In which the book finally finds its theme.
Five minutes after wrapping up my recent chat with AJ Langer, I experienced the type of epiphany usually reserved for TV detectives. That's because she had just revealed to me what this book is really about: vulnerability.
After a childhood injury sidelined her from playing baseball, she threw herself into acting instead. While always grateful for every part she received, it wasn’t until she played Rayanne on My So-Called Life that she found a character who allowed her to bring deep, important aspects of her own personality to the fore.
“With her, all my self-consciousness disappeared; she was very liberating,” AJ explains. “To me, who was quite a people pleaser, there was a joy, a freedom.”
From our conversation, I understand now that the vulnerability that we glimpse in Angela’s best friend is, in part, the actress allowing herself to tap into her own feelings of vulnerability – feelings that both sports and the harsh film and television auditioning process conditioned her not to show.
This, in turn, made Rayanne the emotional linchpin of the series. We may feel for Angela, Rickie, Brian and the rest, certainly. But the real “kick to the stomach” moments we experience are almost always those times when we see Rayanne struggling with her own mistakes and impulses.
Admittedly it took AJ some time to channel the character during rehearsals for the Pilot. The key to accomplishing this, she discovered, was that she had to stop using her head –“I just had to get ‘me’ out of the way,” she explains.
Once I took this in, I realized that the vulnerabilities of other members of the cast and crew further fueled MSCL’s empathic fire: one person’s childhood battles with dyslexia, for example, were given to Jordan; Wilson Cruz’s own turbulent early years gave Rickie’s on-screen life a heartbreaking poignancy – I could go on.
So my thanks to AJ Langer for sharing with me her memories of those days, as well as her insights into playing Rayanne – I hope to do them both justice in this book. (Perhaps the best way to do that will be for me to simply 'get out of the way.')
So Beautiful it Hurts' is neither endorsed by nor affiliated with ABC, The Bedford Falls Co., or anyone involved with the making or distribution of "My So-Called Life."