Actress Sharon Blynn of Captain Marvel: “Bald Is Beautiful is my way of generating that visual “hug” and encouragement to as many as people as I can reach!”
…That’s when I realized the impact that a bold and joyful image of a bald woman (or in this case, two bald women) could have on how people see themselves, how they perceive and experience cancer, and the urgent need for more hopeful and empowering images in print, TV, and film to support and uplift people, in sickness and in health. Bald Is Beautiful is my way of generating that visual “hug” and encouragement to as many as people as I can reach!
I had the pleasure to interview Actress Sharon Blynn. Sharon is an actorvist, writer, and founder of Bald Is Beautiful (www.baldisbeautiful.org), a women’s wholeness and ovarian cancer awareness organization dedicated to empowering women to define their beauty and femininity on their own terms. Blynn has appeared on the big and small screens and performed on stages in New York and Los Angeles, as well as sharing her Bald Is Beautiful message all over the world. Most recently, Sharon appears in the role of Soren, wife of Talos (Ben Mendelsohn), in the blockbuster movie, Captain Marvel; other highlights include appearances on Body of Proof (ABC), Shameless (Showtime), and Lie to Me (Fox), and hosting the PBS documentary, The Whisper: The Silent Crisis of Ovarian Cancer, and recent honors include the BraveHeart Women’s Courage Award, Revlon Role Model, Lifetime TV “Remarkable Woman” honoree, and the Lilly Tartikoff/EIF Hope Award.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
At 28 years old, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The experience of losing my hair and ultimately both of my ovaries, and the questions I then faced within myself about my womanhood, inspired me to started Bald Is Beautiful. A photo of me with an actress whose head I’d shaved for her performance as the lead in the play W;t (about woman who had ovarian cancer) appeared in a story on the cover of the Arts and Leisure section of the Miami Herald, and the response from everyone who saw it was exceptionally positive and loving. That’s when I realized the impact that a bold and joyful image of a bald woman (or in this case, two bald women) could have on how people see themselves, how they perceive and experience cancer, and the urgent need for more hopeful and empowering images in print, TV, and film to support and uplift people, in sickness and in health. Bald Is Beautiful is my way of generating that visual “hug” and encouragement to as many as people as I can reach!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Aside from a range of acting work, one of the most interesting projects I did on the Bald Is Beautiful side o’ things was speaking as part of a motivational program based in Spain called “Lo Que de Verdad Importa (What Is Really Important)”. I presented in Madrid and Seville to several audiences of around 2,500 youths — my first time addressing an audience that size! — whose ages ranged from 15–20 years old. I spoke about my cancer journey, finding my life purpose, and encouraging them to believe in and pursue their dreams. I met so many enthusiastic young people, who were activated and engaged in doing something to make their lives and the world better. It was a transformative experience, and I was inspired by all of them.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I once had an audition for an industrial type of project for which the script was copy heavy and quite technical, and the subject matter was about language itself. As a copy editor-proofreader, I was actually intrigued and interested in the information I was presenting as the potential “host” of this piece. After the audition, there was a moment of awkward silence and I mistakenly thought I was supposed fill the void! First, I offered a dorky comment about how fascinating the material was and how much fun I had working on it, and I followed that with a few funny (in my mind) quips about the ironic typos in a script about language. (*forehead slap*) That may not have anything to do with my not booking the gig, but I felt like I sort of talked myself out of that job! Lesson learned: Keep my nerves in check and let a few impulses pass before taking any kind of vocalized action in the audition room!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m a fan of Marvel and Stan Lee since childhood, so being in Captain Marvel and working with the main cast in such impactful and compelling scenes is the most exciting project I’ve been part of on so many levels beyond just from an acting perspective. It is an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life! I have some other projects in development and continue to audition and study to keep my acting chops in top form and be ready for whatever comes next!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Of course, working with Ben Mendelsohn in Captain Marvel was magical. His work is grounded and he is very present and open. We had a short time to establish an emotional bond for our scenes, and it was seamless and easy to do that with him. It was also quite interesting to work with a directing team, which I’d not done before. The energy and flow that Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck have together is inviting and safe, and it was fascinating to experience what I felt was a uniquely collaborative vibe amongst everyone — cast and crew — throughout the entire shoot.
One of my other favorite acting experiences was working with William H. Macy on Shameless. The scene had me speaking in a cancer support group, and it was profoundly personal for me. We shot that one scene many times, and by the final takes, my tear ducts were dry! I was feeling a bit unsure about not being to cry by the end as I’d done for most of the previous takes, and after we wrapped, William took me aside and told me not to worry about the “water works”. He said, “It’s often more powerful for people to see that you want to cry but don’t.”
In general, working on a show or film, and in everyday life, I always enjoy meeting and engaging with people from all walks of life. There is such a richness of life experiences around us through which we can share and connect. Aaah, LIFE!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Focus and discipline are essential parts of building a career in any field. But/and . . . it is equally essential to live a full and adventurous life! If we define ourselves or our lives based on just one facet of who we are or what we do on a day-to-day basis, we might be missing out on many other life-enriching experiences — and we never know how those supposedly unrelated things can actually create synergy and unexpected benefits in all areas of our lives. When I notice that I’m apprehensive about doing something and that it’s based purely on fear, that’s when I know it’s probably something I need to dive into, to push past the edges of my comfort zone, as that is where growth, evolution, and unimagined joy is most often found.
You are a person of great 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.
I am humbled and grateful to be able to say that I am already doing this through my Bald Is Beautiful movement. It is the fuel behind my acting work, and specifically why and how I do what I do. Going through the twists and turns of the physical, mental, and emotional rollercoaster ride of ovarian cancer, and not only facing my mortality but also being confronted with questions about how I defined myself as a woman — and then reexamining and reshaping those self-perceptions — was a beautiful gift, albeit wrapped in some very intense and complicated packaging to be sure!
I chose to first share my story through my website, so that it could be immediately accessible to folks traveling along the information superhighway — just as many other peoples’ stories were a great resource to me when I needed them. After that, I took steps to explore and implement ways to activate the media in print, TV, and film to manifest what was a mere conceptual idea in my brain. And so it continues . . . in wonderfully unpredictable and often magical ways!
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. Do not use Comic Sans. Ever.
I used this apparently resoundingly reviled font on my first headshot “resume” (which at that point was just my Bald Is Beautiful mission statement on the back!), it was also on textured pastel pink paper just for kicks. I can’t say for sure that it negatively impacted me in getting auditions at the time, but it might have gone either way in terms of people taking me seriously. Best to err on the side of at least a more “neutral” font vs. one that apparently inspires vociferous debate! Over time, I also accrued credits that I could list instead of just the mission statement, and I formatted that in the more standard fashion — in a much more “acceptable” font!
2. Always keep a spare outfit or two in your car that can work for a couple of different roles.
This is very LA-specific, because in NYC, I don’t have (or need) a car, and the geography and subway system make it easy to jet back home from wherever I might be to change into audition-appropriate attire if necessary! Traffique in LA-la-land can create a logistical challenge for last-minute auditions, depending on the time and where you are in relation to the audition location. Some years ago, I was staying in the Hollywood area and working a temp job in Santa Monica when I got a call for a commercial audition that was very close to where I was working that day. The only catch? It was in an hour and the role was for an artsy/edgy rocker type — and here I was dressed in my most neutral corporate casual! I had no choice but to go to the audition as is, and do my best to embody the energy of the role while my outer appearance was very much not that look. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one! Nevertheless, another lesson learned — for all of us, I hope!
3. Audition technique is different than acting technique. They are integrally linked but distinctly separate skills.
While acting itself is most certainly an essential core skill for auditions, the nature of auditions on their own is in most ways quite removed from doing a scene on set or in a class — including the fact that in an audition you are likely on camera from only the waist or chest up, the reader may or may not follow you as you move, the reader may or may not give you anything to work off of (emotionally), and so many other aspects related to the scene itself, such as having to create the effect of running or holding heavy boxes or hugging/kissing someone without actually being able to physically DO those things, all while also making sure it all “reads” on the medium-framed camera set-up.
I only recently decided to try out an “audition technique” course (shout-out to Lilach Mendelovich at ActingPros!), and was only three classes in when I got the audition for Captain Marvel. The audition sides had no dialogue, just two sentences from which I would have to create a complex and emotionally intense scene with no context or details and just me and a camera in the room (although I unexpectedly had a lovely reader to make eye contact and emotional connection with, I was fully prepared to do it on my own!). Ordinarily that kind of audition might have been very intimidating, but with freshly instilled techniques like how to use eye lines to create the environment, where to “place” people in the scene in relation to the camera, and even which side of the room to “enter frame” from based on where the reader and camera are set up were critical tools I was able to use to get out of my head and focus on conveying the emotion and essence of the scene. And the rest is herstory!
4. Nothing’s happening until it’s already happened (i.e., everything you shoot could end up on the cutting room floor).
When actors book a gig, the excitement and thrill of that on its own is something we want to share with our friends and family, who more often than not hear about what we didn’t book or how maybe it’s been a long time since we even had an audition. So when we book something, our impulse is to let everyone know about it so they can tune in and share in the joy and watch us do our thing on the small or big screen! But sometimes, for a variety of reasons, the scene(s) we shoot could be edited down to almost nothing or removed completely from the finished cut.
Funny enough, I learned this lesson in the fashion/modeling world, not acting. One of what I called my pie-in-the-sky dreams for Bald Is Beautiful was to walk a major designer runway during New York Fashion Week. Within the first six months of starting BisB, I met one such designer who invited me to walk in their Fashion Week show the following week. I was over the moon! Somehow, a newspaper got ahold of the story and interviewed me about it. I told everyone I knew that I was going to walk in Fashion Week — and that there would be news article about it, too! Bald Is Beautiful was off to a remarkable start, and I was buzzing all week about it. Until the night before the show. The designer’s publicist called to tell me that I was not going to walk in the show after all (I would ostensibly be a distraction in the small window of time they have to show the new line). Crestfallen and deeply disappointed, I had to gather myself together and immediately call everybody (including the newspaper writer) to let them know that none of it was happening anymore. From then on, I decided I’d only tell people about a booking after it was already shot and completed, and even then I always include a disclaimer about not knowing what the final edit looks like.
5. The acting biz is not always or necessarily a meritocracy.
With the disproportionate amount of “no” to “yes” in this industry, it can push against our belief that we are indeed talented! I heard a story told by a casting office of an instance where the choice for casting a role came down to two people. The two candidates looked very similar and both performed equally well, so they supposedly tossed the headshots in the air and the actor whose headshot landed face-up got the gig. Wha?! True, or urban legend? I don’t know for sure, but it’s something to consider when we might feel we didn’t book the job because of our performance or level of talent.
Regardless, it’s vital that we treat every audition as though it were a one- or two-minute (or sometimes even shorter!) performance and leave it all in the room, as they say. We have to do the work and then let it go, carry on with the rest of our day and lives. So many things that are out of our control go into who gets what roles, so I do my very best to focus on being prepared and being present, truthful, and authentic in the scene in the room.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are so many “Life Lesson” quotes that I love, one of my favorites is one that I’d read during my college years: “Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.” (Henry David Thoreau)
Before I started Bald Is Beautiful, I was working the jazz music business in NYC. It was dream of mine to do exactly what I was doing — collaborating with incredibly talented artists, bring their creations to the world, forging lifelong connections and friendships with musicians, hanging out in the storied jazz scene of New York City into the wee hours every night for many years! — and yet, throughout those years, I had ideas of things I wanted to try but put them on the back burner because I was afraid to leave the safety of that (awesome) day job. So when I was inspired by my ovarian cancer journey to start Bald Is Beautiful, I chose not to set it aside, chose not to be practical or “responsible”, and gave this idea a huge, cosmic “YES!” Bald Is Beautiful became my new life calling, and the experiences, accomplishments, and connections I’ve made in the last 16+ years of doing this work are beyond measure. I had a dream, a vision; and I’m living it out, living my Truth — and it feels truly humbling and beautiful.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’m an identical twin, and my sister’s name is Elisa. (Monozygotes rule!) Back in 2002, Elisa conceived and produced and directed an ensemble piece she called Off the Muff (her theatrical response to The Vagina Monologues), which featured autobiographical first-person monologues written by the women who were performing in the show. I was still in treatment for ovarian cancer at the time, and Elisa invited me to participate in this interactive theatrical event. I had never acted before, but I was doing a lot of journaling at the time about my ovaries and reflecting on my life in general as part of my healing regimen. With Elisa’s guidance and insight (and acting boot camp training!), as well as oru infinite well of unconditional love, my performance debut was as part of an exquisite and powerful ensemble of remarkable, loving women! After the first of what would be four presentations of Off the Muff in different venues in NYC, Elisa strongly encouraged me to pursue the acting part of my Bald Is Beautiful mission her encouragement meant, and always means, the world to me.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
There are so many incredible people in all of those fields with whom I would love to spend time. It would be an honor to have a private breakfast or lunch with Serena Williams. She is an extraordinary woman, a phenomenal athlete, and consummate role model, who demonstrates the perfect balance of power and grace on and off the tennis court. Because of the bond I share with my twin sis, Elisa, I also admire the bond Serena has with her sister, Venus, and how that sibling love has both inspired and challenged Serena to continue to excel throughout her life. Interestingly, I refer to her in my acting life when I talk about wanting to work with actors who challenge me to improve by saying, “I want the acting equivalent of learning to play tennis with Serena Williams so that I have to rise to the occasion to be the best at my game.”
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