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Motherhood and Acting: Backwards and in High Heels. by Cate Cohen

A couple of weeks ago, I booked a series of car commercials that shot during my kids’ Spring Break. It was like hitting the jackpot: a potentially nice pay day AND time off during a two-week span of hardcore mothering.

But, as is often the case, the reality of the job turned out to be different; On day 2, I’m sitting on set between takes, my lower back aching from my 3 inch heels, and I start to spin out. I’d somehow, without warning, become a silent, secondary role to the husband’s character in the spots. Sure, we’d split the lines 50/50 in the auditions. Sure, just because I’m mostly mute doesn’t mean I can’t also be an active participant in the scenes. Sure, these are just commercials. For cars, which in commercial land, are for men. What did I expect? I knew all this, but it still stung, reminding me of countless times before where I’d felt invisible at work. And, of course, the politics of the last 18 months weren’t helping. So, I sat there, quietly wrestling with my feelings when my phone rang.

It was my real-life husband. (Side note: when I receive calls from my husband while I’m working, I get nervous. This is because the only time I’ve been away from home since having kids was when I went to shoot a job in Vancouver last year and came home to find my 4 year-old in a cast from her shoulder to her wrist. It’s true, she had always been a risk taker and it was bound to happen at some point, but still…)

So, I pick up the phone, slightly panicked, asking, “Is everything ok?” And he says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m picking up Mexican for dinner. What kind of beans do the kids like?” I take a moment to absorb the fact that, in his mind, this was a question worthy of me being called at work. Then I answer him, knowing it’s the quickest way to get off the phone. When I hang up, it hits me- Being an actor is a lot like being a mom.

I work hard at both, often ten times harder than my “male counterparts” and get very little credit for it. My husband doesn’t know what kind of beans the girls eat because that’s my job. Just like feeding, dressing, and keeping them alive is my job.

Also, motherhood and acting will take everything from you if you let them and, thus, require an extreme level of self-care.

In both, you learn you have no control. Just ask a mom- of a baby who doesn’t sleep- how she’s doing. Or an actress who’s had the best audition of her life and doesn’t hear a word.

Sometimes they are both like getting punched in the face.

But, here’s the thing; They are also jobs where I get to play pretend, share my heart, and hopefully, on a good day, affect someone.

I’m grateful I get to do both. I had to fight to have kids—multiple miscarriages, fertility doctors, bed rest… And acting, even on its worst day, is still a pretty incredible way to make a living. My mom never had a choice about what she did for a living. Millions of moms around the world don’t have a choice.

My daughter recently yelled at me, “Why can’t you be FUN like daddy and take me camping?!” I wanted to shout back, “Because I hate camping!” Or “Because that’s the one time I get a break from you!” Or “Because I do literally everything else in your life for you!” But, of course, I didn’t. She’s 8. I took a deep breath, stopped, and sat with her as she wept – listening, stroking her head, and realizing that she’s right. I don’t make enough time for fun. Not with her. Not with anyone, really.

Sometimes, if I just pause and take notice of what’s really happening and have some compassion for myself, it can shift my entire experience.

That’s what I did after I hung up with my husband on set. I got quiet. Then said “Fuck it.” Either I could go down on this job like I had so many times in the past- or I could make the most of it. I thought of that quote about Ginger Rogers – how she did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels. I spent the rest of the shoot having a blast playing with my pretend husband, being chased through hotel kitchens, dancing at a wedding, even squeezing in a few lines here and there. It helped that I occasionally left my phone in my trailer. I even- gasp! – got behind the wheel in one of the shots.

Progress? For me, it is.


Cate Cohen is an actor and writer working in theater, film, television, commercials, and voiceover. She was recently seen on CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM and in recurring roles on JANE THE VIRGIN and HBO’s SILICON VALLEY. She is a long-time member of our BGB Community.


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