Pamela Guest: ” Don’t judge how you look”

As I was coming to terms with and coming out about what happened to me at that fateful audition (which unbeknownst to me ran my psychology for over 40 years) I would often share with my doctor what I was going through. She was always supportive as the revelations kept coming and affecting my health — being […]

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As I was coming to terms with and coming out about what happened to me at that fateful audition (which unbeknownst to me ran my psychology for over 40 years) I would often share with my doctor what I was going through. She was always supportive as the revelations kept coming and affecting my health — being out there in such a public way. Eventually I learned something similar had happened to her at the hands of a powerful man in Hollywood in her examining room early one morning many years before. She was an early fan of my film and she would be the first to tell you, our sharing and my film helped her to eventually tell her story. That powerful Hollywood figure lost his job within hours of the world finding out what he had done to her.

I had the pleasure to interview Pamela Guest. Pamela is an actress and casting director, known for Blue Velvet (1986), Married (2014) and Nuts (1987). She has been married to Nicholas Guest since November 26, 1989. Pamela is also a prominent voice in the #MeToo and Time’s Up movement.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Pamela! It is a great honor. Our readers would love to learn more about your personal background. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan but raised from the age of 10 outside Akron, Ohio where the company my father worked for hard transferred him. He attended law school at night which ate up his time and the family resources so I started working summers on local farms, riding my bicycle to work in an effort to have my own income and be less of a burden to my family. I enjoyed the independence having a little cash gave me but harvesting strawberries, mulching tomato plants and picking bugs out of corn husks in the hot sun was a decidedly unglamorous and difficult way to spend my childhood summers.

The highlight of every other week was waiting for the Bookmobile to stop on my corner where I would rush to take out the maximum number of books (5!) Oh to live in a “Little House on the Prairie!” Anywhere but here. When I got a little older watching old movies in black and white from the floor of our family’s living room provided that escape as well. I particularly loved those films about actresses like “Stage Door” and anything having to do with the glamorous life in Manhattan where people ‘dressed’ for dinner, had funny maids and rich but cranky fathers.

Anxious to get out of Akron, when I was in high school I applied to be a foreign exchange student but was rejected. I had a deep need to get out of the house and see the world. When it came time to apply for college I was offered a scholarship to the University of Michigan, my dad’s alma mater, so off I went to pursue a career in diplomacy and political science. While there I found what really interested me was acting and as a result all my time went to performing in plays and in a feature film that one of my friends had written for me, “Pamela and Ian.” Shot in black and white with all of us playing a version of ourselves, it ignited in me an interest in film as an area of study so I stayed to ultimately receive a Masters Degree with a concentration in film.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? Can you share the story with us?

When I was 6 my dad took me to see a community production of “The King and I.” From the first row in the balcony I leaned over the railing and watched as what seemed like a massive number of children my age ran around on the stage singing and just having the best time. I turned to my dad and said “I want to do THAT!”

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

Two stories come to mind that have a common theme. My first professional role in a film was as Robert DeNiro’s character’s secretary in “The Last Tycoon,” directed by Elia Kazan. (I like to say I started at the top and have gone straight downhill ever since!) Kazan asked if I would come to the set at Paramount everyday for 3 weeks before the film started shooting to improvise with DeNiro, or Bobby as Kazan called him, to help him get into character. Bobby and I hung out as they built the set around us, pretending to be boss and secretary but mostly just cracking each other up, having a blast ,being at a big studio for the first time. The film started shooting a couple of months after our time together so the day I started my job for real was about 3 months after we’d last seen each other. I was given an old-fashioned, very plain 1940’s dress to wear that did nothing for me. And because I had a short, stylish 70’s haircut at the time, the hairdresser fashioned an atrocious period hairdo from tight pin-curls, the style of the day. I looked just like my grandmother and I hated it but it didn’t occur to me to protest. I was just so happy and excited to be there finally. By chance as I was leaving the makeup trailer Bobby was heading in. He took one look at me and burst out in a spontaneous guffaw with “How could you let them do that to you?” Those were the last words we spoke even though we worked in close proximity for at least 3 weeks on the set. He had become so ‘into’ his character of the shy studio boss Monroe Stahr that he allowed himself no further interaction with me, his secretary. Thrilled as I was to have the job, I was sad to lose my friend but I learned what it takes to fully immerse oneself in the ‘work.’

Pamela, In The The Last Tycoon

A few years later I was cast as a waitress at the Daisy nightclub in Beverly Hills in Paul Schrader’s “American Gigolo.” When the hair and wardrobe ladies got done with me, I looked like a nice mid-west diner waitress in a white button-down shirt and plain black skirt. I thought this was the wrong look for a disco but I said nothing once again. Schrader took one look at me and promptly dispatched Jerry Bruckheimer, the producer, to fire me. As I left filled with shame and disappointment, I saw the AD pull an extra in a tight bright yellow tank top out of the holding tank and walk her toward my trailer. Staying quiet and not sticking up for myself didn’t serve me. With hindsight I discerned a familiar pattern.

In my work, I focus on how one can thrive in three areas, body, mind, and heart. I’d like to flesh this out with you. You are a very busy leader with a demanding schedule. Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.

When I was in my 20’s and studying acting I began to realize that my body held various areas of tension that seemed to have resulted from something I didn’t have the ability to access in my psyche. When I would do the basic relaxation exercises in Method acting classes I would just cry and cry the moment I became relaxed. It happened every time and I began to think that I’d never get another role because all I could do was cry. Interestingly I was not a crier in real life. I held it all in until the cascade of tears would happen in class. Somehow I discovered a massage technique called Rolfing that purportedly unlocks trauma held in the musculature of the body. My first few sessions I walked away with black and blue bruises everywhere. It wasn’t enjoyable but it freed me in a very deep way. So much so that I did 40 sessions (the norm is 20) and even now go in for a tune up if I feel myself to be off in any way. I stopped crying. It all came out.

I have been in recent years a devoted practitioner of Hatha Yoga which has allowed me a flexibility of mind and body. After I was literally thrown off a defective treadmill at the gym a few years ago I was looking for something to replace those workouts. I found a yoga teacher with humor and for many years made the trek across town to her 8 am class until she moved to Hawaii and my left knee gave out at the same time. At times in certain poses I would cry in class as something released. She’d walk by and say, “Really?” I’d nod.

I have been a sporadic meditator for years, only just getting really serious about it in the last few years. I’ve been to India three times on silent retreats. I follow the path Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about in “Eat Pray Love,” but where she hated the chanting, I just love it. It’s the perfect way to start a day, with an inner shower of Sanskrit mantras. I’ve also been on Deepak Chopra’s retreats and love his intellectual approach to Consciousness. I discovered that my mind needs something to hold onto and his books and talks have plenty.

The last retreat I did was at the Raj spa in Fairfield, Iowa. They offer Aryuvedic treatments and a regimen of vegetarian food, Pancha-Karma cleansing, meditation and yoga. They do it all. Heaven on Earth. I try to practice what they taught me here at home. Warm milk first thing in the morning and last thing at night sooths and comforts me. They all do Transcendental Meditation there and I think it rubbed off on me.

Now in quarantine I’ve been meditating daily and my anxiety and energy levels have improved.

Ok super. Let’s now move to the main part of our discussion. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?

Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?

I didn’t choose this cause it chose me. I was raped at my very first professional audition back in Ann Arbor in 1971 or ’72. I wrote and directed a short film in 2015 called “The First of Many” which tells that story better than I can here. My filmmaker-actress daughter Elizabeth Guest encouraged me to make the short with her playing me, after the script won a prize at an international film festival. Back in 2015 no one was talking about abuse in show business or at least not that I’d heard. I tended to avoid the topic altogether not even telling my endless string of therapists, so ashamed and full of self-incrimination was I.

What finally got me talking and dealing with it was finding out the true identity of my rapist when his daughter randomly appeared in my tiny acting company of 30 people. I learned in short order who he was and that I wasn’t his only victim. This revelation ignited in me the desire to reach out to his other victims and so I began talking, was interviewed by the New York Times, performed an emotional monologue I wrote and of course made the film. I gradually became involved with other victims to change the rules by which Hollywood operates and by extension the very fabric of society that has allowed this behavior to go unpunished for so many years. I’m proud to be a Silence Breaker.

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?.

As I was coming to terms with and coming out about what happened to me at that fateful audition (which unbeknownst to me ran my psychology for over 40 years) I would often share with my doctor what I was going through. She was always supportive as the revelations kept coming and affecting my health — being out there in such a public way. Eventually I learned something similar had happened to her at the hands of a powerful man in Hollywood in her examining room early one morning many years before. She was an early fan of my film and she would be the first to tell you, our sharing and my film helped her to eventually tell her story. That powerful Hollywood figure lost his job within hours of the world finding out what he had done to her.

What are your 5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1) Don’t take rejection personally. For about 10 years I worked as an independent casting director so I saw a lot of auditions and had the opportunity to reject a lot of actors who wanted the jobs I had to offer. There are a lot of factors that go into finding the perfect actor for a part. I saw many auditions and witnessed first hand that the best actor did not always get the part. There’s also a bigger picture. I met my current husband while acting opposite him. Had I not been cast in that role by that director our lovely daughter wouldn’t exist. Big life things happen on set.

2) Speak up for yourself if you’re uncomfortable. I told you about two examples where I didn’t. Plus I should have gotten the heck out of that audition room when things began to go south, but I was being a “good, obedient” girl, following the director’s instructions. I hope women can shout NO when they need to now.

3) Don’t judge how you look. It’s only going to get worse over time. You look great compared to ten years from now. I always felt myself to be an ugly duckling. I was known as the smart one in my family and my younger sister the pretty one. As a result I had no self-confidence so when Jay Leno kissed me in a closet at the Hollywood Improv where we both worked in 1977, I assumed he was putting me on so I laughed. I’ve regretted that moment all my life. Don’t’ get me wrong I have a fabulous husband but what if I’d kissed Jay back? My low self esteem got in my way…big time.

4) Walk through the open door. I spent a lot of time banging my head against closed ones. I never appreciated things that came easily. I didn’t appreciate my casting career because it happened through the good graces of friends who supported me in the doing of it. It wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. I wanted to be acting. What I didn’t realize was that I had a lot of Inner blocks — PTSD if you will — from that bad audition. Casting was the perfect job for me. I was safe behind my desk but acting with actors in auditions all day, every day and making a fabulous living. What was the problem?? Me.

5) Your destiny will unfold. Don’t get in your own way. Take care of your body and mind and leave the rest up to God, the fates, the Universe or whatever you believe in. In the early 80’s I had become friends with the great indie filmmaker John Cassavetes who used to hang out in the restaurant where I was a hostess-cashier outside the gates of Paramount Studios. He put together a small troupe of actors to do table readings of scripts he was working on. He included me and was highly complimentary of my work. I was always depressed that I wasn’t making a living acting and he would console me saying, “Don’t worry kid. You’re tall. Gena (his wife Gena Rowlands) didn’t work till she was older.”

Frustrated with my inability to get actual paying acting jobs I decided to blame my misfortune on my nose regardless of what John said. I just knew if I had a different nose, I’d be working. So I had a nose job and as I lay in bed, black and blue, bandaged and recovering who should call, but a very excited John! “Kid, I talked to the director Peter Bogdanovich about you and he wants to meet you for his next film. Can you get over there right away?” I explained the state I was in. “You’re kidding, right?” “No, John, no I’m not.” His silent disapproval was palpable until “CLICK” resounded as he hung up the phone, disappointed in me. John hated plastic surgery and didn’t speak to me for about a year. We eventually worked together so all was not lost but I learned a HUGE lesson about self-acceptance. (I’ve since returned my poor nose to its original shape.)

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

My movement would be called “You Are Enough.” It’s what I tell my acting students at the University of Michigan where I still teach workshops twice a year. It’s applicable for actors who tend to strive too hard in their work where simple relaxation and their own true responses to the material and their acting partners would serve them best.

It also applies to all of us who strive and run after something outside ourselves to fill the inner void. — be it more income, a good-looking partner, that top job, big house, fancy car. None of those “things”will make a difference in the quality of one’s life if there’s no self love or acceptance. It’s my belief that we are all endowed with unique talents that when allowed to blossom contribute to the world as a whole. We are in fact each more than enough. We are perfectly ourselves.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Nelson Mandela

As a young girl growing up in the Midwest I never truly thought much was possible for me. I certainly never thought show business was within my reach, until it was. That I’ve worked with or around Marlon Brando, Frank Capra, John Cassavetes, ELIA KAZAN, Gena Rowlands, Cathy Moriarty, Nick Nolte, Martin Landau, Barbra Streisand, James Woods, Mickey Rourke, Ed Asner, Mickey Rooney, Tony Curtis, Rob Schneider, Isabella Rosselini, Julia Roberts, Laura Dern, Kyle MacLachlan, Michelle Pfeiffer, Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, Dennis Hopper, David Lynch, Bobby DeNiro among so many others continues to amaze that little girl still curled up in front of her parent’s black and white.

In the early 1970’s when I was a victim of assault as I’ve told you, it was outside the realm of possibility that I could find justice in the legal system as it was. I told my 2 best friends and my boyfriend at the time and none of them felt I should report what had happened to the authorities. I lived under that cloud of silent shame for over 40 years. When the Cosby and Weinstein victims came forward, admiring their bravery, I was inspired and uplifted by them but I never thought they would find actual judicial relief. Even up until the night before the Weinstein verdict came down I was convinced he would get off. It seemed impossible….and then it was done!

What are the best ways our readers can follow you online?

FACEBOOK: Pamela Guest

TWITTER: pamelarackguest

INSTA: PamelaGuest (although my daughter mocks my lack of posts!)

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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