Feeling Small: Meeting Tobias in London

By jordyn

I’ve been quiet about my meeting Tobias Menzies after his play “The Hunt” in London last week. I’ve been quiet about it because the evening upset me on a few levels that have nothing to do with him and nothing to do with Caitriona Balfe who, yes, was there too. Who knew the chances of seeing her there, right? It was my first day in London after flying in the night before so I was pretty lucky to see these two together in a totally non-Outlander way. 

First off: He wasn’t a jerk. He was actually very nice. Although my picture with him isn’t stellar that’s not the reason why I haven’t blasted it all over social media. I’ve been quiet about the two evenings I saw the play because I was reminded of something about myself: Feeling small and how it can hinder my experiences.

In the months leading up to this trip I didn’t think too much about what I was going to say to Tobias. The thoughts made my palms sweat and my brain short circuit. As it got closer I began hearing stories and seeing pictures from fans who encountered him. Many brought back good reports from the front lines but there were warnings that sometimes he wouldn’t take pictures with fans. That set me into a slight panic but I emotionally prepared myself for the potential “no” while at the same time fully acknowledging my disappointment if it happened.

When I arrived at the theatre on Thursday I was already nervous. I tried hard not to be but I was. While waiting at the theatre’s bar with a friend I felt like a scared rabbit about to be eaten by a hungry wolf. I’m pretty sure that was the look on my face. There is no rationalizing this fear. People said he was very nice so I shouldn’t have felt so nervous! Yet after watching someone for a few years and admiring their work while sometimes thinking “semi-lascivious” (Oh who am I kidding? Totally lascivious.) thoughts about them and who could say no to a photo then maybe it made sense to feel scared.

At the bar, my friend and I saw him pull in on his bike and I felt nothing because my mantra was “He’s a human being like everyone else” and ya know what? He was. When he first appeared on stage that night I again felt nothing because he’s a human being like everyone else. Don’t get me wrong–seeing him on stage is thrilling! Finally to be in a small theater seeing him perform was a real pleasure and totally worth the plane ticket. I think to see an actor of his caliber (and who’s on the precipice of exploding after The Crown comes back) working in front of you in an intimate venue is a real treat and I’m glad I witnessed it. The play is heavy since it’s about a male primary school teacher being falsely accused of child sexual abuse by one of his students. Tobias carried the whole thing.

After seeing the play a second time there were a few elements that stood out for me. First the sound design was really excellent. Before the show starts sounds of children playing as if in a schoolyard subtly fills the air. At many points in the show there were specific sound cues that were sharp and tense. I think the first “sonic assault” begins at the introduction of this intense scene of ritualistic male bonding: Men shouting and stomping their feet to the rhythms of their native Denmark while one by one they pull their brothers up from an ice hole. They bond through nature’s unrelenting force while the music thumps along to each fist beat to their chests. Each time I saw it I felt intimated and uncomfortable. This raw show of male testosterone and bravura was visceral, primal, and electric. As a woman it felt threatening.

My second takeaway was the play posing: Do you really ever know yourself and your boundaries? Through rituals and memory, what are the stories we tell ourselves to justify something even if we’re not certain it’s true? Even if it’s a child’s claim of sexual abuse at the hands of a life long friend?

My point is that the play was excellent and all the actors (of course I’m Tobiased) were marvelous. Tobias made small detailed changes in gestures each night which was fun to see because those incremental changes affect the next line and then the moment. That’s the fun in acting and seeing an actor’s choice play out in real time. I wish I could ask him what it was like working with children because it seemed like a new dimension for him since they are so central to the story and in many scenes.

Funny side note: During intermission I was in my seat and I overheard the people behind me say, “Oh he was in Casino Royale.” Excuse me what? Casino Royale? That’s all ya got? He had something like four lines in that! Then I hear, “Oh he’s in The Crown.”

And by this point I can’t take it anymore so I turn around. “He’s going to be in seasons three and four of The Crown.” I then proceed to explain how he’s playing Prince Philip and no they haven’t released the premiere date yet (though now they have so everyone mark me that November 17th will be the Feast of All Crowns Bingeing Day). “What else has he been in?” these sweet naive people ask. I rattle off Outlander (“Oh yes I saw him in that!”) and The Terror (which of course they haven’t seen). For some reason I forgot to mention Rome. “Oh you must be a fan!” a woman marveled. Lady you have no idea. 

The play ended and as I’m shuffling out the door I take a look to my left and that’s when I see her: Ms. Caitriona “Once a Model Forever A Model Looking Fabulous Even If Wearing a Trashbag On the Side of the Road” Balfe. I go into panic mode. I was not anticipating her appearance. Oh my god it’s Caitriona. What am I going to say? Oh god oh god oh god. Yes folks she’s beautiful in real life too. She makes it look effortless while I probably took two hours getting ready today.

I prepared myself and thought Just say that you’re a fan and ask if you can take a picture! I can do that. No problem! Well…

All I can say is that I panicked. At first I was outside the theatre entrance and I scanned the crowd. Didn’t see her so I thought that she must’ve went into the bathroom. I went back into the lobby and began chatting up some folks I met earlier at the bar before the show. I turn my head and I see Caitriona and a friend sitting on a nearby bench. Looking back I realize that I was so nervous that I distracted myself by talking to some people. I basically procrastinated. So much so that I saw Caitriona walk past me into the bar where there was a “private event” (aka the show’s friends and family party). This was my fatal mistake.

Since I was neither a friend nor family I was relegated to waiting outside and by this point I was waiting for both Tobias and Caitriona. Then my night got stranger. First, I was by myself because my friend who I met at the bar before the show was coming on Saturday. She was just being nice and meeting me there for wine. I should’ve been with someone because I needed emotional support. I needed someone to push me in the lobby to meet Caitriona. I needed someone to stand with me outside while I waited for both actors to come out. There were a few ladies waiting too but I didn’t know them. Yes Ms. Independence needed Someone. 

I was still feeling nervous and unsure about everything. Basically I was feeling small and the theatre’s security guard made me feel even smaller. That was the first hit of the evening. I got so caught up seeing Cait and Tobias at the bar laughing it up with each other that I was staring and the guard came over basically telling me not to.

I am not that kind of person. I live in New York City. We don’t give a shit about celebrities. But I gave a shit about these two. I was so caught up in wishing that the bar crowd had an off switch so I could hear what those two were talking about that I didn’t mean to be a creeper. He was doing his job and if it was me I would’ve done the same. Looking back I just felt really small after he approached me. He used the word “ambush”. Now I remember. The actors don’t like to be “ambushed”. Well I don’t “ambush”, thanks.

Sitting outside the theater, alone, helped me look slightly stranger. I am not a strange person with celebrities. Just these two I guess? 

Anyway, Tobias came out like a ninja because I didn’t realize he was there until I turned around. He signed some things and yes took some pictures with fans. I was the last to introduce myself.

You know when you’re not listening to people? I was so in my head that I wasn’t a great listener. I introduced myself saying something about it being my first time in London and that the play was great. He asked me where I came from and I said New York City. He said what brought me here? Did I see reviews on Twitter of the show? At that moment I realized that I didn’t verbalize something that to me was inherently obvious–he was the one that brought me here. Perhaps I thought telepathically he would’ve received my message? Standing outside this London theatre after coming in from New York City must’ve been so obvious, right? So I paused realizing his mind-reading skills were not on par and said, “I loved you in The Terror“.

And that’s when I started not being a good listener. I began rambling a little (this is when that Someone could’ve been there to help me remember post-conversation). I rambled how the show got shafted at the Emmys (he totally agreed) and he was saying something about it that I don’t remember because I was not present; subconsciously thinking of the next thing to say which is not something I normally do. I remember him saying that nobody had seen the show “at least not here” something something and then I said well with season two coming out maybe more people will go back and watch season one and he nodded just to be agreeable I think. Then I believe he said they (AMC) didn’t know what to do with it (which to me is totally ridiculous because it unfortunately seems true) and I went on saying that AMC dropped the ball in promoting the show (he agreed again). We agreed on things! That was a relief. He said something about the script being so good (or some similar adjective) and I used that moment to say (I mean at this point we were kind of talking over each other because–again–I’m nervous) that it should’ve at least received some writing credit (which I really meant award/nomination/anything) and he agreed again.

Ladies and gentleman we agreed on things (at least Terror related) and that made me feel good.

I asked for him to sign my ticket (thank goodness my friend Keren let me borrow her fancy silver pen before the show because I didn’t think far enough ahead to bring one) and asked if I could bother him for a picture. He obliged and I was really nervous taking a selfie. So nervous. One arm had my bag hooked through a strap and I was too nervous to rearrange. I kept saying I wasn’t good at this and he kindly took the picture twice. Mostly cause the first was a little blurry which I didn’t realize until afterward. He knew it was blurry (I didn’t due to delirium) and took another. Very nice of him.

And here’s the second hit of the evening that made me feel even smaller: There was a moment as we took that picture where I instinctively went to put my arm around his waist because that’s something one naturally does when taking a photo, right? Well I extended my arm and it was so crystal clear in a purely non-verbal signal that he didn’t want it nor desired to reciprocate. I quickly retracted my arm and felt really dumb. So dumb. Just dumb.

Finally I thanked him and he said “Thank you Jordyn” (thank you for coming? I can’t remember). He said my name which was really nice to hear.

He returned to the bar and I continued waiting for Caitriona. Folks, she and him were in that bar for so long. And I waited. Feeling smaller and smaller. Cause I was out there alone and I already had Security Guard Man eyeing me before and catching looks at me while I waited further. He probably thought I was going to “ambush” Tobias again but no buddy this time it was for Caitriona.

Eventually she and Tobias (along with a friend) walked outside and I just couldn’t bring myself to interrupt. I really wanted Tobias to get his bike so I could take advantage of the moment to talk to her but they were chumming it up forever. It stretched into an hour and a half and I didn’t want to wait anymore. It was a little chilly and I lost my cardigan earlier in the day (this was one of many scatter-brained moments 24 hours into my trip) so I left. She was a bonus. I came to see Tobias and I met him and that was good enough for me. Yeah I would’ve really liked a picture with her. Serendipitous that she was there but I didn’t want to intrude. They were having fun and I didn’t want to be rude.

I had a real problem with embarrassing myself in that moment. I just couldn’t bear the thought of interrupting them and asking her for a picture. They were laughing, talking, smoking…I just couldn’t do it. So I went home feeling slightly defeated and processing everything that happened. I didn’t feel happy but instead…

I just felt small all evening. That feeling is like a squeeze. Squeezing me into the corner of a room. Suffocating under an invisible oppressive insecurity that is so thick it chokes and paralyzes me. There’s some unworthiness there. Like who am I to ask for an autograph and picture? Who am I to ask for the actor’s time and to think he might be interested in anything I have to say? Some of this was a culmination of emotions that had been building for a while in anticipation of this trip especially after reading people’s experiences with him. Perhaps I expected something better or walking away with a feeling of accomplishment and instead I left feeling sore. 

On the last night of the show’s run, Tobias didn’t do any pictures. He was civil about it and quite British in that slightly apologetic way but ultimately firm. “Please understand” he said explaining to the gaggle of lady fans that there were “too many people” out here waiting. I stood off to the side behind my fellow ladies but could feel their collective disappointment particularly of those who flew from other countries to see him in the show’s last night. No pictures. Alright then. Suddenly my imperfect photo with him seems pretty great as I sit atop my throne of privilege decreeing that I respect his boundaries as long as I have my photo.

The message that was reinforced for me on both nights was that he really wants to do The Work and be respected for The Work. He’s a human being just like everyone else. It’s true.

But I don’t have to make this experience so serious, right?

A friend of mine said that I’m amazing and I made all this happen — traveling to see the show and meeting him — and that I’m really respectful of Tobias and Cait’s space. I made myself vulnerable meeting him and that’s the best gift I could give. Looking back I realize that I was beating myself up about looking like a creeper to that security guard, my awkward-arm-around-the-waist gesture, and not meeting Cait in the lobby. All this compounding and making me feel smaller. I’m learning how to alleviate this feeling in other parts of my life. Things didn’t really go to plan but I don’t think I had a plan so perhaps this was the way it was supposed to be. 

It’s a little bittersweet. Not gonna lie.

Someday when I’m at a party in New York City after producing my romantic comedy feature with Tobias Menzies, I won’t mention any of this to him, he won’t remember any of it, and I’ll feel a lot better.  

 

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2 Comments

  1. Reply

    Hello there, lovely lady! I don’t usually leave comments on things like this, but I just have to on this one. I want to thank you for your willingness to be honest and vulnerable about your experience and your feelings regarding it. Your thoughts struck such a chord with me, and I wanted you to know that we all feel that way sometimes.

    If I were ever to meet Tobias, I would probably freeze entirely and watch, mouth agape, as he walked by without a glance in my direction. I was particularly moved by this piece of your post:

    “…I didn’t verbalize something that, to me, was inherently obvious: He was the one that brought me here.”

    I don’t know if any of this is making sense, or if you’ll even see the comment, but I just had to reach out and say that I know how this feels, and I admire your determination and bravery to speak to him and get that photo, even with a moment of awkwardness involved. Because I’m sure that as time goes on, you’ll find that it was worth it!

    1. jordyn
      Reply

      Thanks Jennifer for reading and thank you for empathizing. It still feels like it didn’t happen but I guess the picture proves it! We all have our moments to shine or feel really small. Next time I’d like to shine a little more so that’s what it taught me. It was worth it! Thanks again for your comment.

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