It’s got to do with putting yourself in other people’s shoes and seeing how far you can come to truly understand them. I like the empathy that comes from acting.
– Christian Bale –
In 2005 I went to Cuba for a short vacation. Fidel Castro was still president by then and life for Cubans was very restricted. People would get food through the Libreta de Abastecimiento (“Supplies booklet”) a system establishing the rations each person was allowed to buy and the frequency of supplies. The average wage at the end of 2005 was $16.70 per month and the average monthly pension was $9. The only way Cubans could leave the country was through a letter of invitation from the person they wanted to visit (fee: $200) and a permission to leave their place of work. They would also need $150 for the exit permit. Cuba is also known for being one of the top destinations for sex tourism.
One day at a local store in La Havana I met a young woman with her two daughters aged 13 and 3, she was beautiful, joyous and very kind (like most of Cubans are). My friend and I asked for some information and she offered to take us to the place we were heading to. Along the way she told us about her story; she’d work in a shop during the day and at night she would prostitute to make extra money to take care of her kids. Her family was aware and consenting. She explained to us that in Cuba many fathers and mothers send their kids to prostitute, often in the hope that they end up meeting a foreigner who can take them out of the country for a better life.
I know to some of you this might sound like a sad and awful reality but for Cubans, prostitution is sometimes the only way to survival and that woman didn’t seem to be ashamed about sharing her story. I listened to her with an open heart and I kept thinking “maybe if I was born in Cuba and lived in such condition I’d be a prostitute as well”. I felt a deep compassion for that woman and gratitude for being so lucky to be born in a culture that allows more freedom. I wanted to help her and the kids in some way but the only thing I was able to do was buying some food and give her some extra money. I’ve witnessed similar situations in other countries around the world like India or Thailand and all of them opened my mind and turned out to be a profound journey into the human soul.
Later on, Theater and Acting gave me the chance to put myself into other people’s shoes and I was able to use those experiences to deepen the understanding and the Modus Operandi of my characters. My acting coach Ivana taught me to never judge my characters, especially when it came to playing serial killers, drug addicts, prostitutes or criminals. She said, “No matter how cruel someone is, there is always a reason for it, which is usually a response to heinous physical, emotional or sexual abuse they endured as a child”. Empathy is the ability to see the world as others see it, understanding their point of view and their feelings without judgment. We all have dark sides and empathy comes from knowing our darkness well enough so we can sit in the darkness with others and help them see the light. We can’t have empathy if we don’t embrace our vulnerability and face our shame first and for that we need Courage.
’Til the next one!