While I never actually planned on moving my life to the other side of the world and making Los Angeles home, as a kid I would fantasize about the idea of “Hollywood.” It was this glittery Marilyn Monroe-meets-Pretty Woman painting in my head. “When I grow up, I’m going to Hollywood!” I’d declare to my older brother, both of us 90s grudge kids from Melbourne, Australia. He’d tell me how cheesy that sounded and we’d both laugh it off.
Cut to: 2010. I disembark my 15-hour flight at LAX, am collected by a man in a suit holding a card with my name written on it, and driven in an SUV to the Mondrian Hotel on Sunset Blvd in West Hollywood. I was in LA for the premier of Spartacus: Blood and Sand. We had filmed the first season of the show in New Zealand, so to finally get amongst the industry and culture within which the show would be showcased was both nerve-racking and exhilarating, to say the least.
In fact, my next few trips to LA were the same: business-class flights, chauffeurs, West Hollywood hotels, and long luncheons that looked and tasted very expensive.
The main thing I remember about those trips though was my anxiety. It was as if I could hardly breathe. I was on constant display, being handled by chirpy publicists, continuously photographed, and greeted by mobs of admiring fans. It sounds really glamorous and important, and admittedly, aspects of it were fun. But overall, those trips were really tense. I’m not sure how I could ever live here, like this, I’d think. This just doesn’t feel like home. I’d walk out of my hotel in search of a corner store to buy a snack or a packet of band-aids, and it just didn’t exist. In fact, walking didn’t exist. Intersections, lots of cars, valet parking, strip malls, and intimidatingly big shopping centers.
The following year, the network had flown me over to be on the Spartacus panel at Comic Con. This time I was put up at The London West Hotel, and even upgraded to a King suite! It was the nicest hotel I’d ever stayed at, but it still felt strangely daunting and un-homely the minute I left the building.
My anxiety manifested itself in the tingling of a looming cold sore on my lip. Ordinarily I’m a pro at managing cold sores: I head straight to the pharmacy, purchase my Zovirax, and hey presto, all tingles vanish. But in the States, I was quick to learn, cold sore cream/medication can’t be purchased over the counter. You require a doctor’s prescription, which as a tourist, is a big f**##in deal. It was late in the afternoon, so my co-star, Lucy Lawless, kindly drove me around town searching for a walk-in clinic that was still open. We were out of luck and scheduled to attend Scary Spice’s dinner party that night (seriously!!). Upon arrival, some assistant had us sign “Release Forms” because, we discovered, the dinner was going to be filmed for Scary’s reality TV show! Although this seemed very peculiar to me and I had little interest in participating, there was only one thing and one thing only on my mind: the tingle of death. I sat quietly at the dinner, terrified of what was brewing on my face and, if left untreated, the eruption that would surely emerge by morning. The fact that I had a week of publicity and public appearances ahead of me in San Diego only intensified the ticking time bomb.
At around 9pm, by some miracle, a producer lady who happened to be seated beside me and with whom I am still friends today, announced that one of the many speed-dial doctors she’d texted on my behalf actually got back to her agreeing to fax through a prescription to a nearby pharmacy. Bam! Within minutes, I found myself jet-setting down Sunset Blvd with a production assistant (from the reality TV show) to collect my meds. $350 later, I was cold sore free!!!
I mean it when I say that I truly never thought I could feel at home in such a racey, industry-centric city. While admittedly, I’m in the entertainment industry, I very much appreciate stepping outside of it and into my unglamorous down-time. So the fact that today I happily call LA home is a bigger surprise to me than to anyone else. How? Well, I found my hood. And my people. Which took a while. After months of feeling like stranger at a slumber party, a friend of mine suggested we have lunch in Silverlake. I’d never been to Silverlake because it was all the way over east, and once you’ve spent a day in LA traffic, you think twice about taking those kinds of across town trips.
But everything changed for me that day. I not only loved the café at which we ate, I insisted she take me on a walking tour of the neighborhood (which isn’t really possible because Silverlake is really big). We took a stroll through residential streets, up and down the hills. There was character, an eclectic vibe, people walking their dogs, and trees!
Silverlake isn’t the only great neighborhood on the east side. The surrounding hoods are good too: Los Feliz, Echo Park, Atwater Village, and even Highland Park—which is even further east. There’s just a different culture on this side of LA. The images on the billboards are different, the people in the cafés are different, even the food is different! And all of the neighborhoods I mentioned are close to Downtown LA, which is quickly shaping up to be our mini Manhattan, with both an arts and Fashion district.
(Whoops, hello undies!)
What’s really made LA my home away from home is that I live with my wonderful fiancé and angelic dog, the three of us venture around our neighborhood, on-foot mostly, and enjoy our local cafés, shops, and parks. And many of our friends live nearby!
My life here now is a far-cry from the glitzy Hollywood I’d envisioned as a kid. Occasionally I enjoy popping into that world—the red carpets, the infamous Soho House or the Chateau Marmont. It’s fun and all part of being an actress in a kooky industry. But in amongst all the noise is a heartbeat of creative invention that has given birth to many of the greatest writers, film-makers, actors, cinematographers, designers, and musicians of our time. The sense of possibility and limitlessness in LA is infectious and more potent than in any other city I’ve ever lived in.
In time, I guess, “like attracts like,” you gravitate towards your “like” places, people, and headquarters, and slowly, sometimes very slowly, a new sense of home awakens.
*Fashion without photoshop.
Photography by Antonio Beliveau.