On the Fox drama “Prodigal Son,” the show looks at how a family has been impacted by the crimes of a serial killer (played by Michael Sheen), specifically the lasting aftermath affecting his two children, now adults, as well as that of his now ex-wife, played by Bellamy Young.
To an extent, they are all tarred with the same feather. “We can never escape his choices, which seems so arbitrary and unfair,” said Young. “It’s interesting to start your life on one track, and the decision you make to partner with someone takes you on a 90-degree angle and you’re off irrevocably into no man’s land for the rest of your life. No matter what your life has amounted to, no matter how you spend your days doing good work, being a good person — or being a mediocre person! Just being your own person — you are now only a function of this other person.”
Young has a flair for playing women who are both patrician but closely observant of the ins and outs of the social scene they inhabit, whether as Jessica on “Prodigal Son” or her iconic role on the long-running drama “Scandal” as first lady Mellie Grant.
These are clear career high points. When asked to share a worst moment, Young let out a comical sigh and laughed: “I’ll tell you a story. It’s funny because I was like, is this humiliating enough? It’s such a funny thing, as an actor you have so many of these stories to choose from. But I will tell you the one that was literally, like, ugh for me.”
My worst moment …
“I got a recurring role on ‘Criminal Minds’ and it was a job that I loved. I played Beth, Hotchner’s girlfriend (played by Thomas Gibson) for a couple of seasons, this was right before ‘Scandal.’
“It was a big show, a big gig. The part was for a triathlete and I am not even a mono-athlete. I’m not any kind of athlete (laughs). Like, it’s not … no. Anyway, I got on a plane from L.A. after the audition and came to a friend’s wedding here in New York, and when I landed I had a message that I’ve gotten the part and I was so excited. I have a job, everything’s coming together!
“The script for the audition had me in a scene where we’re jogging, which is bad enough, and then another standing by a pool; I convinced myself that they would wrap me in a towel or something like that. So I get the new script and they’ve changed it. The pool scene is gone and we have a scene on bikes. Like, racing bikes. And my heart went through the floor.
“I had to call my agent at the time and say, ‘I don’t know how to ride a bicycle.’ And they laughed. And I was like, ‘No, seriously: I don’t know how to ride a bike.’ And they were like, ‘Oh! Let me call you back.’
“They call ‘Criminal Minds’ to float the idea of getting the pool scene back and the producers said no because everybody at ‘Criminal Minds’ is a big cyclist; they go on these 100-mile rides in the Malibu mountains and they all have fancy bicycles and Thomas had gotten this gorgeous graphite something that was super fancy that he wanted in the episode. They were basically doing this episode to talk about cycling, they love it that much. They wanted it all legit, because they care a lot and I respect that. But it gave me a heart attack.
“So my reps call me back and they’re like, ‘It’s a deal breaker, this character is going to ride a bike — is it going to be you?’ And I was like, ‘Yes! Yes! It will be me!’ Ugggghhh!
“So my dear friend Kat, we went to college together, I was staying with her in New York. She goes on the interwebs and she finds a woman in Brooklyn who agrees to meets us the next day at 11 a.m. in Central Park in this parking loop. She brings an extra bike and basically teaches me like I’m a 5-year-old: She drops the seat and she takes off the pedals, so we were just walk-walk-walking and working on balancing.
“90 minutes later she raised up the seat to an adult height, puts the pedals back on and we do the 1-mile loop of Central Park South: I hit a jogger, we land in horse (manure) but I felt victorious! (Laughs)
“So I thanked my dear friend Kat, I fly back to L.A. and by this point ‘Criminal Minds’ was buoyed by my resolve and hired a nice man whose name I’ll never forget, Ron Peterson, and he’s a cycle guru and he’s going to teach me to ride a racing bike. You lock in with those shoes and you lean forward with those curvy handles and you and the bike are one as your hurtling forward. These were the most terrifying two weeks for me, but one of the things I love most about acting is it makes me do things I would never do and this is at the top of that column.
“Finally it’s the day of and we’re going to shoot the scene. We’re in these little outfits, we’re having this conversation straddling our bikes and then it comes time for the great ride-off, which is all I’ve been training for for two weeks.
“But no one has told me that there are cement pylons (across the path) so that cars won’t drive on this road we’re on inside this park. And I begin to freak out because I had only thought about staying upright, I hadn’t thought about aiming. We’re supposed to ride through (between) these pylons — any 5-year-old could do it — and then ride off into glory.
“So I try to calm myself down: People do this every day, kids can do it. I’m giving myself a mental pep talk. And what I don’t realize is that I’ve started to grind my teeth.
“Anyway, I wound up chipping my top tooth with my bottom tooth — not from falling off the bike, but from trying to psych myself up! All I know is I felt something gristly in my mouth and that’s when I realized I had chipped my own tooth. I was like, ‘Did I … is my tooth chipped?’ You know how it feels wrong in your mouth? But I got around the pylon! And then they had a stunt person do the fancy riding. I literally just had to ride away until I was off camera.
“But then I had to act the rest of the day with a chipped tooth, so now when you watch the episode my humiliation is right there smiling at you!
“God bless my dentist. He saw me the next day and laughed a lot. And it reminded me that even when you make a mistake that you think you can’t come back from, it’s fixable.”
Did she feel she could be honest about her anxieties with her colleagues?
“I was never an actor that put stuff on my resume that wasn’t true. Like, ‘I can drive stick shift and speak French.’ No. I was way too afraid somebody was going to call me on it. And this was one time where I was like, ‘I can’t do that and I will learn.’ So everybody knew. But I didn’t want to bring it up because I wanted them to think that I had learned. That is why I was having a very intense conversation with myself in my own head.
“I feel like it was one of my first days on the show, if not the first day, and you don’t want to be the weak link. Your job as a guest star, beyond just delivering the content of the episode, is to not draw attention. First you’ve got to vibe the room and instantly understand the politics and know who to keep happy and who to keep at bay. There are a lot of things involved in being a good guest star, more than just crying on cue or delivering your lines. You want to assimilate instantly, make them feel like you’re a part of the family and get the day done well. So the last thing I wanted to do was be like (in a self-mocking voice) ‘I can’t ride a bicycle.’ You just don’t want to draw attention.
“I still have dreams about it sometimes. I have not been on a bike since. It was traumatic!
“My sweetheart has gotten me on tandem bikes since, bless him. He’s incrementally trying to woo me back (to cycling) because it would be nice I’m sure to ride bikes with the person you love in Provence or something. I just can’t imagine it. Look, I also don’t trust myself with big knives. I think I don’t trust myself with things that might hurt me; I learned to drive late (laughs), I’m a late bloomer!”
The takeaway …
“Let people help you. I mean, I was so grateful for Kat because otherwise I would have had to say no to the job.
“But on the day, don’t fight your battles alone. If I had just said, ‘I’m peeing myself over this, please help me with the camera angles,’ or, ‘Can we move those pylons?’ or just anything, it could have been easier.
“I don’t want anyone to feel like they’re in it alone. And on a set, people want things to go well, so it was only my own shame and not wanting to be the squeaky wheel that made it so internalized.
“I didn’t watch the episode, maybe they CGI’d me a tooth, who knows (laughs)? But it could have been so much worse. All that I shattered was my self esteem. Other than that, everything was fine. And perfection is overrated — let’s all just love each other and get each other through it.”
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