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  • Writer's pictureLaura Kelly

Patricia Arquette's letter to her younger self

Patricia Arquette is a bit of a personal hero, so it was a delight to speak to her for The Big Issue's long-running Letter to My Younger Self feature. This first appeared in the magazine in May 2019. Interview by me, words from the amazing Patricia.

When I was 16, it was kind of a fun time to grow up in LA. There was a lot happening in the clubs – there were punk rockers and there were pop lockers and there were break-dancers and there were people who were rockabilly and there were new wavers. Everyone was criss-crossing over each other. I bounced around all those scenes. Even though I was in a wild world and there were a lot of people experimenting with a lot of things, I don’t have any great regret about my behaviour as a young person. I was a real prude. When I was really young, I wanted to be a nun. I had good values about telling the truth and being a good person.

I did lose a lot of friends to drugs. I had already lost people by the time I was 16, so I would say to my younger self: while you may end up losing a lot of people that you love in your life, their love is always in you. That will never go away. Life goes very quickly, and before you know it, it’s over. There’s no guarantee how long we’re here, so love the people that are around you while you can.

School was very frustrating to me. I felt like what I was learning had no application in my life. I didn’t care about that kind of math, I wanted to learn about personal finance. Even in America, sometimes you’re learning misinformation in school. You’re learning about Christopher Columbus; you’re not learning the right things about Native Americans. You are not really learning true history. I was questioning authority a lot and feeling like my time was being wasted and my brain was being wasted.

At 16, I was struggling with being a girl in the world, and feeling like I always had to defend myself from this sexual energy being put on me. It was very creepy feeling. I didn’t want to feel that energy coming from men.

I never perceived myself as a beautiful young woman. Now, looking back, I realise I was. But I don’t know that it’s terrible that I didn’t see myself as a beautiful woman, because I didn’t lead with my beauty. So, I would say to my younger self, while it might hurt you right now, not to feel like you’re beautiful or like you’re enough for what society is telling you should look like – don’t worry. Because of that, you’re going to have a lot of empathy. Because of that, you will develop a lot of other parts of yourself that will be very valuable when you get older.

I’m really grateful to all the people I loved along the way, and who loved me [Patricia was married to Nicolas Cage from 1995-2001 and The Mist actor Thomas Jane from 2006- 2011]. They were all good people and we all tried our best, but we were learning as we went along. If I had some good advice to give my younger self… it’s not that I regret any relationship I ever had, but I think I did spend a lot of time trying to fix people that weren’t ready to fix themselves. I spent a lot of time in relationships that were painful to me. I would say to my younger self: you can’t really change people; they have to change themselves. And you don’t need to stay for years and years to try and fix something, or because you made a commitment. If it really feels wrong, it is wrong.

I would say to myself, be nice to your mom because she’s doing the best she can and she’s not going to live forever [Patricia’s mum died in 1997 of breast cancer]. And she really, really loves you. Later, when you’re older, you’ll realise all the incredible gifts that she gave you. My mom was an activist and she really inspired me to be an activist. She was a therapist and a poet. She would talk about narcissists and bipolar people and people who were passive aggressive and these different kinds of underpinnings of human behaviour, I think I’ve incorporated a lot into my acting.

It was scary being a young mom [Patricia gave birth to her first child, Enzo Rossi, when she was 20, following a relationship with musician Paul Rossi]. I would say to myself about parenting – it goes very fast, enjoy the ride. Your kids are going to be incredible people. And don’t worry. Everything is going to work out. I mean, honestly, I’m kind of a miracle that my life has happened the way that it has. There were a couple of moments when I had to walk away from acting and I didn’t have much of a career, so I didn’t know I would get another opportunity to find success.

When I was 17, I really started to feel that thing [the pressure of being part of a big acting family] bearing down on me. I knew I wanted to either be an actor – but I was terrified of it – or a midwife. I decided not to let my fear hold me back and to try acting, and I could always become a midwife. As scary as it was, doors started opening.

I’d tell my younger self, just because you’re a girl doesn’t mean you don’t have something valuable to say. When I started out there were a lot of people who made me feel that I didn’t have any value in my ideas or my choices – and I even doubted myself. I was lucky in my career that I had some pivotal relationships. One was with this acting teacher I had, Roy London, and the other was with Tony Scott, when he directed me in True Romance. Both of them were really committed to me being empowered to make choices as an actor. I’d say to my 16-year-old self: do take risks in your art. And it’s ok if you fail.

Never in a million years did I expect to win an Academy Award, or any award. You know they talk about ‘the secret’ and ‘imagine yourself’? I never imagined myself ever having this career that I’ve had. Honestly, I think the reason that [I won the Oscar] was so that I could make that speech [arguing for equal pay for women]. I think that was meant to be for that reason. When I started out [in acting], no one was talking about their “brand”. Now people are so hyper-aware of their “brand”, whatever that is, and their commercial status and keeping in a very neutral political position. That has never been my nature or my plan.

I guess, if I could tell a little fairy tale to my younger self, I’d say – you are going to work with great artists, who inspire you. You are going to travel around the world and meet people of different cultures and see the beauty of nature. And *you will* find the love of your life. And you are going to have a fairy tale love affair. And everything that you wish today, is going to come to pass. My fairy tale is my boyfriend [visual artist] Eric White. We are very much in love – it’s really, really dreamy.

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