be an odd topic, and I’m not sure where I’m even going with this, and I’ll probably get called on my enormous ego, but here goes. I’ve never thought of myself as a leading man, ever. I’ve never been comfortable with the way I look. My self image never matched what other people saw. From the time I started to realize that looks are important in this world (around 5th grade or so), I’ve strived to figure out what to do with mine.
I was a chubby kid for a while. The story about that was we grew up poor. I didn’t understand how poor until years later, when telling people these stories and noting the looks on their faces. As I kid I was pretty skinny, mostly because there never seemed to be enough to eat. There were four of us kids (later on six) and more than once I remember crying myself to sleep hungry. When my parents divorced around the time I was seven, my father started giving us a small allowance. I took mine and blew it on comic books and food. Lots of food: whole frozen pizzas, ice cream, candy, whatever I could buy cheap and filling. This skinny kid soon became a fat kid. And my mother noticed.
My mother noticed when she had to take me to the ‘Husky’ section at Sears to buy my pants, and when I was growing more horizontally than laterally. This ticked her off because she had already budgeted for my two pairs of new jeans. Those jeans were supposed to last me all year and now I needed another pair because "your butt is growing faster than the rest of you". So the remarks would start, “Your father was thin until his 40s.” “We’re going to have to put you on a diet.” “We can’t afford to buy you new clothes every other month.” Her friends came to my defense though: “Well, wasn’t one of your bothers large? It might run in your family.” “Oh Mary Lou, he’ll grow into his weight, I’m sure.” Actually, that last one is true, but I had developed an eating disorder before that happened.
Right about the time of the weight gain, puberty visited me with the curly hair that I’d grown out of years before. Only this time it was a frizzy, ragged afro I couldn’t control no matter what I did. My every attempt failed unless I buzzed it all off, which would have thrown me even farther from the popularity that I was never close to (but I had hopes, man!) I wanted to go to other places besides Kmart for clothes or Westside Barbers (“you wanna look like a boy or a girl, kid?”) for haircuts. Mom would proclaim this my ‘vanity’ or ego, and whenever I’d try to improve my appearance this is the refrain she’d use. “I’ve never seen such a vain kid in my life, you’re worse than your sisters!” Taking any time to choose my school clothes was seen as my vanity, any attempt to stand out by doing plays was my ego and pretty much ignored.
A teacher told me once “You’re going to be so good looking when you get older.” All through school and college I was usually cast as the best friend of the lead, the goofy comedy relief. When cast in a romantic part, I was lost. Really, I had no idea what to do with a part that was labeled ‘handsome” or romantic. I was a stranger in a strange land, running into walls, just missing the chair I meant to sit in, feeling like an idiot. Frankly, I was pretty much like that in real life, no confidence in my looks or abilities to attract anyone. So, no I didn’t have a lot of girlfriends. Now before anyone writes in to refute me (and thank you btw) the problem was I still had that self image of the fat, frizzy haired boy, scared to death anything I did would be called vain or egotistical. I carried that for decades.
My old teacher was right, I did get better looking as I got older. My face lost the baby fat, and I started to lose some of the mental fat. Just a couple years ago I auditioned for two roles in a row that were described as ‘handsome, mid 30s’. I didn’t think I was one and I definitely wasn’t the other, but I didn’t have anything to lose. I got them both. I started trying to expand the way I saw myself; if they’re going to cast me that way, then I’ll start trying for those roles. I still didn’t have a lot of confidence in my looks, but I can act like I did.
Now what made this stuff pop into my head? I ran into a friend at an audition (big side benefit of auditioning is seeing people I never get to see) she asked me what part I was up for. I told her and she grinned, “Oh that’s perfect! You have this great rock star swagger!” A swagger! It was working, I was fooling them. It took me decades to deal with who I was and what I looked like, and today it’s still an uneasy alliance. I still don't think of myself looking like a leading man, but others do. So, I will act that way for your audition or play, but don’t expect that ‘swagger’ when I step off stage. Much better to expect me to run into your doorways and miss your chairs.