Rick Lenz has been a working actor almost all his adult life. His acting ranges from the serious to the comedic, and he has been featured in both starring and supporting roles on TV and in film, in addition to acting opposite many of the entertainment industry’s biggest stars—Peter Sellers, Goldie Hawn and Elizabeth Taylor, to name a few.
North of Hollywood is his first book, published February 15th 2012. The book is full of anecdotes such as tough guy Al Pacino giving Lenz a gift of sorts, funny lady Lucille Ball being less than humorous with him in a dressing room, and recounting his first meeting with Gwyneth Paltrow.
But more than an ordinary Hollywood insider story, North of Hollywood also reveals real-life experiences of heartbreak, suspense, discovery and joy. The memoir is a product of converging crises in the author’s personal life.
“My daughter was going through a pause in her music career while she dealt with drug addiction, and my sister was diagnosed with cancer,” Lenz said. “The best way I could think of coping—aside from poring through spiritual books that seemed, at the time, beyond my ability to grasp—was to write about my family and my career and the changes that never stop swirling around all of us.”
Rick talked to us about his career, his book, and what life is like North of Hollywood.
Tell us about your book “North of Hollywood.” How did you decide to write this book and what can people expect when they open it up?
For a long time I've wanted to write about the interweaving of show business and the real life that creates the tangled existence of most actors. Since I'm the actor I know best, I chose my own life and career to work from. For awhile, I tried to write on the subject fictionally. Eventually, I decided that it needed to be dead honest for it to mean anything. And in my case anyway, I couldn't do it without building the story around my own experience. I think when people read "North of Hollywood" they can expect a mixture of comedy and strains of "the blues." I don't think any life, revealed honestly--which I tried very hard to do--comes without dark moments--as well as moments of insanity, comedy and even farce. I think people can also expect--I hope--the pull of a compelling story that again and again draws the reader in.
How long has the book been in progress?
It was in my mind for years, but I actually wrote it in real time, as the "current" events of the book unfolded--that added up to about a year.
When discussing “North of Hollywood” Kevin Cook said, “as a pop-culture junkie I drooled over the movie and TV anecdotes, but the best parts, for me, are the introspective passages.” What was it like to write the introspective passages?
It was cathartic, sometimes frightening. Other times, it amused me. In the end, it simply made me very happy that it came together the way it did.
You’ve said young actors should leave their personal problems at home. That can be a big task, though! Any advice on how to accomplish that?
I think it's a vital discipline for an actor--maybe for any professional. You don't want to muddy what you're trying to say and do by hauling in your personal baggage. I think it's necessary to keep reminding yourself of the importance of REALLY doing exactly what you're doing.
Throughout the years what’s been the most rewarding part of acting?
The incredible fun of doing it, the feeling that in a way you're flying. That's the closest word I can think of to what it feels like when the acting is going well--flying ... or maybe soaring.
What kind of roles have you enjoyed the most and why?
I like both comedy and drama--with a slight edge to comedy. It is so much fun to get the laughs that lurk within good comedy writing. Maybe most of all, I love the roles that resonate to universal experience, the characters that reveal hidden parts of all of us. Those are the happiest roles to be lucky enough to play.
You mention that you were exposed to great art at a young age, but how long have you been creating art yourself, and how did you get started?
During my theatre training, I studied set design, lighting and costuming. I loved doing the renderings, the floor-plans and eventually designing the whole thing. Later on, I drew pictures, did a little painting, doodled, whatever. Linda liked my drawings and encouraged me. One day I took her seriously. I've been drawing and painting ever since. Now it's another passion, along with acting and writing.
In what media do you work?
I usually work in gouache and water colors--but not thinly applied. I like thick, dense, saturated, mostly primary colors.
Your artwork is very colorful and whimsical, yet there are some great truths in it. Do you set out with an idea in mind, or do you let the work reveal itself?
It's about half-and-half. Sometimes, I just draw, or paint and figure out what it is later. Sometimes, I have something very specific in mind when I start.
What’s coming up for you in the next year?
I'm finishing a novel about an actor who travels back in time and plays a role--unfortunately left on the cutting room floor--in a famous movie. It's a psychological mystery.