Hero worship is tricky business.

On the one hand, we revere the people who have inspired us, or who serve as role models. However, we often do not have a very complex or multi-dimensional view of our heroes. We perhaps zero in on a single aspect of them – perhaps a talent or good deed – and often know little else.

Photo by Valentina Socci
Source: Photo by Valentina Socci

This narrow focus can make meeting our heroes a complex endeavor – as Brendan Hines found out when he saw Elvis Costello waiting in an alley.

“When I’m in the presence of someone I revere … who inspired me – I’m incapable of having a complex conversation with that person. Because I only have one idea of who they are,” Hines told me. “I was in an alley once and Elvis Costello was by himself, just waiting at the gate of this studio. And I’ve been in love with him since I was 14 years old. I love his music and really adore him. And there was 5 minutes where he was standing there alone where I could have walked over to him, shook his hand, had a very brief interaction with him and walked away.

“But I was paralyzed by it.”

His paralysis was a result of the recognition that there was no possible way of conveying who he was to Costello, or conveying to Costello an appreciation for him beyond his musical talent and contributions.

“I couldn’t bear the idea of going over there and not conveying to him the degree to which he was important to me. And so I just didn’t do it at all – because I knew that he is a more complicated person than I have any idea of and I would not be able to convey to him who I am,” Hines explained. “I do regret not saying hello to him and not keeping it really short, shaking his hand and moving on. Because that’s the interaction that most people appreciate – ‘I appreciate you and just wanted to say hello.’ And then the interaction’s over. And that’s perfectly reasonable.”

Addressing the complexities of an individual is something that Hines has had to master in his professional life as an actor. Hines has appeared in several television shows, including USA Network’s Suits and ABC’s Scandal. Often, he finds that the scenes that are portrayed to the audience are only a small percentage of the scenes he actually films, thus risking giving a more narrow perspective on the character. “I think it’s the nature of the medium … being an actor in film or television … there’s so much editing involved,” Hines said.  

And sometimes, the complexities of a character are difficult to portray because there is a unidimensional focus on them in the script. For example, Hines plays the character of Superian on the Amazon Original series The Tick and one of the defining aspects of the character is his struggle with a conspiracy theory that centers on him. “When we were doing the pilot, the initial thing was that he had a very specific public persona, and at the same time there’s a conspiracy theory floating around that he didn’t do one of the main things that he is credited for doing – which is killing The Terror years ago,” Hines described. “So the issue was his combative and defensive stance towards anybody who suggested that he didn’t actually kill The Terror.”

For Hines, getting ready to play Superian meant imagining what it was like to be a hero. And he soon found that being a hero meant being both revered and at times questioned on a single characteristic or event.

“It was weird for me … that’s what I had to consider when I approached this character, this incredibly revered and beloved figure who’s been around for 100 years … That meant sports figures who are enshrined in the pantheon of greats and the archetypes of astronauts and firemen, in addition to great athletes. Just great heroes – the concept of hero worship,” he explained. “When you’re acting in the scene and you take on this public/private division … you really do put that veneer up, that wall up. This is how people expect me to behave. This is how I’m projecting how I assume people feel about me at any given moment. And I’m giving them that back. And it’s interesting because it’s not a very natural feeling. There’s not a give and take with people. There’s not an improvisational feel to conversation.

“Your persona is very scripted.”

Hines reflected on how being known as an actor has affected his life. In particular, he finds that people meeting him for the first time may be less likely to recognize him as a whole person – but rather see him specifically as an actor or even for a specific role he has played. And this can result in a mixed feeling – being grateful for the fame, but a bit defensive about being seen as one-dimensional.

“Nobody wants to be considered one-dimensional. So most of the time when you are famous or have notoriety, it’s for basically one thing. I guess that’s the idea of being pigeon-holed in a career. And most of the time when people are reacting to you as a celebrity … some of the strange feeling and defensiveness around that is, well I’m a fully formed person. I’m a multi-faceted person. And you are only aware of one thing,” he described. “And I think there’s a sense of guilt and shame that goes along with that too, because to be revered and to be recognizable and famous is to have a lot of privilege and to have a lot of opportunities. But it is only for one facet of your being. And it may not even be something you’re in control of … And so you can just live in that forever if you want. But I think that most people are more complicated than that and want people to see them for all of the different things that they’re capable of.

“That’s the reason people are a little ambivalent about it.”

“We probably have more built-in empathy for ourselves, our friends, our family who we know.  We don’t want to be pigeonholed, so we apply that to the people we actually know and like. But someone we know from music, TV or film … we know a particular side of. And we can’t necessarily extrapolate out.”

Hines has experienced particularly mixed feelings around the success of his acting career in relation to his music. For Hines, music and acting are both creative passions he has had his whole life. But it was his acting career that took off and allowed him to pay the bills.

“I think they come from the same place. They come from the same creativity and need to perform … I had an obsession with memorizing things and memorizing poems and songs and dialogue and then performing them,” Hines recalled. “So for me, it’s a pretty porous distinction. The first one I actually made money at is acting… I had been writing songs all along, but I wasn’t getting the same degree of exposure and success with music, partially because I’m spending so much of my time acting,” Hines said. “If I had hit it big with a song ten years ago and toured for a year on that song … then I would be a musician who dabbles in acting. That initial definition is really hard for people to shake. It’s frustrating because I take songwriting seriously … more seriously than I ever had before.

“The way I deal with it is I just keep writing songs.”

And things may be coming around for Hines and his musical career. He is releasing his third album Qualms this month.   Who knows, maybe someday there will be an aspiring musician feeling nervous about approaching Hines in an alley.

Michael A. Friedman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with offices in Manhattan and South Orange, NJ. Contact Dr. Mike at michaelfriedmanphd.com. Follow him on Twitter @drmikefriedman.

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