The term “Keep it real with me” is a command that everyone in today’s society is using. Whether professional or personal, “Keeping it real” is the mantra and vow that drives our social media feeds and our reality. Jess Walter, the author of “Famous Actor,” throws this term right back in all of our faces. He proposes a question for the reader; what’s real and what is acting? Furthermore, what are we willing to accept as real?
The narrator, presumed to be named Katherine, has a depth of hurt in her that’s left concealed. The audience is told from the jump that she doesn’t exactly speak what is on her mind. “I tend to think about crying at parties, or if someone might be trying to kill me. But I didn’t say that. I don’t very often say what I think” (267). Lucky for the reader, Katherine has the power in this story, which we are able to see through her sardonic inner dialogue. To where the Famous Actor gets a simple nod or one word answers, the realities of Katherine’s world are given to the reader in pieces. The insulting post cards her ex and her send back and forth, the runaway of her sister, Megan, and the depression she seems to be fighting.
Katherine has seen real. She has experienced the harsh realities of a world that no longer involves her sister due to her disappearance, to whom she will never see again. Honesty is what she claims killed her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, leaving her to feel “deadened” inside. “Sometimes I think our real problem wasn’t his infidelity; it was his honesty” (271). The depression that has taken over her life. Figuring out what is real and what isn’t, is not exactly a priority for the narrator. If the kiss the Famous Actor and her shared was good, she’ll let it be good.
Most people want “real.” They wish for honestly, and raw truth – but at what cost? How far can the honesty go? The Famous Actor and Katherine are both playing roles in two simultaneous plays. An act that the Famous Actor will never know about, and an act that Katherine won’t discover until after he has left her apartment. Katherine’s play is simple, she is honest and contrite. But she is faking her actions, to which she reveals as this sad ploy to actually feel something. “I guess in acting, you become the very thing you’re portraying. In sex scenes, you act turned on, you get turned on. Act like something is hilarious, it becomes hilarious” (279). She didn’t like the sex. She didn’t really care for his amble chatter. Much less, his cigarettes. So why put up with it? Because the cost for feeling something remotely pleasurable, means more to her, than the “bad” realness of it all. She will go through what she has to, to feel something.
The Famous Actor’s “bow” right before leaving Katherine’s apartment, is a foreshadowing of the game that he has been playing (278). The bow is the Famous Actor’s physical “thank you” to Katherine, as he has committed his final act of taking all of her medications. When the narrator realizes that all of her drugs have been stolen by the famous actor, she expresses the most compassion for him than she has the whole story.
The realization that he is just as insane as she is, makes him the normal person he has been trying to portray himself as, through the entirety of his time with her. Walter has proposed the real concerns with reality that people of today seem to be missing. What’s the difference between being real and acting? How much honesty can you take? Is real always better than acting? And are you acting out your reality?