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 are and 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 stick out. Unlike other fandoms that came into my world, light sabers battles and Death Stars just didn't click as a teenager.

If one thing is certain about the series whether I was a fan or not was that Princess Leia is Carrie Fisher, and vice versa. The iconography of the damsel-without-the-distress was pretty simple to love, even though I didn't get the hype of the original movies. 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 original cast was announced to be apart of the 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 a gift. If there was one person I looked forward to hearing from it was her - that sharp humor, vulnerable candor, and unvarnished approached to life in and out of Hollywood.

Speaking out always seemed to be something in Fisher's DNA. Since 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. The tag of Star Wars never seemed to fade even as she, like Harrison Ford and Mark Hammil, broke out of the mold. Fame and being Leia, as well as personal struggles like failed marriages, caught up with her. She struggled with bipolar disorder and addiction often using drugs to self-medicate. 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 really connecting with everything about her fictional counterpart, it was one of the first times I'd seen an actress hit out on the difficulties and entertainment about her identity as a mega famous character. She voiced her thoughts on selling away her likeness to be on action figures and even a sex doll, accepting being apart of teenagers' puberty fantasies, and insecurities she experienced as a woman and actress. From losing weight for the recent reunion to never getting a light saber of her own, or not being able to wear a bra in space, 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, to addiction to pain killers and drugs, or her family's complicated history, she owned a part of her past that just doesn't come by often with movie stars or public figures these days. She seemed to have no secrets with the world as she believed "you're only as sick as your secrets" and 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 and taking note of all the nuggets she has about life. She hits it out of the park with the wildly improvisational and unpredictable Craig Ferguson. Sitting with Charlie Rose, her sharp wit is always in tact to pull off a few jokes and never too far off from being straightforward and vulnerable about her life the next. Even just cozying up on an interviewer's couch or 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 opinions and 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 flipping the script on addiction and becoming an advocate for mental illness, turning would-be scandals or tantalizing click-bait into something funny. When she wasn't acting, she used the written words to form what she wanted to say about her life or just came out with it in theaters.

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 - malleable and helpless.

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.

Strangling Jabba the Hut in a gold bikini was primarily her idea, and it didn't come easy, having to take a stand over and over again that her character and women were meant for more than eye-candy. When a father outraged over the outfit of a toy Leia in the gold bikini and what he could tells 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 a legend 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 (even fretting she was ruining the grandeur for viewers at home), 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 dropping the facade to offer her take on it from roasting George Lucas or venting they wanted her to lose ten more pounds when she was already a mere 105. As far back as the original series coming out, she handled press with a refreshing maturity and that sharp wit.

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 spacist 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 very brief run as a guest columnist on The Guardian, she was ready to dole out advice - often reinforcing the courage to anonymous writers who asked for her advice. 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.
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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