Girl Friday: Brooke Lyons
Photography by: Kristen Honey
To simply call Brooke an actress would be an understatement. She happens to be one, (a successful one, at that), but there is far more to her than what meets the eye. A published author and classically trained ballet dancer, Brooke truly represents the modern day renaissance woman. Brooke grew up in Connecticut where she studied ballet at Manhattan’s Joffrey Ballet School, the Boston Ballet and Rosella Hightower’s school in Cannes, France. By sixteen, she was a company member at the New England Ballet. Her first book, Scoliosis: Ascending the Curve (M. Evans and Co., 1999), was inspired by her own battle with scoliosis as a teenager. She founded the Scoliosis Association of Southern Connecticut before enrolling at Yale, where she received her B.A. in English Literature. I got to know Brooke through a pilot we did together and she instantly drew me in. Perhaps it was her magically bright spirit, or her impeccable way with words, but there is always an inspiring pulse to her that never goes unnoticed. Brooke is best known for her recurring roles on CBS’ hit show Two Broke Girls, Jane By Design and most recently, Psych.
How did you get your start in acting? What made you decide to pursue it full time?
In college I was in the mood to try new things. One day I signed up to audition for a play. I was terrified by this choice, especially because my school had a strong theater program and many of the other auditioners were quite seasoned. But you’ve got to start somewhere, right? Somehow instinct won out over logic, and I took the leap.
The one thing I did know was that acting felt joyful.
A similar thing happened four years later when I bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles. I knew nothing of the entertainment industry or even of the city – a state of affairs that led to a series of missteps which were frustrating, embarrassing, hilariously naïve and ultimately, educational. The one thing I did know was that acting felt joyful. I believe that if something makes your soul sing, you must take every possible step to nurture, explore and serve whatever that thing is.
You are also a published writer. How do you find time to fit that into your everyday schedule?
E.B. White said, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” In creative pursuits, especially the self-generated variety, it’s altogether too easy to tell yourself you’re distracted today, not feeling inspired today, or need to pay the bills and do the laundry today.
making your practice as important as the bills and the laundry
I find it helpful to set aside a two-hour block during which I leave the house, turn off the phone and sit quietly in a coffee shop or library with my laptop. Sometimes it’s excruciating, and what comes out will never see the light of day. Sometimes it’s easy, and I end up staying for six hours instead of two. We like to think that the arts are about muses and magic. They often are. They’re also a lot about showing up. Showing up to the theater, the studio, the field or the blank page, and making your practice as important as the bills and the laundry (which, by the way, will get done).
You have a love for fall . Where do you think that comes from?
It could be because I’m from New England, which lends itself to autumnal splendor, or because I was born into fall. I’ve always preferred the shadowy mystery of grey weather to the bright obviousness of the sun. Seasons are cycles, and fall marks a period of turning inward, of hibernation. It’s this heightened moment of golds and crimsons and bronzes, of harvest and abundance. Yet it is, as heightened moments tend to be, ephemeral. Waiting in the wings are the frost that will soon cover the ground and the leafless trees that will stand stark against the winter sky. That contrast makes me giddy. So does pumpkin pie.
You travel often for work, do you have any essential travel tips?
Candles and Larabars. First: candles. My favorite for travel are the Voluspa mini tins. They’re easy to transport, perfect for hotel rooms, dressing rooms and trailers, and they make any space feel luxurious. There’s a lot to be said about cultivating a cozy, personalized environment to put yourself at ease when you’re far from home. Second: Larabars. Garlic shrimp from the airport Pick Up Stix not looking so good? Stuck in customs and breaking out in a cold sweat thanks to plummeting blood sugar? Stash some Larabars in your carry-on. They’re healthy, satisfying and delicious (my favorite is Peanut Butter Cookie), and they’ll prevent you from devouring an entire box of Tic Tacs or getting weepy with the immigration officer.
What are some challenges you’ve had to overcome in your life path?
My earlier life was linear. Study hard, work hard, and get results. Reap what you sow, and so on. Now I exist in a world where there aren’t any hard and fast rules. Success is not necessarily about hard work or desire (though I find merit in both); it’s about taking the ride and accepting that the results are largely out of your hands.
Waiting for everything to fall into place is a dangerous game.
The professional challenge, then, is to remain positive and authentic when things don’t work out the way you’d hoped they would, to have faith in intangibles like luck and timing and to know that there is always something new on the horizon. The personal challenge, meanwhile, is to go ahead and live your life. Waiting for everything to fall into place is a dangerous game.
You were poised for a promising career as a professional ballet dancer until you suffered a serious back injury. How did that change you? Tell us about your recovery and how that experience has led you to where you are today.
The experience was bookended by these polar moments of physical awareness: at diagnosis, a sadness at losing my body’s capacity to dance the way I used to or the way I wanted to; and later, a gratitude for the ability to get out of bed or walk down the street, (because there was a time when I couldn’t do either).
I carry with me the three H’s: humility, humanity and humor.
From this chapter of my life, I carry with me the three H’s: humility, humanity and humor. Humility is being 19 and needing mom to carry you from the bed to the toilet to help you with your business. Humanity is embodied by those who help you when you cannot help yourself. And humor? In large part, humor is the only way we’re able to get through any of this. Its healing properties cannot be overstated.
What do you consider to be your hardest won or most treasured life lesson?
That my body doesn’t tolerate dairy. Kidding. Well, definitely not kidding, but my serious answer is: resist the urge to resist. Years ago I had spine surgery. It’s difficult to express in words the amount of physical pain this involved. Much of the recovery is a morphine blur, but what I do recall is: any attempts to yelp or to weep only exacerbated the pain. I managed to get through those days and weeks by closing my eyes, staying very still, and focusing on my breath. So if you end up in the hospital, don’t get the job, lose the game, receive a stack of bills instead of a stack of checks, or get rear-ended on the way to the most important meeting of your life, throwing a fit may only make you feel worse. How about: allow it, breathe through it, and know that in time you will heal.
Do you plan to have kids in the future? Why or why not and how does career play a part in that?
Recently I’ve witnessed several friends with wonderfully successful, full-time careers bear children, raise these children and balance it all beautifully. These women are perfect in their imperfection and bravely pave the way for those of us who haven’t taken that leap. I feel that my peers and I are moving away from a self-reflective age and into what I call a cliff-jumping age. As in: we’ve come to the edge. A handful have jumped, plunged underwater, and emerged, smiling, as if to say, “Come on in! The water’s fine!”
What are you most enjoying learning about yourself lately?
How and when to fire. Ready, aim, fire is practical. Ready, fire, aim is impulsive. I’m more of a ready, aim, aim, aim… What am I aiming at? Should I reconsider my aiming technique? What does the word “aim” even mean? … You see where this is going. Whatever wisdom I’ve gained from the experience of my years, combined with the efficiency that derives from taking on more responsibilities and having less time to reflect, has made me more inclined to fire. Whether it’s picking up the phone, launching a project, or making a decision about a character I’m playing, I’ve gotten better about executing. It’s a lot about releasing control, about letting decisions be sacred without ever allowing them to become precious. About knowing that, even if you had infinite time to prepare, the moment of action would still expose you to the unexpected.
What advice do you have for younger women who may be following in your footsteps?
Don’t follow in my footsteps; create your own. Cherish your mentors, heed their advice, read and study everything, but do so with a grain of salt, and immerse yourself in the work of those you most admire. Above all, be true to yourself. Your values, uniqueness and dignity are priceless. Also, love each other. There’s plenty to go around, so love each other, support each other, and have as much fun as you can.
How do you see your future?
I’m superstitious about disclosing future visions in the same way people are about sharing birthday wishes. [Poof! She blows out the candles, and the wishes disappear like night missives into some future reality.]
Girl Friday is a phrase more common to the 1940s and 50s, defined as “a female employee who has a wide range of duties,” and is most recognizable from the film His Girl Friday. Here at Move LifeStyle, we’re resurrecting its saucy vibe for the title of our last column of the week which profiles inspiring women in the workforce. If you like this series, click here for more Girl Friday Interviews.