Interview With JENNETTE McCURDY | Finding Light In Darkness, Finding Myself From Within
We, all human beings, are constantly evolving. As we accomplish more, we always desire to reach for more. The vision we hold of ourselves becomes sharper and changes as we adjust our focus throughout our life experiences. And yet, we can only expand when we see the value in the challenges we face. As we navigate our lives, embracing our choices and events no matter what they are, we create the perfect opportunity to practice unconditional self-love. This will positively impact others, allowing us to dedicate ourselves to building a life that supports us and brings us boundless joy.
Jennette McCurdy is an example of someone who lets her values and roles in life define her, rather than any struggle she has ever faced. The child star is beloved by a generation and was inspired by her involvement in the entertainment industry to become a writer and director.
McCurdy’s strong feeling about finding light in dark places is mirrored in her own life. Amidst her amazing successes, she has faced many challenges. She worked in the entertainment industry from a young age, struggled with anorexia and bulimia for thirteen years, and lost her mother to cancer, all while maintaining a demanding career. Through it all, she has learned how to find humor and self-growth in seemingly impossible places. She has found a way to make the negative aspects of her life a crucial part of her joy and inspiration and has moved forward with grace.
- Please introduce yourself briefly. Who, in your own words, is Jennette McCurdy?
Hmm, an email chain I have going with my friend Emma comes to mind for this. Our last email exchange involved a “chapter” (our emails are literally ten pages long, so we break them up into smaller chapters) on identity and whether we define ourselves more by the labels we carry in our lives (sister, friend, writer, etc.) or by the values we live our lives by (honesty, independence, integrity, etc.) I think we settled on a combination of both. Anyway, Emma asked how I would define myself, and I said this: curious, growing, learning. Storyteller, truth-seeker, sister, friend. Without context it sounds too corny, so I figured I’d give you the whole spiel.
- You have experienced a challenging childhood and teenage years, dealing with anorexia, followed by bulimia, and in between, your mom’s transitioning from cancer. Now looking forward to who you have become, have you turned these experiences into opportunities to expand your personal growth? If so, how?
Absolutely. I think challenges present great opportunities to build our character and our sense of humor and to develop ourselves. Without obstacles, I think we’d all be dull and unfunny. But that’s not to say it’s easy to see these challenges as opportunities and to make the choice to grow from them. When you’re stuck in the thick of any obstacle, it can feel impossible, like you’re emotionally white-knuckling to get through your days. I’ve been there. I’ve had so many phases of my life where I got caught in bouts of anxiety or self-pity or emotional troubles, and it often takes a good friend or a good movie or a good book or a good night’s sleep to jog me out of that state and get me back to a place where I start working on growing again. When it comes to turning my history with eating disorders or the loss of my mom into personal growth, I think it’s ultimately been due to solitude, reflection, therapy, journaling, open conversations with trusted friends, finding the humor in the situation, and an ongoing commitment to improving my relationship with my emotions.
- How do you see and identify yourself after breaking up with your eating disorder?
I love this question. Something nobody seems to talk about is HOW MUCH you identify with your eating disorder while you’re in the trenches of it. Eating disorders often ruled me, my life, my choices. They buried my emotions. They served as band-aids on the bullet holes of traumas. They were basically my whole identity. Recovering from eating disorders meant dealing with all the shit that had been residing under the addiction. Dealing with that shit, facing it head on, forced me to figure out who I am without eating disorders, and initially that answer felt bleak to me. Empty. Scary. I think it’s important to talk about that side of recovery so that people don’t feel guilty or relapse when they are barely starting to recover, and they don’t feel like this amazing, confident person. Recovery doesn’t always feel like the “you go, girl!” narrative the media makes it out to be. It’s hard. However, since recovering and putting in the consistent emotional work it takes to stay on track, I see my weaknesses and flaws more clearly, as well as my strengths and efforts. I think, I hope I’ve developed more empathy. I’m waaaay more honest with myself. (Eating disorders kept me in a constant trap of self-deception.) I define myself like I did above, by the roles I fill in my life and by my values.
- How does self-belief affect your existence?
I think pushing yourself to grow is more important than believing in yourself, or rather I think it’s the catalyst for believing in yourself.
- Many talents within the entertainment industry—and society in general—feel the pressure to look and behave a certain way. However, we also see many successful actors who don’t necessarily follow what is considered the Hollywood standard. Why do you think this is happening, and how do we tap into our inner sense of self-empowerment and follow what feels best to us?
I don’t think it’s a new thing. I think there have always been outliers, and there will always be outliers. I think the most important—and difficult—thing to do is to tune out the rest of the world while you’re in creative mode. There’s no better favor you can do for your well-being and the quality of your work than that.
- As in all professional fields, many talents within the entertainment industry compare themselves to others, judging how good (or not) they are. In that state, we all are limiting our innate creative expression. If you ever have experienced that, have you also discovered a way to turn from a competitive mindset into embracing your own becoming?
Well, I’m very self-critical and competitive. I think those qualities can get a bad rap, but I believe that, if channeled properly, they don’t have to be limiting. So long as they’re not distractions, I think they can be really useful to growth and productivity. If we all walked around thinking we were totally adequate as we are, if we didn’t judge ourselves objectively or compare ourselves to people smarter, wiser, or more talented than us, then all any of us would ever be is just that—adequate. I think sometimes the people who feel the most inherently inadequate are the people who push themselves the most to be great, and I think we need those people.
I used to get caught in the comparison trap a lot, and of course, I still do now at times, but in the last few years, I’ve been focusing so much more on myself and my growth that I honestly just haven’t really had the time. I wonder if that’s just something natural that starts to happen in your mid-twenties, or if comes from more authentic confidence, or believing in the work you’re making, or if it’s a combination of things. Regardless, I like it.
- It looks like the entertainment industry is moving towards becoming more diverse and inclusive. How do you think the mindset of talents within the industry influences this change?
I think talent started becoming more vocal, which helped. I think overall the awareness of inclusivity is a great thing, although I think if diversity or inclusivity is contrived, viewers can feel that false intention, and it does more harm than good. I hope entertainment keeps moving in a positive, story- and character-driven direction.
WRITING AND DIRECTING
- How has the combination of being an actress first and then becoming a writer and director enhanced your creative expression?
Well, my favorite part of directing is working with actors, and my favorite part of writing is writing for actors. Everything I write or direct is largely to serve actors, and I’m sure that was influenced by my background.
Being an actress first helped me in working with actors. I can’t tell you the number of times where I’d be acting and would get frustrated with directors, feeling it wasn’t clear what they wanted, like maybe they didn’t know what they wanted, didn’t have a clear vision. That helped me to recognize the importance of knowing what I want and learning how each actor communicates so I can get them to fully understand the vision.
- In your bio, you say, “I have a passion for writing character-driven pieces that explore serious subject matter in an offbeat way.” Could you expand on this to discuss the topics you are interested in and the details of your unorthodox approach to bringing them to life?
I’m interested in family dysfunction, addiction, loss, mental illness, failure, disillusionment with life. None of these topics is inherently funny. But I think handling already heavy subject matter in a heavy-handed way feels cringe-y and unrealistic. My general approach is: to respect my subject matter but not to take it too seriously.
My grandpa was having a heart attack. That’s tragic. Then my grandma stormed down the hallway, yelling at grandpa that he forgot the moon pies from Costco and fell on top of him mid- heart attack. That’s hilarious. My mom was in ICU, in a coma and dying of cancer, and I stood there sobbing over her body. That’s tragic. Then an ICU nurse tiptoed into the room and asked me for a selfie. That’s hilarious. My experience with life is that the more tragic it gets, the more hilarious it gets, too, and I try to showcase that point of view with my work.
- From the emotional perspective, when your write and words flow to you and through you, what do you feel?
When the words flow, I feel spiritually connected; when the words don’t flow I feel like beating my head against the wall—so sort of the opposite of spiritually connected.
- We are experiencing our existence in a constantly co-creative platform of ideas, surrounded by diverse people, each with our own dreams but sometimes moving in one direction. What do you love most about the environment on set and its collaborative process?
I think the on-set environment should be an open platform for ideas and collaboration, of course, and I think the best idea wins—always, no matter where it came from. However, I think if people are too gung-ho about a collaborative environment, it might be a sign that there’s not a clear vision in place. In my experience, it couldn’t be more important for there to be one singular vision for a project, and I think more often than not, a singular vision can come from only one person. I think that person should have ultimate creative control and be the leader captaining the whole creative ship.
- You wrote and directed four short films: Strong Independent Women, Kenny, The McCurdys, and The Grave. They explore topics that many people are going through. What is the connection you aim to create between the audience and the narratives you expose through these films?
I always hope the narrative leads viewers to think about the subject matter in a way that maybe they haven’t before.
- Are you involved in any charity organization or humanitarian cause you would like to mention?
Not so much recently, though I used to be very involved with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Thirst Project. St. Jude provides treatment to children with illnesses; I was most impressed by the fact that they take in a larger percentage of children with terminal illness than any other hospital in the country. (Unfortunately, some hospitals don’t want to treat terminally ill children with rare illnesses because it makes their recovery statistics less impressive.) St. Jude houses the families of those children for free at the nearby Ronald McDonald house. Thirst Project builds wells to help supply clean water to countries that don’t have any. Currently, I’m very interested in getting involved in any eating disorder recovery-related organization.
- The spirit of The Hedonist Magazine is the essence of joyful living. How does Joy during the creative process affect your own experience and in consequence the final manifestation of your actions?
For me, I think it’s important to get myself to a joyful, positive place before entering creative mode. If I’ve got personal stuff on my mind, I know it’ll be impossible to focus on whatever project I’m working on in the way that I need to. My friend with whom I share all my creative projects always gives me the advice, “Get yourself to a good place, then follow the excitement.” So that’s what I try to do—get myself to a good place through a long walk, a workout, or a phone call with a friend, get inspired by a movie or documentary or a TED talk, even, then follow the excitement.
- When you hear “You can be, do and have anything you want,” words from the Abraham-Hicks teachings, what is your take on such a statement?
…so long as you work really, really hard.