A vegetarian contemplates eating the body of Christ

Me at age 13, looking like a creepy little bride Traveling was always my favorite part about working as an actor. I went to fascinating places and lived there for several months at a time. I got to immerse myself in the culture and go beyond the tourist things. I got to learn languages and make friends with bellmen. I will always be grateful for the variety of experiences I had because I was an actor.

Some projects were worth doing for the location alone. Vendetta II, which filmed in Rome, was one such example.

It was a mini-series in which I was playing a blind girl. I was not blind throughout the whole film but rather, my character went blind after a mobster threw her off the side of a mountain in an attempt to hurt her mother, a nun, who was played by the supermodel Carol Alt. So, for half of the mini-series, I was blind until a trip through the Italian countryside restored my site. As beautiful views are prone to do.

As I said, it was mostly about the cool location.

Any self-respecting mafia film requires a healthy dose of religious pageantry. Before my character went blind, she was supposed to take Communion, as one assumes all daughters of nuns would do.

In the scene, I wore a white miniature wedding dress with a veil, and walked down the church aisle with all the dark wood and dark music that one would expect of a Catholic church in the Italian countryside. Having been raised without any religious influence whatsoever, I was clueless as to the procedure involved in this rite of passage. So during rehearsal, I just followed the other girls who seemed to know how to kneel and open their mouths for the Communion wafers.

And then I heard the priest murmur something about the body of Christ.

I had been a strict vegetarian since the age of four, so this totally freaked me out. What the hell was he putting in my mouth?? Eating Christ sounded super gross. During the first take, I took the wafer in my mouth and poked at it with my tongue while trying not to gag.

It didn’t feel like flesh but it certainly didn’t feel like food, either.

What was this stuff?

Was it some sort of pressed chicken Jesus-taste-alike?

Was it plastic prop food?

I had made the mistake of trying to eat prop food before, much to the amusement of the rest of the cast and crew, and was not eager to replicate that experience. Admitting my lack of religious knowledge to the real Italian priest who had been hired to play the role of the priest would have been humiliating. The church was full of about 100 extras who didn't speak much English. Since everyone else seemed to know what was going on, I felt too shy to ask the director or anyone else on the crew. My mom was around somewhere, but I wasn't confident that she would know what this thing was anymore than I did.

I was all alone in a crowd.

And my job was to eat the body of a deity.

I decided to shove the wafer to the roof of my mouth without chewing it. The wafer fit snugly within the half circle of my upper teeth. Then we did another take. And another. There was little time in between, so I just kept shoving the body of Jesus onto the roof of my mouth, getting more and more nervous as I started to lose space on my tongue for the next take’s wafer. Whatever this thing was, it was absorbing all the saliva in my mouth, turning into a sticky clump and making the whole experience rather uncomfortable.

Finally, after almost ten takes, we got the shot and I was able to step outside and get enough privacy to peel the layers of the Lord off the roof of my mouth and chuck it into a nearby courtyard full of birds.

They seemingly had no qualms about the nature of the wafer.

When I went back to the hotel that night after work, I crawled into bed and thought about how lucky I was and what an amazing day I had — I actually got to feed some pigeons.

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The actor's vice that almost killed me

Actors can get pretty much anything. Just for doing their jobs, they have easy access to drugs, sex and millions of dollars in loaner jewelry. It can get addictive. The attention, the affection, the free stuff.

I really believe in being truthful about your past, so I feel the need to come clean. There was one perk that I got totally hooked on:

The access to animals.

I got to meet all kinds of cool animals. Trained monkeys and dogs. Dolphins and killer whales. Walruses and baby cows. This tends to happen at places like Sea World, where you get your ticket comped because you do some publicity shots. You hold/hug/feed a cute animal and they put the photo in a glamorous publication like the Orlando Sentinel or the Sea World Annual Report.

I must admit...holding a penguin is a crazy high.

Here is a photo of me indulging in my most dangerous actor perk:


Eventually, as is the case with many overindulgences of Hollywood -- all that petting got dangerous.

I was working in Florida when I was about 16 and couldn’t stand the thought of spending another weekend in Orlando, dodging tourists and that omnipresent fucking mouse. So, a few friends and I went to this river that was a hot spot for manatees and one of the few places where you could swim alongside of them.

Since I had bottle-fed one of them for a photo-op, I considered myself a manatee expert. I educated the others on the pertinent details of their size and demeanor. They are about 10 feet long and 1,000 pounds which can be intimidating but I wasn't concerned. They are essentially very sleepy underwater cows. I knew what I was doing. I'd been an animal junkie for years.

Because they are nearly extinct due to boat propellers, there were specific park rules for manatee interaction: you could only use one finger to pet them. So, there I was with my mask and snorkel, swimming in this murky river and petting the manatee with my one finger. His body was warm in the cold river, with coarse, bristly hairs that sprung from his thick skin. The mixture of muscle and blubber beneath was surprisingly solid, I had expected his flesh to give way, like an aquatic Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

The manatee in question sweetly cuddled up to me and grabbed my arm in his little flippers. “Little flippers” is true, proportionally speaking, but they were still shockingly strong and bony and large enough to envelope my entire arm. His long eyelashes batted at me as we bobbed along the surface of the river.

All this inter-species snuggling looked super cute at first through my mask and snorkel, mostly because I could still breathe. But then the manatee, while still hugging me, went into a maneuver that, if done by a crocodile, would be termed a "Death Roll." He sank down to the bottom of the river while still holding my arm tightly in his flippers. He rolled around and hugged me in what seemed to be merriment on his part, but was absolute terror on mine.

I didn’t know what to do.

Could I maintain the parks rules and just poke him with one finger until he lets me go? I wondered if my film insurance covered drowning by manatee. Would my death be reported in Daily Variety? Would they use my 8x10 headshot? My current headshot wasn’t that great. Certainly not for my obituary.

I tried to remember if the Sea World employee had said anything about manatees during the photo-op that might be useful, but it had mostly been about trying to get the animal turn his face more towards camera and for me to keep my hair out of the way.

I tried to pry my arm loose. It’s surprisingly hard to pry things underwater. The ranger didn't say anything about not using our feet on the manatee, so maybe I could just gently...kick...him. But do I really want to be the girl who kicked an endangered species? Would it say "animal abuser" in my obit alongside the bad headshot?

This was becoming ridiculous, I was starting to get really dizzy from lack of oxygen. Finally,  my thrashing must have indicated to this sea monster that I was not enjoying the cuddle as much as he was, and he released his paddle arms and let me go.

I gasped to the surface like I was in Jaws and climbed back into the boat. My friends hadn’t noticed my lengthy submerged absence.

“Aren’t they cute?” Everyone squealed.

I decided that my quasi-celebrity creature-petting should be conducted with an animal handler and several photographers around. It's best to have witnesses.

I'm not gonna lie. I'm glad I quit the game - but sometimes I miss that penguin rush.

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