My barber has been after me for some time to colour my hair. A few years back he convinced me to sit with a tight bathing cap thing on my head as he tugged strands of hair through and dyed them a darker colour. He called them “lowlights”. They made me feel like a skunk. After a couple of episodes of this torture I happily gave up on it and reverted to my natural white.
This month he was delighted when I told him that I thought, for the role I am currently playing in August:Osage County, I should have my white hair toned down a bit so it does not attract so much attention in the stage lights. For my role as Father in Stone Angel last spring it was appropriate. As Charlie Aiken, I thought I should look a little less domineering.
So last week he coloured my hair with a product he told me would gradually wash out over a few weeks, thereby being less noticeable as my white roots grow back in.
At first, the dye job proved a bit darker than I had anticipated and there was such a discrepancy between my hair and moustache and eyebrows that I had to have them done too.
For the role of Charlie it has been great. It has allowed me to feel like a totally different person and inhabit the character. The down side is that , for the next few weeks, I will be looking in mirrors and not recognizing myself. Friends pass me on the street, not knowing who I am.
Others look at me with a glance of curiosity. Some of them ask me, “Got a new girlfriend?” Others are more direct. “You look like you should be in porn movies.” ” You look like one of the Mario Brothers.” “Ned Flanders” “Tennessee Ernie Ford”. “If you put conditioner on if and leave it in for a bit, it will wash out faster.”
No one seems to think that it is me. Nor do I. I am blessed with a thick head of healthy white hair and I am 67 years old. Why would I want to pretend to be someone I am not? I am not ashamed of my age. Why should we have a preoccupation of trying to look younger than we are? Do I want to end up looking like Paul McCartney – a 70-year-old face with 30-year-old hair? He may look good from the back but from the front, the effort to hide his age (that everyone knows anyway) is kind of pathetic.
My hair dresser told me “White hair says ‘old’. People don’t notice you if you have white hair, you are overlooked.” Baloney. Tell me that no one notices Bill Clinton or Anderson Cooper or Richard Gere.
When this show is over, I will put Charlie Aiken away and within weeks will be back to the real me. Pretending is for theatre and I absolutely love doing that. But in my real life I am not going to try to cover up who I really am. It is too much work. And it would make me feel like I am somehow not satisfied with myself. I think that would be a bit sad.
If I am cast in another play some time that requires a different look to take on the character I will be more than happy to do it again. Temporarily.
But if you overlook me simply because my hair is white … well, that is your problem, not mine. You don’t know what you are missing.