Making a Life
My first moments spent with actress Ingrid Boulting are real nail biters. I’m seated next to her in a crowded movie screening room, about to watch her return to the silver screen in Conversations with God after a 20-year hiatus. It’s unspoken, but apparent that we’re both hoping for the best for this movie, but bracing for less. Ingrid’s quietly going through the usual nerves of any actress about to see herself larger than life, compounded no doubt by expectations from her long absence. I’m praying, literally, that the film can somehow live up to even a fraction of the genius of the Conversations with God book series by Neale Donald Walsch—the monster bestsellers I’ve read and re-read as passionately as I have any other in my life. I’m a useless liar; it would make my dinner interview with Ingrid following the screening so much more comfortable if I could enthusiastically rave about the film and about her performance.
The movie’s director/producer, Stephen Simon, stops by to say hello. The look in his eyes—terrified yet hopeful—reminds me of my father’s gaze as I was leaving the house for my first date. Sending one’s baby out into the big, bad world can’t be easy. Simon excuses himself to make an announcement—a pronouncement, really, about how hard it is to let go. I can imagine. He then entertains with brow-lifting stories about how the weather itself acted during the shoot, more than implying that God had a benevolent hand in a perfectly clear sunrise on an otherwise foggy day and a freak snowstorm that appeared at just the right moment during filming (and disappeared immediately upon the scene’s conclusion)—miracles for any director on a shoestring budget. Simon’s a visionary and no stranger to Hollywood (producer of What Dreams May Come and Somewhere in Time) and not unlike Ingrid, he’s followed the whisperings of his heart and has left Hollywood—in this case to live and work in Oregon, where he shot the film. I always admire people who take such relocation risks. Wearing the hat of director is a relatively new development for Simon, and CWG’s nationwide debut in theaters is nearly upon us—October 27th. This is also Stephen’s first full-length feature slated for release to subscribers (spring, 2007) in a two-year-old DVD-of-the-month club he’s co-founded called The Spiritual Cinema Circle. I’m thus sensing the personal importance of this moment and praying that God has therefore doubly blessed the finished product.
Just in case, however, I do a quick scan for the exit signs and ponder how I can slip out undetected if I don’t love what I’m about to see. Of course I wouldn’t dare.Still,should I have sat a little more conspicuously toward the rear?
The lights dim and I take a deep breath. “Oh, Linda, there’s someone I want you to meet,” says Ingrid, leaning into me, her long blonde hair cascading across her still model-like face. The handsome man seated on my left whose leg I’ve inadvertently brushed up against several times in the last five minutes holds out his hand. “Hello, I’m Eric DelaBarre,” he says with a wide smile. “Are you also a member of the press?” I ask. “No,” he says. “I’m the screenwriter.”
It is a great relief to report that the film delivered beyond anything I had hoped.Thank God! My emotions hit me so deeply throughout, in fact, that Eric wondered what was going on with the emotional chick to his right, and when the lights came back on, I had to confess to Ingrid that I wasn’t sure I could stop weeping long enough to string two coherent thoughts together for our interview. It wasn’t that the film made me sad—other than witnessing how easily one can slip into homelessness, as Walsch did just before he started conversing with God—whichwas heartbreaking. It’s that the movie is so life affirming and faith enhancing that what I really wanted to do was to curl up with a blanky and see it again to be sure I didn’t miss a single profound insight. I’m no move critic, but this one’s a winner in my book.
Thirty minutes later I was at dinner with Ingrid, our exchange nurtured by steeping bowls of miso soup. My raves about her touching performance were all genuine, and it seemed that being so raw and vulnerable back in the theater enhanced our connection rather than hindered it. My tears were a good icebreaker, leaving us both openhearted and ready for whatever might transpire.
Ingrid Boulting, the winsome beauty who plays Sunny in the film, is a woman who, like other physical beauties you’ve read about, has a not-so-uncommon career trajectory: She was once a ballerina. Who toured in repertory theater. Who became a model. Who then landed starring parts in major Hollywood pictures. What differentiates Ingrid’s story from others is that at the peak of her fame, starring opposite Robert DeNiro in The Last Tycoon, she stopped taking calls from her agent and called it a day—moving to Ojai, California to raise her baby girl and open a yoga/painting studio.
Why would anyone do that?
When stars like Bridgett Bardot, Tippi Hedrin, and Doris Day turn their backs on Hollywood and the star-making machine that made them famous, people on their way up that ladder scratch their heads and try to understand why. But I’ve got a little theory about that. All of the above are openly bonkers for animals, and have devoted their lives to rescuing them. Ingrid’s a long-term vegetarian and a champion for four-leggeds and the winged and scaled ones everywhere, even helping to release those trapped in cages for laboratory testing. Perhaps when people identify so closely with the unconditional love of animals, they can no longer stomach the killer “animal” instinct of Hollywood? Ingrid laughs at the analogy. “That’s not so far-fetched,” she says. “I haven’t eaten meat since 1969. I try very hard not be a part of the destruction in the world. The food we put on our plates can make the biggest difference in the environment and to our health.”
Remembering the moment in my early twenties when I, too, denounced meat, having just come face-to-face with the most lovable cow while hiking, I wondered what thoughts drive Ingrid’s discipline. “The intricately woven environment is unraveling before our eyes,” she begins, “and meat-eating carries much of the blame. Humans can easily live without meat, and yet the world now contains 3x as many farm animals as humans! Livestock have huge appetites for grass, corn, wheat, and soy—so much so that nearly 80% of all agricultural land in Britain, where I was raised for the second half of my childhood, is used to support them. If we stopped eating meat, the population of the entire world could be fed from 30% of the land—without the poisons.”
Ingrid and I talk about how it takes as much as 10 kg of vegetable protein to produce 1 kg of meat, and how much of the world’s forest and crop land is being lost to feed these cattle. We’re both mystified how, with water being in increasingly short supply for billions of people, fast-food chains that serve cheap beef would continue being so popular. “People obviously don’t know that it takes nearly 4,000 gallons of water to produce 2.2 lbs of grain-fed beef, while the same amount of grains or legumes fed directly to humans only takes 405 gallons,” she says. But it’s not until I come home and download a free viewing of a video that she recommends called Devour the Earth, narrated by Paul McCartney, that I see with my own eyes how are soils are pushed beyond their capacity to cope when raising livestock, and why cattle are force-fed diets of pesticides and fertilizers that were originally designed as chemicals for early twentieth century warfare. Until this moment, those details were merely just facts in my mind. Seeing the whole machinery of factory farming at work is an experience I may never forget and has me plotting how to slip my kid more sprouts and zucchini.
I recently drove out to Ingrid’s Ojai studio and experienced her ethereal yet beautifully realistic paintings, and felt the immense peace of her popular yoga space. She’s turned a huge warehouse into an intimate feast for the eyes, body, and soul. Buddhist artifacts and Tibetan singing bowls and paintings are everywhere. Dream catchers and bird feathers and flowers and crystals add color and mysticism. Massage oils and pillows and rugs and yoga mats abound. “You can feel everyone’s energy who has worked out, can’t you?” she says. I can’t say that I don’t feel it. “People come here and all their tensions melt away.”
Ingrid and I snuggle with her 15-year dog, Shelby, a rescue; we pick up paint at the local hardware store—where it seems the whole town knows her (and every male head within 50 feet swivels in her direction), and then spend nearly two hours with one of her dearest yoga clients—Millie, a woman whose severe multiple sclerosis stiffened her once flexible dancer’s legs into pretzels before meeting Ingrid. We carefully lift Millie from her chair to the floor to begin her therapy. It’s not easy lifting an adult, but Millie cheers us on. “Two people pulling on my legs couldn’t separate them,” she says, struggling with the words, but delivering them with a radiant smile. “But now they move with so little effort.” Millie beams up at Ingrid, as Ingrid gently lifts her legs up off the ground.
Soothing East Indian music chants in the background. “Have the willingness to let go of that which doesn’t serve you,” Ingrid says, as she lifts Millie’s legs higher. “I feel like I’m crossing a bridge, but I’m not across it yet,” Millie says. “Before I met you, my inner light was almost extinguished. I was all ego. I thought that in order to get love, I had to manipulate. I didn’t trust that I was good enough on my own.” Ingrid explains that MS makes people victims to what’s happening to their bodies. “I remind her that her spirit is free, and her body is a temporary vehicle. “You are not your car, right Millie?” “Right!” Millie says with a gut laugh. “I may not be walking yet, but the pain is totally gone!” Millie then lifts her own right leg and places her foot on her left knee with precision. “I can’t believe this,” Millie’s mother says to me. “Her improvement is amazing.”
“You see why I left Hollywood?” Ingrid says as we tuck Millie into bed and kiss her goodbye. “I’ll be walking by Christmas,” Millie declares as I gather my things. “Great! I’ll be back to celebrate with you as soon as I get the word,” I say. I’m touched that the family has let me in—a total stranger, with a tape recorder no less. We get in the car and once again, I find myself weepy around my new friend. I’m noticing a pattern here.
Your life is so meaningful, I say to Ingrid. It reminds me of one of the lines in the CWG movie: “Spend your life making a life.” She agrees that that’s what she’s created here in Ojai… a life. A woman on the road recognizes Ingrid’s car and waves as we drive by. “How did it feel coming back to moviemaking?” I ask, as Ingrid leads me into her favorite organic café. “It felt just like coming home,” she says. Home, as it turns out, is a word she’s using literally.
Returning to Film
“My stepfather, Ray Boulting, was a film director. I was raised around his sets, which was more comfortable for me than being in school. Being back on the set felt as if 20 years hadn’t even passed by. When it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood.” When I ask Ingrid if she worries about critics and their often-poisonous reviews, she echoes the feelings I experienced in the screening room. “My stepfather always said that it’s too easy to criticize a film. So much love goes into the making of a movie. So much energy and time and vision and heart. In one fell swoop, somebody’s bad mood can come in and destroy much of that good. And, you know, so many of the biggest hit movies from the past had some of the most famous critical pans. Someone sent me the list once and it was astounding. But that’s true for books, too.”
I notice that Ingrid’s face winced when mentioning her childhood, and I’m trusting we can get back to that, but first I’ve got to know more about why she came out of retirement to make this movie. “Well, just like you, I fell in love with the books when they came out. I couldn’t stop reading them because they enabled me to finally conceptualize how we’re all one, and how it is that we all walk with a powerful, divine energy, among so many other things.
“A friend of mine knows Stephen and was convinced that I should contact him about being in the movie. He told me to call him when casting was set to begin. I wanted to, but I kept putting it off. For months I did nothing. My friend kept on, however, so I finally sent Stephen an email asking if there was any possibility of me being in the film. I told him that I hoped I wasn’t being presumptuous, but that he could go to my website and decide. He did, and being a big movie buff, he remembered me and offered me a role right away.
“I am so excited to be involved with this new paradigm of consciousness that’s evolving right now. As much as there’s war and suffering and profound darkness taking place in the world, the opposite is also true. There is incredible light illuminating the globe and I see and feel it every day. I knew this movie would be a beacon of light in an industry so often dominated by violent images. I wanted so badly to do any part in the film, no matter how small. Stephen warned me that I would only have one line of dialogue. As it happens, I had a few more. But even though the role is really a cameo, I get to say a line I have repeated while teaching my yoga classes: “Heal that and you’ll be free.” In other words, heal the split, grow up, stop letting the past control you. Have courage to see the real truth and not the glamorized truth your ego wants to see.”
Rumor has it that Ingrid had a reputation in Hollywood for staying clear of the casting couch, and I ask her about that. “Yes, I was known as the girl who said no.” [“Big” people in Hollywood said she’d never work in this town again if she didn’t indulge their fantasies.] Is that what made you leave the business in the first place? I ask. “I always had so many things calling me,” she says. “First it was ballet and then it was the theater. But later it was clear that I could sell my paintings and enjoy a quiet and peaceful life. Art was calling me; it is my touchstone. It is my entrée into the powerful dynamic creative force, which is both feminine and masculine. I wanted to live a spiritual life and I didn’t think I could do that as an actress. Some people do, but that wasn’t my path.
“My last film, The Last Tycoon, was an amazing experience, but I was still searching for something more. I moved out of town, first to Upstate New York and then to Taos, New Mexico, but my agent was still calling with offers. One day he called for me to play the part of what sounded like a Swedish big-breasted meatball and that was it. It was tough to shut that door, but I knew that I had to. I no longer wanted to be taking on other characters, especially not people I didn’t relate to. Back to the line, ‘Heal that and you’ll be free,’ I had to heal the drama in my life in order to be free. I had to heal from everything that happened to me in my childhood, and for that I needed to be quiet, to be still.”
Life without Parents
Ah ha. We’re back to her childhood. “I had a magical childhood,” she says. “In my mind.” We both laugh. [After in-depth interviews with over 50 celebrities in my career, I’ve yet to hear that one.] “I really never felt like I had parents,” she continues, without emotion. “My mother left when I was a year old and we never bonded. For reasons I’ll probably never understand, she wants nothing to do with me. I didn’t know my father, either, so I left home very young. There was just no home to speak of.” I tell Ingrid that it’s remarkable to me how centered she is with that background. “Well, I’ve had to work on abandonment issues, but it’s made me more aware and compassionate. I found contentment within myself; learning to have a firm grip on standards by which I want to live my life has given me a real stability. I think the universe was conspiring to wake me up. Carolyn Myss once said, ‘Whoever said we were supposed to have a perfect childhood?’ No matter what, I think we all get broken. Perhaps we’re meant to so that we can put ourselves back together? I see people who are close to their parents and really screwed up, so I don’t see my situation as tragic.
Her grandparents mostly raised Ingrid until she was seven, before moving in with her step dad. Those first years were spent in South Africa, which influenced her love of nature and animals. “My grandparents were very old, but they were darling. My grandmother was very loving. We had buffalo that would drink the water from the river at the edge of our property. So many incredible animals were in that wild habitat. I also witnessed a lot of bigotry. In those days it was frowned upon to even speak with a black person, and I always felt sad and powerless over those cruel laws, and I broke them often.”
While talking with Ingrid, I’m struck by how well spoken she is. The English accent adds to her air of intelligence, but something tells me that this rebellious spirit wasn’t the school type. “Oh God!” she says when I bring up the subject. “I have NO idea how I got through school! I mean, none of it made any sense or had any meaning to me at all! It was so uninteresting. I remember spending hours daydreaming out the window.” Ingrid tells me about a history final exam essay in which she purposely mixed up all the different characters—Napoleon, Caesar, Queen Victoria—and had them paired up, doing fictional things. “I had so much fun writing down whatever came to mind,” she smiles. “I dared myself.” How did you get graded? I ask. “Oh, I didn’t. I got a big zero. But the teacher read the piece out to everyone in the class. Of course they all laughed.”
Is the Planet Hitting Bottom?
As Ingrid and I get to know one another, Israel and Lebanon are at war and the first half of 2006 is the hottest year on record. Being a naturalist, I ask Ingrid how she feels about the current political climate. “The destruction of our environment in the last six years has been unconscionable. Once I started studying the facts of the rape and pillage that’s resulted from our administration’s ties to big oil, I was infuriated. Rolling back countless laws that were put in place to preserve fragile ecosystems? Selling off timber in our national forests? Tax breaks for SUV’s?! It makes no sense; these are Christians! Chapter 11, Verse 18 of Revelation warns that God will ‘destroy those who destroy the earth.’ How can so many God-fearing people in positions of power be in so much incredible denial? Money and the economy and ‘progress’ blind people. The idea that ‘cash is king’ is impoverishing and enslaving all of us. And it won’t last. It can’t sustain itself.
“Then it hit me: What if it’s all a necessary evil? What if things have to get reallybad before people will wake up? I don’t think they’ve gotten worse enough yet. Look at what happened to Neale Donald Walsch before he wrote one of the most successful books of all time. He had to hit bottom. He was homeless.It is as if our world is in a massive car crash and we are the cars. Humans have been a huge disaster to this planet. We are destroying the very thing that sustains us, Mother Earth—a living being that we are so dependant upon. But I’m hoping that we as humanity will hit bottom without ruining ourselves. And when we do, we’ll finally be able to see reality and become more humane. I’m hopeful that in the evolution of our consciousness, we can pull ourselves through.”
I’m hopeful that this new wave of spiritual cinema helps quicken the pace.
“Conversations with God” will be released by Samuel Goldwyn Films into theaters this October. Fox Home Entertainment is handling distribution of the DVDs. To learn more about Ingrid, her work, the movie, and The Spiritual Cinema Circle, visit: