04 Oct Craig Braun
Photo: Ingrid Franz Moriarty
Craig Braun! You probably remember him from his role in ‘Flawless’ or ‘Great Expectations’ with Robert De Niro, or maybe it’s his creative skills that caught your attention, the emblematic Sticky Fingers cover he created for the Rolling Stones, or the way he modified their legendary tongue & lips logo. I sat down with actor Craig Braun for a little chit-chat about life, acting and the remarkable journey of a man who defied the odds to finally find his way to his own humanity and happiness.
By Victoria Adelaide | OCT 23. 2017
Victoria Adelaide: What inspires you to choose a role?
Craig Braun: Usually it’s something that frightens me. It’s a role with a challenge. I’m not interested in doing roles where I can phone them in or just walk through. And because I came very late to acting and because television and cinema have melded, one or the other is the same in America. This hurt me a great deal because actors who are names, Donald Sutherland, suddenly made themselves available for television. I had no name; I came to acting at 55 years old. That’s a little bit late to the party (laughs). So, these actors that had been in major movies, they were starting to appear as guest stars in TV programs like ‘Law & Orders’ and ‘ER’. I did some television and small roles in movies, but I basically did a lot of theater and quite a bit of Shakespeare…
VA: How do you approach a role whether it is TV, cinema or theater?
CB: I usually have to audition for a role. I was offered only a few roles ‘carte blanche’, So, if I audition for a “Law & Order” role, I would just take the role, if offered. My son Nicholas, however, does get offers to do their movies because he’s been pretty successful and he is a wonderful actor. If it’s theater, then the play its of first importance to me, and then the role that I’m given in the play is second, but it’s also very important. So, if I’m doing a Chekhov play, let say ‘Uncle Vanya’, and I know the role is the Professor. So, in theater because I usually accept to work for less money, and sometimes no money, I get a much bigger voice in what I do and what I choose to do. But for movies and for television, it’s a business, and name actors bring the audience and the money. I prefer the risk in theater because in film you are always doing additional takes and coverage and reverse points of view, so there’s a lot of flexibility when you make a movie, but when you are doing a play you are on a high wire. It’s very exciting, it’s also dangerous; it’s really thrilling to do that, especially if you are in a very good play and you have a great part in that play.
VA: Have you seen major changes in the industry, especially now that everybody can become famous by being in a reality show; what are they?
CB: Yes, I’ve seen big changes. The talent standards, especially for entertainment television, have dropped considerably. We have celebrities – I guess it’s considered as artistic pursuit – so you have people like Paris Hilton, the Kardashians and people like that; they literally have no talent whatsoever but they are famous. They become known, and fame breeds more fame, then their family gets involved, so it’s shocking but it’s quite typical of the superficial, socio-economic world we live in today. Just look who is President, a very rich man who is a con-artist; he’s not truthful about anything and he’s always trying to promote himself… These people, they’re just caught up in the celebrity aspect and it’s very narcissistic. The avenues of television and social media and networking have given room for these people to breed and perpetuate themselves. It’s celebrity by sex and shock. If you do something shocking or dangerous, you can become a celebrity today. Entertainment has changed because it’s been influenced by that. They make movies about social networks, like they made the movie about Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg. It’s becoming a huge part of our lives,this obsessive distribution of personal things!
VA: Don’t you think that it is making theater less vital and what kind of audience is going to the theater today?
CB: Well, theater is different. I think there is a certain portion of the audience that are the tourists or they want to tell their neighbors they saw Hamilton! But in large part people who often go to the theater go because they somehow resonate with what’s happening on stage. And people want to be affected, they want their emotions triggered, because most people live very ritualized lives… So, experiencing something powerful, where there are real conflicts, where there are real emotions, love and passion expressed, theater is also a way of having a bit of a fantasy life. I think that turns people on and at least they’ve been telling me that for a long time. If what you’re experiencing there is real and truthful, there is nothing like it; it’s different than movies or television or anything that you see on social networks like YouTube and things like that. So, I think theater goers today are still a committed, audience for the artists on the stage!
VA: You’ve been sober and clean for over 38 years. What kind of advice would you give to a person who is struggling with drugs and alcohol to get better?
CB: What I would say, first of all, if you’re struggling, it means you had much difficulty and many problems with it. You’ve probably tried to stop yourself or tried to control your intake of drugs and alcohol and you haven’t been able to do that, you were not successful. So, what you have to recognize is that you’re powerless. Once you take one line of coke or you take one tablet of opioid or you take one drink, you don’t know how many you’re going to take after that if you’re really an addict or an alcoholic. So, the thing to do is to recognize that your will power, your strength of decision making, hasn’t worked for you. You cannot help yourself so you need to find help for this problem. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, it just means you have this addictive, compulsive, obsessive personality. You’re looking to change who you are and that’s why drugs and alcohol are your solution. It’s taking parts of your life, it’s taking and separating you from people you love for instance. You’re losing your job, it’s causing you difficulties in all areas of your life, so you have to understand that you are not the one to fix it. You need to seek help. That’s what I would say to someone whose tried to stop many times unsuccessfully, so maybe you should try a different method this time…and ask for help!
VA: To stop drinking or taking drugs anytime is one thing, but to stay stopped is a new life…
CB: Oh yes, yes, that is the real secret, it’s not to stop, because everyone can stop anytime they want. The whole success of that – and this isn’t my philosophy, it’s the Alcoholic Anonymous – it’s one day at a time. You just don’t pick up a drink today. The idea of that is that you don’t have to have bring the regrets of yesterday or the fear of what is going to be tomorrow or ask yourself, ‘am I going to pick up a drink tomorrow?’ You take it a day at a time, and sometimes when you first start, you take it an hour at a time, or you’re just buying minutes. It’s just this idea of surrender in order to stay ‘stopped’, is the whole secret of success. Because if I had met you 39 years ago, and you had said to me, ‘you know if you stop today, 38 years from now, you’ll have not taken one drink or one drug’, and I would have said ‘you’re crazy, that’s not possible!.
VA: Managing to win the battle when so many fail, I guess there is also an inner transformation that operates, a change in your perception of life, of yourself, a spiritual aspect to it?
CB: Yes, without question. There is a spiritual aspect to recovery. You recognize two things, that you need some strength from somewhere, you are not able to do this on your own and that you must change. In my case, I have faith of God, in the Catholic religion, I believe in God and I am not him. So, I strive for that connection, and I also get much strength from fellowship with people who are going through the same recovery as I am, who have experienced the same life problems, difficulties, with children, relationships, jobs and so forth. So, the fact is, in order to stay clean or sober, you must change. That means you must change your response to life; and you must start to live “life on life’s terms”, not on your terms. There is a certain arrogance in an alcoholic, because the alcoholic who isn’t getting what he wants always has a best friend in a drink of alcohol or many drinks that he can go to. You have to change your response to life. You cannot have that response when things get too bad or things get too good then you have to start drinking or taking drugs again. You have to look at life with a different perspective, more real…less wishful thinking. You have to strive to become the most truthful version of yourself because as addicts and alcoholics, we permanently live in a state of discomfort. The French expression is ‘mal dans sa peau’ (not well in your skin); alcoholics can’t handle that, being anxious, nervous, fearful, because they usually have insecurities and low self-esteem, so that’s why they go to the ‘medicine’, because they can’t handle the feelings. But as you build up time, a day at a time, a year at a time, you get stronger, the longer you stay ‘stopped’ from taking your drugs of choice, the stronger you become. You realize that you don’t need them to live. If there is a crisis in your family, or a relationship that’s trouble, you don’t have to run to the pub or to the bar and drink. You can handle it, it’s not too much for you. You can handle much more than you think. The stronger you get, and the more those problems that you handle on a daily basis, you finally realize that you’re driving your own truck. You’re in control of your life and you can make choices. You learn that you don’t want to make negative choices. You want to be moving in a positive direction and that pays big dividends because when you’re moving in a positive direction, you get that feedback from people around you. Usually you’ll see how sick people are, because it always shows in their relationships with others. They suffer from defective relations with other people in their life and in business and so forth. So, all of a sudden, they see these small changes where suddenly they’re winning in a certain way. Now, promises are being met and fulfilled, somebody thinks, ‘oh I’ll never find someone to love’ and they suddenly they find someone, they fall in love, they were ready to become partners, their life changes drastically and as you keep feeding these positive results to yourself and you experience it, you want more of it! So why would you take yourself down to that life one more time!?
VA: Would you say that sometimes a bad start can flip over and be what we have to go through to finally find our way, find ourselves?
CB: Yes. Yes, you’re right. Out of a bad thing comes a good thing. You turn the coin over and you realize that you’ve been living on the wrong side of the coin and that you don’t need chemicals in your body to make you feel ok about yourself. When you’re clean, when you’re sober, you’re very conscious, you make better choices; you don’t make bad choices, whether it’s driving a car or winding up with a ‘putain’ in Morocco or Philadelphia…you know like alcoholics do, when they start taking a drink they don’t know what they’re going to end up with and where ?!. Lots of times, people fall off subway platforms and die. You realize that there are real benefits, and one of the greatest one is that you see that you don’t have to respond the way you’ve done for so many years. You don’t have to choose something that’s going to be self-destructive. You can live with it, it’s going to pass, whether it’s something good in your life, or something painful in your life that you’re experiencing today, it will pass. It may not be better tomorrow but it will be different. I promise!
VA: It’s about responsibility, isn’t it?
CB: Taking responsibility. Very important. That’s very important because that builds your self-worth, your self-esteem. When you start being responsible, you stop stealing from other people, you start to go back in your life and make things straight, apologize to people that you hurt deeply. It’s a process that you go through called ‘the steps’ with the Alcoholics Anonymous. Usually if you’re new, you get a sponsor, and that’s somebody that’s been around for a while and can take you through these steps. You take care of a lot of the wreckage of your past, and you decide to live differently. You get encouraged to continue on this new path because you start to feel better about yourself; you don’t need anything synthetic to boost you, to make you feel better. When alcoholics drink they experience a profound personality change. They think they’re more awesome, that they are better dancers, that they’re more charming or funnier; they think they’re telling the best jokes in the world, and usually the people around them have heard all of their jokes many times. They want their personality to change because they are not acceptable to themselves, they don’t feel right being in their own skin. They feel weak, they feel ineffective, they don’t have what it takes to be good, to be lovable. When you get sober and you find out, ‘I am worth something, I’ve been able to move away from my self-hatred, and now I like myself’, after a few years, you begin to think ‘hey if I met myself in a party I would find me interesting’ (laughs).
VA: You say that you are a lucky man.
CB: Well I am. I don’t lose sight of that. I’m very grateful for all the help I received; I never lose sight of that either. Because it’s not me who did it, I did not do it alone, I know that. So, I try to be grateful for that and to remind myself that these gifts come to me, not because I deserve them but because somehow, I was able to give up my addiction and start to live life on life’s terms the way life is dealt on a daily basis. Life is dealt like cards at the table, you know like poker. I’m very grateful for that and I don’t have defective relations anymore, my relationships are very correct, I would say. I don’t have secrets…and I try to reach out to those who are suffering with this disease. I don’t even know you and I’ve told you things that most people would not tell you in an interview. But it doesn’t mean I’m great, it just means I find it easier to live with me and I am good in my skin. I’m not great but I’m good.
VA: So basically, for a big part of your life, you’ve been on journey of self-discovery to finally have the chance to meet with the real Craig Braun.
CB: My journey has been a transformation for me… that I went through my personal experience of finding out my own humanity and of connecting with who I really am. That was clouded by this fear and need for chemicals to fix me, to change me. I didn’t realize that in order to grow, you can’t take something that’s going to send you in another direction. I would say. Discovery of self that I found, along with some defects of my own character that I had to change. Because I mentioned that a change would be important, and I’m telling you that if you don’t change and you’re not giving up your old ideas whatever they are, you will go back to your crutches… you are destined to go back to them. Because you have to change your response to life, (and it’s the most difficult thing to do), but if you can’t change, your self-bondage, your prison is returned to you, and the misery comes back… gratuit.
...after a few years, you begin to think ‘hey if I met myself in a party I would find me interesting'``