Wednesday, June 1, 2016

I met Gabriel Byrne yesterday

I met Gabriel Byrne yesterday.

It was not expected.

I've seen Long Day's Journey Into Night three times now. I’ve stood outside the theatre afterward each time hoping Gabriel might come out and greet us. Three times I was told he had left the theatre already. I wasn't disappointed. Well, a part of me was disappointed. Of course I wanted to meet him, but I understood. It's a grueling play; highly-emotional and long. Three hours and forty five minutes. If it was me, I would not feel up to anything but a nap afterward.

On Sunday, I came to the city with my sister and niece, Abby, as a special trip for Abby’s 14th birthday. She'd never been to the city so it was our birthday present to her.

The play was not on our list of things to do. We walked past the theatre on our sightseeing adventure and, of course, I stopped to show her the poster for the play.  I remembered then we had gone to see the film 10 Cloverfield Lane together last month. Abby drags me to all the scary movies because she thinks they're funny and she thinks it's even funnier how much they scare me. 

I told her John Gallagher, Jr. was the guy in 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Her eyes lit up. "Emmett?"

I said yes.

"He's in this play?"

I said yes and pointed out John on the poster.

She studied his picture. I think she was a bit thrown by his mustache as he wore a full beard in the film. As she examined him, I told her I'd met him outside the theatre the last time I'd seen the play.

Her eyes lit up again. "Could I meet him, too?"

A girl after my own heart.

There were no tickets for the play but I said we could stand outside the theatre when the play let out. I said there were no guarantees but it was worth a shot. So, we did some more sightseeing and headed to the theatre about 5:45.

The play soon let out. The crowd that gathered was bigger than any other so far. I was excited for Abby. We strategized what we'd say to John if he did come out.


John's character, Emmett, is shot in the film. Abby decided she would tell him she was sorry he got shot. She said maybe we could tell him it was her birthday and maybe he'd write Happy Birthday on the playbill. (I had a playbill in my bag still from the last time I saw the play.) Jessica (Lange) came out then. She went straight to her car but I caught a glimpse of her. In jest, I apologized to Abby in advance for my fangirl behavior if Gabriel came out and I caught a glimpse of him too. 

We were still discussing what we'd say to John when I looked to my right and saw...Gabriel Byrne. He was maybe ten yards away, making his way down the long line of fans.

It took a moment for my brain to reconcile what my eyes saw. I remember thinking “Hmm. That guy looks like Gabriel.” before it clicked and I gasped.

“It's Gabriel," I whispered to Abby.

She yelped quietly for me, scrambling for her camera. "Don't worry, Aunt Krissy. I'll take the pictures!"

It's hard to know what an actor will be like in real life. They play so many different characters. As fans, we grow to love the characters they portray. Some actors approach acting as pretending to be somebody they aren't. Gabriel approaches it as bringing parts of himself to the characters he portrays. In a way, it feels like maybe we know him because of this. Even so, I didn't quite know what to expect of him in person, physically or personality-wise. He's played opposite so many people of varying statures and physiques.

Gabriel is agile. Fit. His legs are lean and his stride is long. There’s a spring in his step. I stand at five foot eight inches and he was maybe two inches taller. He wore pinstripe pants and that blue spring coat I've seen on him in photographs. The top of the jacket and the shirt beneath were open. His skin is pale and looks touchably soft.

He was pressed for time. It was clear he wasn't going to be with us long but he made sure to take a few moments with everybody. He moved down the line with an energy I didn't expect from a man who'd just performed an emotional, four hour set. He didn't just sign either. He engaged with each of us. He gave us each direct eye contact and, of course, this is no ordinary eye contact. Gabriel doesn't just look at you. He looks into you.

I left a gift for him backstage on opening day of previews. It was a silly book about the history of Buffalo, New York, my hometown. We have a great theatre history here. In the card, I told him if he wandered into Buffalo someday, he’d know a bit about its history now and that there is a writer named Kristen who lives there and that he’s been an inspiration to her. Hoping it wasn’t too presumptuous, I included a screenplay of mine, with an explanation of the character I had in mind for him, and why I had him in mind for it. I have no delusions that he's read it yet, of course. This play takes so much energy and focus. There is no time for distractions. I did hope to introduce myself, though, and tell him I was the writer of the script, so he'd have a face for the name if he did someday read it.

Over these last two months, I've imagined so many times what I'd say to him if I found myself face to face with him, aside from introducing myself as a writer. I wanted to thank him for being an inspiration to me as a writer. I wanted to tell him how his characters have comforted me through some difficult times in my life, specifically Father Andrew Kiernan and The Mechanic from Smilla's Sense of Snow.

All that went out the window when he was in front of me.

As a writer, I always hope to maintain some semblance of professionalism in these moments. Normally, I do okay. It took a long time to get to this point, but I don't intimidate easily around actors anymore. It happens still. I admire them. I admire these people who can bring words to life on screen. But for the most part I can hold my own. I’m still awkward. I don’t think that will ever go away. I’m a writer for a reason. I prefer to be tucked away alone with my characters and my laptop. I haven’t quite perfected the art of networking yet but I’ve learned to fake it well enough.

This was very different. I couldn’t even bring myself to be awkward. I was almost literally speechless.

He reached me. I held up my playbill. His hand grazed my thumb as he signed and those eyes drifted up to mine.

This was my moment and I had no words. I just smiled and squeaked out a "thank you" and hoped he understood I meant thank you for all of it, not just for the autograph. He smiled and said thank you to me and by the way he looked at me I knew he understood what I meant.

He continued down the line. I continued to take him in.

“How are you feeling?” asked someone down the line.

"Oh, a bit tired, to be honest,” said Gabriel. “Ready for a rest. We did it twice yesterday..."

His voice. That accent. It's pure poetry.

Gabriel uses his hands when he speaks. His movements are as poetic as his voice. He touched his hands to his forehead when he admitted he was tired. He reminded me in that moment of James Tyrone.

"Is that all?" he asked as he reached the end of the line, his Sharpie poised for any other items awaiting an autograph. There were a few more signature requests and he obliged them.

He made his way back down the line toward his waiting car, escorted by the stage door manager. I had one more chance to say something to him as he passed by but, again, there was nothing. I just took him in for as long as I could before he ducked into his car.

I have tickets to see the show two more times, the last two Sundays of the production. I will try again. If given the chance to be face to face with him again hopefully I’ll find the words. If it doesn't happen I'm grateful to have simply met him. That alone was more than I imagined it would be.

Oh, and John did come out, after Gabriel left, and Abby did get to meet him. I told him it was her birthday. She told him she was sorry he got shot in 10 Cloverfield Lane and he said "Yeah, that really sucked, didn't it?" He told her it was also his mom's birthday. Abby said to tell her happy birthday from her.

She's a little pro already.  I should take lessons.

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