Inspired by my love of literature, belief in freedom of speech and …. Oh heck, who am I kidding? Kevin McKidd was doing a reading at a small charity event in Beverly Hills, I had an opportunity to go, enjoy, and possibly even meet him. I love literature, I love freedom of speech, I love my best friend who lives in an oh-so-conveniently located neighborhood in LA, but only Kevin McKidd is going to get me on a planefrom San Francisco for a brief trip for an event like this.
PEN USA (an organization that not only gives literary prizes and promotes reading and freedom of speech generally, but who also actively supports efforts to free writers around the world who have sometimes been imprisoned for their writing) held the event: actors, directors, and writers read from formerly banned books. The event took place late afternoon on Sunday, May 5 at a private home in Beverly Hills, preceded by a silent auction/cocktail hour. We politely browsed the silent auction items (I may or may not have won the bid on the gourmet brownies – lips are sealed, at least until the brownies arrive), partook of a complimentary alcoholic beverage, and enjoyed the LA phenomenon of a nice photographer, poised with camera, visibly deflating when it was clear my friend and I were just “people” as we walked into the front garden.
A Hallway (no Bedrooms)
After chatting with several friendly and interesting people in the modest but very lovely home, we walked the short hall (which is really a mini museum of beautiful photographs) in preparation to take our seats, when, at that very moment, I experienced what every person hopes and fears – coming face-to-face with someone they greatly admire. Kevin McKidd himself walked through the front door, at once a very real person in his pale lilac shirt and subtly light brown tweed jacket -- it wasn’t Lucius Vorenus or Owen Hunt or even Poseiden (though I definitely sensed a bit of a godlike aura) standing there, it was Kevin – but at the same time a bit unreal. He is definitely someone with an extra “something”-- a real presence. I think I said hello and stumbled for an appropriate way to engage in conversation (advice to all – write what you want to say down on paper – you will go blank otherwise.) I said it was an honor to meet him. “Have we met before?” and I noted I had been on the charity Skype chat [skipping over my first thought “in my dreams”], to which he replied in recognition, “Oh, yeah.” (hoped that was a good thing – yikes!) Still searching for something to say among a million questions, I told him he was my favorite actor. My friend added we had been in the audience at The Late Late Show with Craig erguson last summer and Kevin said it had been a lot of fun. At some point during this brief encounter, Kevin said,
“I’m going to the Grey’s wrap party later.”*
[*all quotes by Kevin are approximate] Dear Reader, though I heard the squeals of a million fans echoing in my head at that moment, I believe I calmly nodded and impressively did not scream or plead or beg to go. My quick thinking friend, who had brought her good camera, suggested a photo outside, to which he very graciously agreed with a, “Sure.” Seriously, the man is nice.
We took the photo [coming soon] in the front garden. I have a vague memory of Kevin comfortably putting his arm around my waist for the photo. I concentrated on acting natural, put my arm around his waste in picture mode [noted: tall, but not too tall, solid, nice.] He kindly waited as she took a couple of snaps after which I told my friend I would take her photo with him. As I took her unfamiliar camera with a nice lense and unfamiliar buttons, I fumbled, instinctively trying to press the back as if an iPhone. Then Kevin charmingly, with the spirit of a teasing grin, gave some very valuable advice, “It’s usually the big button.” (Something he picked up from Annie Leibovitz, no doubt ;) ) Aaaah, the BIG button! Kevin very patiently waited for me to figure things out and take the picture and then went inside to prepare for the readings. (read more after the Photo)
The room where the readings took place was simply a large living and dining room space, open to the small backyard, where birds were singing in that Hollywood way birds sing. I noted all passages each reader read, but will describe only Kevin’s here. Kevin was the last to read.We all know Kevin has a beautiful speaking voice (separate and apart from his extremely lovely singing voice), whether he’s successfully inhabiting an American character, exhibiting his own native Scottish accent in full force or portraying something a bit more classical (as his Vorenus accent.) For this passage, I felt he was using a kind of more classical accent and tone he might use on the stage [I’d really like to test that theory out, Kevin – when’s your next stage play??] What was a real delight to experience was the fact that, in a small space, his voice has a deep resonance that is especially powerful and kind of effortlessly surrounds you. The only thing I can compare is if you hear what he sounds like in the YouTube video of the Grey’s Music Event, where he prefaces his performance of How We Operate ending with the phrase “iTunes revenue” - think of that tone, especially in the portion of the passage about power below.
He read the following passage from 1984:
seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good
of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long
life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will
understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the
past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who
resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the
Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never
had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps
they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a
limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where
human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that
no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is
not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order
to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish
the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of
torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to
Winston was struck, as he had been struck before, by the tiredness of
O'Brien's face. It was strong and fleshy and brutal, it was full of
intelligence and a sort of controlled passion before which he felt himself
helpless; but it was tired. There were pouches under the eyes, the skin
sagged from the cheekbones. O'Brien leaned over him, deliberately bringing
the worn face nearer.
'You are thinking,' he said, 'that my face is old and tired. You are
thinking that I talk of power, and yet I am not even able to prevent the
decay of my own body. Can you not understand, Winston, that the individual
is only a cell? The weariness of the cell is the vigour of the organism.
Do you die when you cut your fingernails?'
He turned away from the bed and began strolling up and down again, one hand
in his pocket.
'We are the priests of power,' he said. 'God is power. But at present
power is only a word so far as you are concerned. It is time for you to
gather some idea of what power means. The first thing you must realize
is that power is collective. The individual only has power in so far as
he ceases to be an individual. You know the Party slogan: "Freedom is
Slavery". Has it ever occurred to you that it is reversible? Slavery is
freedom. Alone--free--the human being is always defeated. It must be so,
because every human being is doomed to die, which is the greatest of all
failures. But if he can make complete, utter submission, if he can escape
from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party so that he IS the
Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal. The second thing for you to
realize is that power is power over human beings. Over the body--but, above
all, over the mind. Power over matter--external reality, as you would call
it--is not important. Already our control over matter is absolute.'
For a moment Winston ignored the dial. He made a violent effort to raise
himself into a sitting position, and merely succeeded in wrenching his
'But how can you control matter?' he burst out. 'You don't even control
the climate or the law of gravity. And there are disease, pain, death----'
O'Brien silenced him by a movement of his hand. 'We control matter because
we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull. You will learn by
degrees, Winston. There is nothing that we could not do. Invisibility,
levitation--anything. I could float off this floor like a soap bubble if
I wish to. I do not wish to, because the Party does not wish it. You must
get rid of those nineteenth-century ideas about the laws of Nature. We
make the laws of Nature.'
'But you do not! You are not even masters of this planet. What about
Eurasia and Eastasia? You have not conquered them yet.'
'Unimportant. We shall conquer them when it suits us. And if we did not,
what difference would it make? We can shut them out of existence. Oceania
is the world.'
'But the world itself is only a speck of dust. And man is tiny--helpless!
How long has he been in existence? For millions of years the earth was
'Nonsense. The earth is as old as we are, no older. How could it be older?
Nothing exists except through human consciousness.'
'But the rocks are full of the bones of extinct animals--mammoths and
mastodons and enormous reptiles which lived here long before man was ever
'Have you ever seen those bones, Winston? Of course not. Nineteenth-century
biologists invented them. Before man there was nothing. After man, if he
could come to an end, there would be nothing. Outside man there is
In this reading, I think I gained a small insight into what he must be like on the stage in a dramatic role and my interest in seeing him in a theater performance is all the keener now. Also, should he need something to do in his spare time, ha ha, Kevin should really record some audiobooks – just imagine a whole book full of Kevin’s voice!
See PEN’s photos of event, including Kevin reading and outside the event at link here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.481341408605594.1073741830.466499820089753&
But Wait, That’s Not All
After the closing remarks, my friend and I made our way out of the living room and once again I ran into Kevin (thank you hallway gods.) He looked relaxed and cheerful with beer in hand, ready for the Grey’s party ahead. I told him his reading was brilliant and tried to make some comment about how the piece was powerful and timely. He commented 1984 was a great book. He gave me a beautiful smile and said, “Glad you could come.” [How sweet!] I asked him if he would do a play soon, which I think he heard as “are you going to play soon”, he answered, “yes.” Either way, doing a play or playing music, it’s all good and anyone who gets a chance to see him to either should count themselves lucky. As the people in the hall milled about and the small mass of people moved on, I refrained from latching onto his leg (like you do when you are a kid) and having to be pried off. Dignity maintained. (Sorry fans, I was unable to independently confirm the amazing Sandra Oh’s claims about lips and skin.) I let him move on to chat with others and to his next party.
Then my friend and I had a lovely chat with one of the other wonderful readers – a writer/attorney named Natasha Deon who looks like an actress and is completely lovely from the inside out. AND, we had also had a really wonderful and surprising chat with Julian Sands (whose reading from a steamy Lady Chatterley’s Lover passage had us all fanning ourselves) – he was very friendly and also took a picture with us (hello, yes, that Julian Sands for all you fellow “A Room With a View” fans!)
So, all in all, I went in not knowing exactly what to expect and got the thrill of my life in meeting Kevin and having a great, unique experience. In person, Kevin radiates a kindness and decency which others have marked, but which was a pleasure to experience firsthand. It is a joy to be able to confirm the person you admire is deserving of your admiration.
The More You Know
Attached is a link to a review by an online publication, which includes a picture of Kevin, among others, reading:
PEN is a great organization which promotes freedom of expression in the US and around the world. Their efforts include advocating for imprisoned writers. Link to PEN site: http://www.penusa.org/
Further reading – personal recommendations:
If you want some great things to read, PEN also gives annual literary awards (listed on its site):
Past winners include two with whom my friend and I have personal connections and whose writings may interest you:
An old college acquaintance (good friend of a good friend) Lydia Millet who won the PEN USA 2003 Award for Fiction (My Happy Life) – as an introduction to her wonderful writing style, try her short story collection “Love in Infant Monkeys.” I mention her because I think many of these stories will delight you.
My friend’s friend Evan Wright, who won a 2005 PEN Nonfiction Award for “Generation Kill”, which many of you may have heard about.