Almost every day, people tell me that "Father of the Bride" is part of their history.
Fathers see the film with their daughters, and weep over memories of long ago back yard basketball scrimmages. Brides watch it as a rite of passage before their wedding day. Couples often romanticize it as "their movie."
It’s mine too. But not for the same reasons. "Father of the Bride" began a thrilling and terrifying metamorphosis for me, as I left behind the last remnants of my childhood and became an adult.
It was a classic Hollywood story: I was "plucked" out of obscurity, chosen from an exhaustive nationwide search and thrown into the spotlight overnight at the age of nineteen. Little did anyone know, I spent my first day as a movie star literally getting plucked. I cried ugly tears, as an ironically hairy man yanked at my forehead with a set of sharp tweezers, while an apologetic lady in a white lab coat applied soothing warm wax to my thighs only to rip it off -- along with my dignity -- a second later. I felt like a naked chicken about to be roasted.
I knew it was a privilege to be there. I was living out a dream I’d had since I was five---acting in a major motion picture alongside remarkable comedians I’d looked up to for years: Diane Keaton, Steve Martin, Martin Short. In many ways, my life couldn’t have been better. But much of the time, I felt far away from my family, friends and all that was familiar. And I had no idea what I was doing.
What plagued me most was that stinkin’ blender scene. "Bryan," played by George Newbern, gives my character, "Annie," a blender as a wedding gift and it sends her into a dither. She questions the meaning behind the gesture and jumps to the conclusion that he expects her to be a housewife, instead of the career woman she’d planned. The scene is set for George Banks, played by Steve Martin, to come into her bedroom to find "Annie" sobbing. The only problem was, Kim couldn’t.
Oh, I kept trying. Through each of my four auditions, I worried along with everyone else in the room that if I got the part, I wouldn’t be able to cry on cue. I hadn’t had much training on how to access emotion yet, and the more I worried over being expected to weep, the less likely it became. In retrospect, we should have just called in the hairy guy with the tweezers to resume plucking.
The night before we shot the scene, I didn’t sleep. My stomach was in knots.
The cozy bedroom set had been constructed in the middle of a cavernous room on a raised platform that reminded me of a gallows. As I walked up the steps to my doom, crewmembers prepared for the action. A blender sat in tissue paper on the bed. A special effects person aimed "rain" at the window, and a giant light shone outside the glass to simulate a cloudy day.
As cameras rolled, Steve and I did the first half of the scene. Then we did it again. And again. For hours, thirty to forty times, he knocked on that door. "Annie? Can I come in?"
Each time, I invited him in and began telling him what was wrong. But I just couldn’t conjure up the tears, and again and again, after our director Charles Shyer yelled "cut," there was silence. Steve and I waited in the quiet room for notes, and then finally Charles came through the door looking more and more stressed.
"It’s just ...," he would say, struggling to figure out how to help me. "Gimme one more, Boobie."
Boobie was the pet name he called everyone. On this day, it wasn’t comforting. The set was becoming restless. It was close to lunchtime and we’d been working all morning. I needed to do this.
Patiently, Steve went back to his starting position, for maybe the 50th time. I looked out my pretend window as the effects person switched on the rain again. A fleet of crew members stared at my back from behind the camera, and the producers and other VIPs continued to inspect and dissect my every move from video village just feet away.
"I’m not cut out for this," I thought. "I don’t belong here. I am failing." I’d cried many times in my life, not to mention recently, why couldn’t I do it now?
I am a terrible actress.
The thought was such a punch in the gut that suddenly I sobbed.
A blessed sob!
Steve knocked on the door and, for the first time, I turned around with tears streaming down my face.
"Annie? Can I come in?"
The scene was organically funny in its absurdity, that a simple gift could be so misconstrued by an anxious bride-to-be. All the emotion I’d been keeping inside flowed out of me in the best catharsis I’d had in a while.
That last take was the one they used. This time, when Charles yelled, "Cut," everyone on set applauded. He came up to the platform with a lollipop in his mouth and gave me a hug.
By then, I believed the advice Steve had given me my first day on set: "Welcome to Hollywood. You’re going to need a good therapist."
Though filming "Father of the Bride" was one of the hardest experiences I’ve had, it was also one of the most rewarding. The movie grew into a classic and started a career that has led to many more adventures.
Sixteen years ago, it called to my husband-to-be, Brad Paisley, who woke up on his tour bus one morning thinking of "the girl in that movie" and set out to find me. My mother, who was the voice in my head telling me to reach for the impossible those twenty-five years ago, the woman who first taught me about leaning in to a challenge, died last November. She lives on as an extra in the reception scene, smiling and laughing for a few seconds in a glittery gold top next to my movie-mom, Diane Keaton.
As it does for so many of its fans, "Father of the Bride" preserves my history, too, and I am forever grateful.
Last year, Kimberly Williams-Paisley authored a best-selling book detailing her late mother's battle with dementia, "Where the Light Gets In: Losing My Mother Only to Find Her Again." It is available in paperback on April 11.