Monday, May 4, 2015

Shades of Gray

To dye, or not to dye?  That is the question...

Nothing heralds the transition from youth to middle age and beyond than the appearance of those first gray hairs.  Unless of course you are one of us who are genetically predisposed to premature gray.  It is a Beaman trait amongst the males of the family, and my own father was graying by the time he was in his late 20s; I don't remember him without silver hair.  I was a late bloomer, actually, and didn't begin to really see the salt mix in with the pepper until I was in my early 40s.  I look at photos of myself when I came out of grad school in 2004, and I still had dark hair and beard.  The change really began shortly thereafter.

Head shot with dyed locks, 2005
Having a somewhat youthful face and knowing the connotations that gray hair has to those casting roles in show business, I chose to start coloring my hair.  Dark brown dye covered those telltale grays and, I thought, kept me in that late 30s-early 40s market; having gone to graduate school later in life I wanted to maximize my castability.  The color was never quite my natural shade; always looked a little too dark, but it seemed the right thing to do.  I didn't stop with the hair color for a few years... until I was on a lengthy tour with Spamalot and was being wigged in the show.  It seemed silly to keep up with the hair dye so I let it go and let the gray grow in.  The response from people was rapturous.  Apparently salt and pepper hair on a man is sexy, dignified, irresistible.  The names of all the leading silver foxes--Clooney, Cooper, Slattery-- got bandied about me.  I thought, hey, maybe I am on to something here!

At 22, playing Ebenezer Scrooge

And thus began my journey as a silver fox.  As the years have passed, and I approach 50, the salt has begun to overwhelm the pepper and the politics of THE GRAY have changed.  Show business is a vehicle for cultural and societal views and attitudes, particularly in a youth obsessed culture such as ours.  And as 'hot' as many may consider graying temples, nevertheless they are the heralds of age.  And in show business an actor who chooses not to dye his silvering locks (irregardless of the fact that there are such things as wigs and hair color) can see the door close on an array of roles, while another opens. You are just seen differently. This brings with it mixed emotions.  I still have a fairly youthful face and spirit, am still in pretty decent shape and can pass for a youngish dad in his early 40s.  But suddenly I find myself in the over 50 group (I ain't there quite yet!), and it can be a little depressing at times, even though some of the roles are pretty fantastic.  I was a character actor even at the tender age of 21 (when I looked 16) and would plaster my face with painted on wrinkles and spray the silver into my hair in college to play almost always middle aged and old men.  Now that I have arrived into my career 'sweet spot'--I often say "my best years as an actor are ahead of me"--it still brings a rather powerful sense that not only am I cresting 'over that hill' but I can see it in my rear view mirror!

Imagine how we'd think about Tom Cruise if he stopped dying his hair?  Would he still be an action hero? Tom Hanks would be playing grandfathers if he stopped artificially extending middle age.  We consider George Clooney and Richard Gere still sexy and desirable, and they are handsome, virile guys.  If we saw them in a role where they dyed their hair dark it might actually make them suddenly appear older, wouldn't it?  Oh, the politics of gray hair are complex... they are rooted (pardon the pun) in a societal fear of aging, they signal a passage from which one never can return.  What's the answer?  For most women it has rarely been a question--you keep on dying that hair, avoiding the feelings of looking 'washed out' and old.  For men, it's trickier.  Women can balance an artificial hair color with makeup, bringing the whole thing together.  For men, well... look at James Lipton.  I rest my case.  Let it go, Mr. Lipton.

New head shot, 2015
Why do I muse at such length on this subject of the connotations of letting the gray grow?  I think I still look good and I have a great full head of hair (which my balding brethren admonish me not to complain about), and I am told all the time how sexy and elegant my silver is on me.  And of course, the choice being made to go natural, it is my job to own it and revel in my silver foxiness.  Life is about adjusting to change, isn't it?  Show business magnifies this because it forces us actors to think about ourselves in terms of new archetypes and traditional roles.  Nevertheless, I still think my best years are ahead of me. And the most attractive thing about a person is that they own themselves.  Nothing is quite as powerful as someone who is comfortable in his or her own skin.