“So, what is Robin Williams like?”

Sometimes I try to estimate how many times I’ve been asked this question over the years.

And if you replace Robin’s name with Will Smith/Pierce Brosnan/Sally Field/Timothy Dalton….

Innumerable times.

I understand why. These people are beloved. Folks want to know if he was funny or she was nice or he was high. I get it.

But I’m curious, how do people expect me to answer? All of those actors were lovely and that’s how I respond. But even if they weren’t – I’m NEVER going to say that. Why would I slam anyone to you, a person who I just met at the grocery store? Would you say something other than “they’re great” about your co-workers to a random person in the cereal aisle?

I guess people want a funny little tidbit about what that famous person was like, but here’s the truth — I am too preoccupied trying to look composed while chatting with a stranger and simultaneously attempting to hide the dandruff shampoo in my cart to come up with a pithy story at that moment. Plus the fact that it was like, 20 years ago, and many of those stories are not crystal clear anymore.

It also brings up another uncomfortable aspect of this whole thing. If that’s the first/only thing you ask me – maybe you don’t really care anything about me as a person. Maybe you are just using me to get a story about someone else. It’s like having a super popular older brother and everyone just wants to know about him.

I’m interesting, too. Not because I might be able to tell you something funny about Robin Williams, but because I’ve danced in the baraat at an Indian wedding, once fed carrots to a wallaby and have undergone hypnosis. And I’ll bet you’re interesting, too, but I’ll never know because I’m trying to come up with a cute story you can retweet.

But since I still get asked, I’ll go on autopilot and say the thing I’ve said a bajillion times:

“Yeah, he/she was really great…”

And it will be true.

But I’ll always wonder if there wasn’t a more interesting conversation we could have had.

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Why would we want Mrs. Doubtfire 2?

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Mrs. Doubtfire premiere

November 24th, 2013 marked the 20th anniversary of the release of Mrs. Doubtfire. It’s astounding that people see me, a 34-year-old writer who lives in Virginia, and still recognize Lydia Hillard.

Ever since the movie came out, people have been wanting a sequel. Maybe Mrs. Doubtfire could be working as an undercover cop? Masquerading as an international spy? Blowing the lid off injustices in the beauty pageant industry? There is no end to the possibilities of contrived silliness.

While I’m grateful to have been part of a movie that touched so many people, I can’t help but wonder why that isn’t enough. It doesn’t make any sense that there would be a follow-up to the story, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Mrs. Doubtfire 2 doesn’t have to be good – sequels almost never compare to the original – but people seem to want more anyway.

As we dive into the holidays and this Season of Wanting, epitomized by commercials suggesting that a Lexus with giant bow would be a great gift, I’m reminded that this is just how we tend to do things. We want more of everything. We are a nation of consumers, ready to trample each other to death for a cheap blender or stab someone over a parking spot at Wal-mart. We make long lists of things we don’t need, but we suddenly feel empty without them.

We can easily mistake the endless wanting for ambition, but in reality it looks a lot like self-imposed suffering based on our own fears of not being good enough.

Because for that one flickering moment, we get more of __________ and then we feel like we’ve accomplished something meaningful. It seems like a tangible indication that we have a place in the world. For one second, we can take a deep breath…until we see that Williams Sonoma is having a sale on simmer sauces and we begin the wanting all over again.

And then you throw in a little nostalgia. I get it – there was something wonderful about the 90s. It was a simpler time. I, too, long for those days when you could walk someone right to the airplane gate and everybody could eat gluten. When “Whoa!” could be a catchphrase. When The Real World presented reality television as a groundbreaking social experiment, instead of a way to get famous for being rich and idle.

But, as countless people discover at this time of year, it’s really hard to go home again. The world is a constantly changing place. And sometimes, in trying to recapture the past, you can ruin the memory of what you had. It’s kind of like wearing a mini-skirt when that’s no longer a good idea.

Maybe Mrs. Doubtfire had its time. In 1993. It seems greedy to try to squeeze more out of it. It’s flattering that people want more, but maybe we can just be grateful for what already exists. Maybe we can take that deep breath and just be content with what is.

I don’t know if there will be a sequel. Maybe there is a way to do it well. But I come back to the original question: why do we want it? Why do we want more of something that is just fine as it is?

My life has moved on since 1993. After I retired from acting, I spent a long time pretending that movies never happened, because when I talked about my childhood, people looked at me funny or accused me of not getting over it. So, I didn’t talk about it for 10 years, and then I was accused of running from my past. I realized that I needed to stop caring about those outside opinions and do what felt right.

There will really never be total dissociation from Doubtfire. When you are part of a movie that is on TV almost every Sunday afternoon – a movie that people quote to you in line at the grocery store, a movie that has become a part of the culture of the 90s – it’s just not really possible.

So, I embrace it.

Finally.

And then I let it go.

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In which I attempt to impress my niece with “Teenaged Girl Underwater”

My 7-year old niece wants to be a marine biologist. She was explaining that her first favorite are great white sharks, but dolphins are her close second favorite. At the time, she and I were standing on a paddleboard, cruising around the sadly shark/dolphin-free Bass Lake in California.

I don’t get to hang out with her, or my 5-year old nephew, very often, since my sister-in-law and her family live on the opposite side of the country. As an only child, I was never sure that I’d have the chance to wear the label of Auntie – so whenever I do see them, I always bring gifts to try to bribe my way into being Cool Aunt Lisa. I’m not naturally good with kids, so I rely on books, baseball hats and interesting stories. I jumped at the chance to get into her good graces.

“I got to swim with dolphins.”

She quickly turned around on the paddleboard to look at me, almost dumping us both off.

“Really? Why?”

Shit. I hadn’t really thought this through. Should I just say something about Sea World? No, I shouldn’t lie to 7-year olds.

“Ummm. Well. You know I used to be in movies, right? Didn’t you see that one with your Grandma?”

I thought I had remembered that she came across Mrs. Doubtfire with my mother-in-law, and she had been totally confused about why Aunt Lisa was on TV and looking so young. Other than that, we’d never talked about it. In fact, my former acting career so rarely comes up with any of my in-laws, it’s easy for all of us, including me, to forget it happened at all.

“No. Ohhhh. Wait. I do kinda remember that.”

I explained that I had done a TV movie called Bermuda Triangle and that’s where I got to swim with dolphins. And actually, there was a shark in it, too.

“Great white?” She asked.

“No, it was just a blacktip reef shark.” She tried to cover her look of mild disappointment.

I tried to get my cred back.

“I think there might actually be a clip of it on YouTube, if you want to see it.” She brightened and nodded, but she was clearly lost in a different thought.

“You know, I think being on TV runs in our family. My Grandma used to be a dancer and she was on TV. So, it’s just like that!”

(When her Grandma was 8 years old, she was in a dance troop called the “Hi-Steppers” and they were once on some sort of variety show wearing top hats and white gloves.)

“Yep, just like that!” I agreed.

When we got back to dry land, I was able to find clips, here, here and here to show the kids my dolphin encounter. I tried to ignore the fact that these were clips of me in a hot pink bathing suit in family-friendly TV movie that somehow got removed from context and categorized under the slightly pedophile-ish sounding title of “Teenaged girl underwater.”

As my niece told me about her school play and swimming practice, it got me thinking about what I was doing when I was her age. I was filming a seriously intense movie with John Malkovich called Eleni. (And since my entire life seems to be on YouTube, you can see my somewhat terrifying scene at about 23:15.)

These clips remind me why it’s challenging to explain to my young friends what I used to do. Because the movies still exist, and while the experience of working was formative for me, the finished product – the actual movie – was not.  It’s kind of like having your yearbook pop up unexpectedly.  It seems totally dated and you can’t believe your hair really looked like that. It’s an inadequate representation of something that is simultaneously important and irrelevant.

Those movies have nothing to do with her relationship with Aunt Lisa, and yet, when my niece stumbled into the TV room post-nap that one time – there Mrs. Doubtfire was, pretending to be something that she needed to care about, just because it was right in front of her.

In the end, while the dolphin swimming was sufficiently interesting for a few moments, the Junie B Jones books I got her had a more lasting impact. I also taught her some yoga postures that seem to have solidified my position in her heart.

Together, the two of us can really rock out a Tree Pose.

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The Doubtfire girls

 

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Mara and I in the school trailer while filming Mrs. Doubtfire

When I first met Mara Wilson, I was 14 and she was 5 and I decided she was mine.

We met at the screen test for Mrs. Doubtfire and for some reason, she, Matt Lawrence and I bonded instantly. Even though there were other kids auditioning, we felt like we were the pre-pubescent trio that were going to be Robin and Sally’s kids. We were right.

Mara was tiny and spunky and had impossibly small fingernails. I was very shy, introverted and a little lonely. I lived a pretty transient life as a young actor. I was an only child and worked more often than I went to school. Most of my time was spent with adults and I was much more comfortable with them than I was with other kids.  But somehow, soon after we met, I decided Mara was mine.

It’s the most maternal I’ve ever been to anyone who is not a dog.

After the film wrapped, we stayed close. There were five kids in her family and her house was this constantly churning, fun, adventurous mess. I became an honorary member of the household. When I was 15, her older brother and I held hands at the Travel Town theme park. It was the most action I’d ever gotten, aside from an on-screen kiss in Matinee a couple of years earlier, so I decided that it would be a good idea to marry Mara’s brother. He was a nice guy and I could keep my pseudo-siblings forever.

Then stuff happened. Life happened. Work happened. Mara and I both traveled a lot for shoots and we lost touch.

When I went to New York recently, I contacted her. We hadn’t seen each other in 15 years. Mara met me in the lobby of my hotel, we leapt into each others arms and didn’t let go. The doorman stared at us. We didn’t care.

I still think she’s mine and I have to take care of her – even though she is a completely grown up, lovely woman. Even though she wears stylish shoes with heels and makes me feel like a teenage boy because all I ever wear are Chuck Taylor’s. Even though she was the one who protected us from the crazy guy who approached us in the park, because I’ve never figured out the difference between being assertive and rude. Even though she is a phenomenal storyteller who she gets up on stage and owns it in a way that make me break into a flop sweat just thinking about.

You don’t always stay in touch with the people you work with, even though you create these intense relationships with them. I adored Matt Lawrence, who played my brother in Doubtfire. During filming, he and I had a ridiculously good time playing fetch with his Golden Retriever in the ballroom of the fancy hotel where we lived. We just didn’t manage to stay in touch.

And that’s how it usually goes. The end of the movie is often the end of that momentary connection. Everyone moves on to the next show, the next location, the next hotel room.

But there are these rare times on film shoots when you think you are there to do a job and really you are there to meet your family. And with family, you can lose track of them for a while, but they are never really gone.

Mara will always be my little sister.

Even if I didn’t marry Danny.

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Hello, my name is Lisa Jakub and I used to be an actor

This is a weird thing for me to write about.

You see, I’ve been spending the last 10 years running from my past. A friend said that I’m so dodgy about my old life, that I behave like someone who killed her entire family and moved out of state. I’m that elusive about it.

I didn’t kill anyone. I was just an actor.

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