I did interviews with People and Cosmo, a five-page spread in Elle. Two days after the shoot, I got a call from Dawn Ostroff at the CW. Within three weeks, I’d signed with my manager Alec and been cast as the lead in Evil Darlings.
It may have begun as a campy TV show, but Darlings spun off an entire toy line, board games, a clothing line, and tie-in-novels. It opened the door to more TV and eventually movies, helping me land the role of my dreams.
At first, acting was an escape, enabling me to be someone else and pretend that everything was okay. But it was also an active form of revenge—I wanted to haunt Sam. I loved the idea of him seeing me on his television and knowing that I wasn’t his, that I would never be his again. I fantasized that he saw me and saw that he hadn’t broken me; I was stronger without him. I’d imagine his regret, his guilt, his heartbreak.
For a few seconds, the fantasy would be as good as a high. But then the director would call cut and reality would crash down.
But it didn’t take long to realize I loved acting. I loved photo shoots. I loved the travel and the promo. I loved becoming someone else. And Sam was the only one who knew how much I’d wanted acting to be my life.
Ironically, my escape into various roles helped me get over him, but the distance from Sam also gave me time to truly appreciate what Nana gave me by taking me to London. She pulled me out of my small life; she made my world expand. Without London, I would never have become an actress. This is the life I wanted, but not at all on my terms.
I scan my script and revert to old habits, surreptitiously wrapping a loose string from my sweater around my finger and pulling it so tight it sends a shock of pain through my system. It’s enough to have me straightening in my seat, some of the static clearing from my ears so I can focus as the reading begins.
Because the movie begins when Ellen is a teenager, the younger cast starts the read. I look great for thirty-two, but not even Charlie’s makeup can get me to pass for sixteen.
We follow along for about twenty pages as a young Ellen Meyer and her first husband, Daniel Reed, begin a secret affair and move to Minneapolis where Daniel begins school and Ellen works odd jobs to keep them afloat. The two young actors recite their lines with only a few stumbles, and we see Daniel’s infidelity, and Ellen moving to the family farm when she is only twenty-six.
We shuffle pages, everyone takes a few minutes to get some water, and when we reconvene, the silence in the room feels like it vibrates along my bones.
EXT. MEYER FAMILY FARM, FRONT PORCH—DAY
1956 Iowa. Rolling green hills and farmland surround a two-story farmhouse. A handsome but down-on-his-luck salesman RICHARD DONNELLY (28, a physically imposing black man with wide eyes and a nervous smile) knocks on the front door. His shoes are worn but his suit is clean and pressed, his hair is short and neat beneath the brim of his hat.
When no one answers, he looks back over the scenery—there isn’t another house for miles. It’s hot. He’s tired and hungry. He hears a woman’s scream followed by loud swearing from around the back of the house. He jumps off the porch and races toward it.
EXT. MEYER FAMILY FARM, BACK PORCH—DAY
ELLEN MEYER (26), beautiful but wearing a wet dress and apron, stands with her arms submerged in the tub of a broken washing machine. She is surrounded by baskets of laundry and an empty clothesline. An open toolbox lies at her feet.
God dammit! Piece of—
Richard races around the corner and stops when he sees her.
Ma’am . . . Are you okay?
Ellen turns. She places a dripping hand on her hip, curious, but not intimidated.
Who are you and what are you doing on my farm?
Richard Donnelly. I’m here to see about selling you some feed for those cows.
He motions toward the front of the house.
Nobody answered the door and I heard someone shouting.
She turns back to the washing machine.
Well as you can see, Richard Donnelly, I’m busy wrestling this stupid machine. And I don’t need more feed.
Yes, ma’am. Can I help you? I mean you’re—
She turns back to glare at him.
What? A woman?
He tries to hide a smile.
Actually, I was going to say “soaking wet.”
She looks down and tries not to smile, too.
I’m fine. I’ve fixed this thing a dozen times before. I can do it again.
“Okay, so far this is . . . good,” Gwen says hesitantly, and we look up at her. “Nick, I like the vulnerability, and you’re really getting Richard’s charm.”
She turns to me, my stomach drops, and it feels like the entire room holds its breath. We all know what’s coming. I know when I’m nailing it, and right now I’m about as unnatural and tense as I’ve ever been.
“Tate, I want you to try to capture how disarmed Ellen is right here. In the past years, she’s become a city girl. Now she finds herself back on the farm, having to take care of everything, including her father. She’s ferociously independent. She’s a feminist before her time. She’s learned the hard way that she doesn’t need anyone’s help, she doesn’t trust men, she certainly doesn’t want to be charmed by Richard, but she reacts before she can stop herself. Let’s really feel that.”