Robinne Lee is an actor, writer and producer. She has numerous acting credits in both television and film, most notably opposite Will Smith in both Hitch and Seven Pounds. Her recent credits include Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, playing Ros Bailey. Her debut novel The Idea Of You is out today! We asked her how Acting and Writing overlaps.
For as long as I can remember, I have been both an actor and a writer. Of all my various pursuits in life, they are the two that I constantly return to, the two that give me the most joy, the two that most define me. I have a clear memory of being in my family’s old apartment, perhaps around the age of three or four, and walking around to the back of the television set to ascertain how exactly those people got in there, and whether there was a way for me to join them.
Sometime around then I started making up stories in my head about characters I wanted to be and lives I wanted to live. By the third grade, I was writing it all down in composition notebooks and keeping journals that I would write in religiously for the next twenty years. And at the same time I was doing school plays and taking acting classes and imagining a future where I might do both. And so it’s hard for me to envision one without the other. They are simply different methods of telling stories. Each art influences the other in myriad ways. But when I think about what acting has brought to my work as a writer, a few things in particular stand out.
As writers we pay very close attention to detail. We step into a new place and identify the sights, the sounds, the smells, and we make note of them for later use. But actors learn to associate emotions with those observations. We call them sense memory and we rely on them to evoke a specific response, a behavior. Being able to bridge those two, to bring the emotion to the observation of detail is a skill that acting has given me.
Years ago I had a teacher in New York who would drill into us: “An actor never forgets.” She would emphasize that every experience, every emotion, the taste of lemon, the curl of your lover’s ear — were all things we should commit to memory. These were things that I had been holding on to for at least a decade already as a writer.
I’d spent years jotting down all my observations and feelings and could easily return to them simply by opening a diary and reliving a day of the fourth grade. The scent of the purple ink on an elementary school ditto, the shame of a boy I did not like pulling on my braid. I had kept a detailed record of what it was to be awkward at twelve, and depressed at sixteen, and on the verge of very big things at twenty-two. I had access to all of those, as I suspect many writers do. But as an actor, it was an unexpected gift.
And when I realized that a lifetime of an almost obsessive attention to detail could serve me in both arts, I cherished it. I dipped into my treasure trove of memories again and again. And I became highly aware of new stimuli I was taking in. Even at my most emotionally fragile.
The pattern of my ex-boyfriend’s sheets during one tear-filled night when I knew we were close to the end. The grotesque angle of my daughter’s broken arm after a monkey-bar mishap. The curious dampness of my cat’s fur, his body ravaged by diabetes and kidney failure, in his last week of life. I noted all of those, even as I was experiencing them.
Even at the risk of being pulled out of the moment. Because I needed to make a mental record. I wanted to be able to recall those details and the accompanying feelings, however painful, should I need to recreate them on camera. And likewise when I translate those observations into words for a potential reader, I allow myself to fully experience the emotions anew. If I want to take my reader on an emotional journey, if I want them to feel my characters’ highs and lows and ecstasies and disappointments and shame and guilt, I need to be willing to go there myself. And being an actor prepares one for that.
Years on the stage and before the camera, provides actors with an affinity for dialogue. We become familiar with what flows, what sounds natural, what sounds stilted. Where the pauses are. Where we breathe. And for me that has been very helpful as a writer. While I don’t “act out” the scenes I write per se, I do speak the dialogue over and over again and make certain it feels organic to me. Furthermore, I’m comfortable exploring various voices and accents and dialects, and the joy is in then getting it right and transferring that to the page.
Similarly, actors become very aware of rhythm in writing. We study the importance of meter in the work of playwrights like Shakespeare and Mamet. How it is often used to call attention to certain words and not others, to clue the audience in. And that approach has been so drilled into us, it’s no surprise I borrow it for my own prose. I read my sentences and phrases and paragraphs out loud because I need it to sound aesthetically pleasing. I need it to sound like music. Like poetry.
And so these lessons I’ve learned from acting have bled into my fiction.
They say “write what you know” – which, I don’t necessarily believe, by the way – but as an actor, I know emotional memory, I know dialogue, and I know rhythm. And I am most satisfied with my work when I’m able to bring all of those to the page.
Robinne Lee is an actor, writer and producer. A graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School, Robinne was born and raised in Westchester County, New York. Robinne has numerous acting credits in both television and film, most notably opposite Will Smith in both Hitch and Seven Pounds. Her recent credits include Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, playing Ros Bailey. Robinne currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.
Follow her on Twitter @robinnelee
Find out more about her on her website https://www.robinnelee.com/
About The Idea of You
“Captures what fame looks like, and how it affects us all…a fun, juicy love story!”–Elizabeth Banks
Solène Marchand, the thirty-nine-year-old owner of an art gallery in Los Angeles, is reluctant to take her daughter, Isabelle, to meet her favorite boy band. But since her divorce, she’s more eager than ever to be close to Isabelle. The last thing Solène expects is to make a connection with one of the members of the world-famous August Moon. But Hayes Campbell is clever, winning, confident, and posh, and the attraction is immediate. That he is all of twenty years old further complicates things.
What begins as a series of clandestine trysts quickly evolves into a passionate and genuine relationship. It is a journey that spans continents as Solène and Hayes navigate each other’s worlds: from stadium tours to international art fairs to secluded hideaways in Paris and Miami. For Solène, it is a reclaiming of self, as well as a rediscovery of happiness and love. When Solène and Hayes’ romance becomes a viral sensation, and both she and her daughter become the target of rabid fans and an insatiable media, Solène must face how her romantic life has impacted the lives of those she cares about most.
Buy THE IDEA OF YOU HERE
Category: On Writing