Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Stars I Love: Carrie Fisher

Despite being a huge geek, Star Wars wasn't a fandom I easily connected with growing up. My mom and sister have always been obsessed with George Lucas's space opera. Even though they took me to the prequels released in theaters, always had the original trio playing on tv, and even attended conventions to meet a parade of castmates, The Force failed to click with me.

Even though I didn't get the hype of the original movies, the iconography of the damsel-without-the-distress was a simple concept to love. My interest in the Star Wars realm wasn't strong, but I hugely admired Carrie Fisher.
When it’s out, it’s someone else’s version of what’s the matter with me. I want it to be my version of what it is. My recourse is to do my version. (x)
In 2015, when the original cast was announced to return to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, knowing Carrie Fisher would be on press tours and much more involved in the public than she had been was an absolute gift for me. If there was one person I looked forward to hearing from, it was her - that sharp humor, vulnerable candor, and unvarnished approach to life in and out of Hollywood.

Speaking out always seemed to be something in Fisher's DNA. Since she was cast as Princess Leia at nineteen years old, the world wasn't necessarily her oyster despite being one of the most recognizable women in the 1970s and 1980s. By all means, Fisher's life wasn't exactly the squeaky clean image studios tried to dole out. Fame as well as personal struggles like failed marriages caught up with her. Often using drugs to self-medicate, she struggled with bipolar disorder and addiction. After the franchise hit its initial peak, she jelled from leading star into supporting roles, becoming one of Hollywood's best script doctors (Hook, The Wedding Singer, Sister Act) and a bestselling author.

As a teenager I remember watching her one-woman show Wishful Drinking centered on experiences of her Hollywood parentage with Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, mental illness, and fame. Not connecting with everything about her fictional counterpart, it was one of the first times I'd seen an actress hit out on the difficulties about her identity as an iconic pop culture figure. She voiced her thoughts on selling away her likeness, being apart of teenagers' fantasies, and insecurities as a woman and actress. From losing weight for the recent franchise reunion to being prohibited from wearing a bra as Leia, there are double standards in even space as she said.
At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you're living with this illness and functioning at all, it's something to be proud of, not ashamed of. They should issue medals along with the steady stream of medication.
Having suffered from depression and anxiety myself, Fisher was one of the first people I ever heard talk about her episodes of manic depression and psychotic breaks, and the things that worked for her like ECT and therapy. Every time she spoke up about her issues from divorce and addiction to her family's complicated history, she owned a part of her past in a way that most movie stars or public figures don't these days. Fisher owned up to her secrets instead of hiding them as she believed "you're only as sick as your secrets", and this made it possible to know that if you can label your problems they no longer have power over you.

Watching interviews of Fisher is one of my favorite past times. It's hard to list or describe my favorites because they're all worthy of enjoying the zest she possessed. She hits it out of the park with the wildly improvisational and unpredictable Craig Ferguson, but paired against Charlie Rose is able to use her sharp wit to be vulnerable and straightforward about her struggles. Even just cozying up on an interviewer's couch and guzzling down Coca Cola, she made every studio homely kicking off her shoes and bringing her dog Gary to share the spotlight.
If my life wasn't funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.
Her observations were gold layered in humor and honesty that rarely anyone in Hollywood dishes out. Candid and unabashedly herself, she took power back from the tabloids throughout the latter half of her career becoming an advocate for mental illness and turning would-be scandals or tantalizing click-bait into something funny. When she wasn't acting, she used the written word to form what she wanted to say about her life, putting her life into novels and memoirs that accounted for the obstacles she faced with romantic relationships and the daughter of Hollywood stars.

What makes Fisher so unique is her voice, how she found it and used it for herself and such a powerful character like Leia. It might've taken Leia almost thirty-five years to come back to the screen, but a part of her never left Fisher. She used her voice for raising awareness about social issues, and she was also influential in the Star Wars franchise. Her candid, tenacious, and warm personality made Leia the princess who defied what princesses are supposed to be - helpless and boring.

But it wasn't an easy going adding more dynamics to her fictional counterpart. While Ford was able to rework the famous I Love You / I Know scene in Empire Strikes Back, Fisher was left out of the dark to develop Leia as much as she wanted, vying to give the character more battlescars and layers. Early in the making of the original Star Wars, she was frustrated Leia started out avoiding becoming a caricature, but grew to be too malleable.

In Return of the Jedi, the last of the original trilogy, strangling Jabba the Hut in a gold bikini was primarily her idea. But it didn't come easy. Having to take a stand over and over again, Leia fought for her character and women in the audience to see Leia be treated as more than eye-candy, especially after two films that established her as an outspoken leader and fighter.

When a father outraged over the outfit of a toy Leia in the gold bikini and what he could tell his kids about her clothes, she struck out about the ludicrous backlash: "Tell them that a giant slug captured me and forced me to wear that stupid outfit, and then I killed him because I didn’t like it.”
I didn’t realize that when I donned that freaking metal bikini back when I was 23 that I made an invisible contract to stay looking the exact same way for the next 30 to 40 years. Well, obviously I betrayed the contract.
Leia is an icon in her own right, but Fisher added a whole new element to the saga, making the act of playing Leia a legend in and of itself. She didn't shy from describing how scenes were filmed with special-effects nor tackling the same questions about coming from Hollywood royalty. She revered the fiction of which she became famous for, but she also had qualms about how she was treated by roasting George Lucas confusing decisions about her character and venting how the studios always wanted her to lose ten more pounds. As far back as the original series, she handled press with a refreshing maturity and biting charm.

Fisher, especially during the latter half of her career, became known for her outspokenness as well as her advocacy for mental health. She had problems, she knew them, and she let everyone else know them too; there was no shame in owning up to it. She also stood up for friends >who were sexually assaulted, supported co-stars like John Boyega who was hounded with racism when he was cast as a Stormtrooper and encouraged Daisy Ridley to fight against production decisions. She called out the so-called myth of beauty and body types, even when she was proud of her weight loss and looking for love. In her brief run as a guest columnist on The Guardian, she was ready to dole out advice - often reinforcing the courage to anonymous readers who asked for her guidance. Her resilience were her words, spoken and written, with equal amounts banter and frankness.

In the same way that Star Wars's co-star and longtime friend Harrison Ford dry-as-a-dessert sense of humor often shows just how funny he really is, Fisher's honesty showed how vulnerable and strong she was: the truth of a woman who went through a lot of crap, earned wisdom along the way, and ended up not giving two licks about it. May we all obtain that one-of-a-kind strength some day.
I can get through anything and do anything regardless of whether I’m a woman or whether I’m mentally ill or whether I’m a Libra or anything else. I can do it and so can you.

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