Are you adjusting your sails to propel yourself forward?

Today is September 7 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “Are you adjusting your sails to propel yourself forward?” Avoiding storms is virtually impossible. People who grow both personally and professionally understand this and leverage the wind from a storm to propel them forward. Since storms are a natural course of life people who navigate the chaos do not try to avoid them. They welcome the storm and figure out how best to leverage the wind.

In 1859 the well-known spiritualist Cora L. V. Hatch delivered a lecture at the Cooper Institute and said “You could not prevent a thunderstorm, but you could use the electricity; you could not direct the wind, but you could trim your sail so as to propel your vessel as you pleased, no matter which way the wind blew.”

If you want to navigate the chaos and translate your dreams into reality you will have to adjust your sails to propel yourself forward. You need to be open to feeling the wind, disciplined enough to take action, and willing to leave your comfort zone. Actor Vincent D’Ornofio used this strategy of adjusting his sails to navigate the chaos.

After graduating from high school, D'Onofrio started to appear on stage. During an 18-month stint at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Colorado, he was involved with small, community-theater productions. He later studied method acting at the American Stanislavsky Theater and the Actors Studio, under coaches Sonia Moore and Sharon Chatten, which landed him his first paid role in off-Broadway's This Property Is Condemned. He went on to appear in several of their productions, including Of Mice and Men and Sexual Perversity in Chicago. D'Onofrio continued his career by performing in many New York University student productions while also working as a bouncer at the Hard Rock Café. In 1984, he made his Broadway debut as Nick Rizzoli in Open Admissions.

In 1986, D'Onofrio took on the role often considered the defining moment in his acting career, as Pvt. Leonard Lawrence, an overweight, clumsy Marine recruit in the movie Full Metal Jacket. On a tip from friend Matthew Modine, D'Onofrio was urged to send audition tapes to director Stanley Kubrick, in England. Four tapes later, D'Onofrio landed the role. Originally, the character of Pvt. Lawrence had been written as a "skinny ignorant redneck"; however, Kubrick believed the role would have more impact if the character were big and clumsy. D'Onofrio gained 70lbs for the role and had his weight balloon from 210lbs to 280lbs. This remains the record for most weight gained by an actor for a film.

In an interview about the making of Full Metal Jacket, D’Onofrio provided some additional perspective on his life situation at the time:

"I was working as a bouncer at the Hard Rock cafe and Matthew Modine and his wife walked in and I asked him what he was doing. He said he was doing this Kubrick thing and there was a part available. I didn't even think about being in film. I saw alot of films but I thought of film actors as very different from myself…Stanley made my career. There's no question about that. I've done over 50 films because of him. Because of that part. Because Stanley cast me. There is no other reason why I am working as an actor.”

D'Onofrio adjusted his sails and considered the role, sent Kubrick audition tapes, gained 70lbs, and in so doing completely altered his life and career. Such a decision, of course, was based off a conversation he had with fellow actor Matthew Modine. Imagine if D’Onofrio had not been working as a bouncer that night, or if Modine and his wife went out to a different restaurant. If the two actors had not discussed Kubrick’s film their career paths would have probably gone in different directions.

Moreover, Modine himself used the strategy of adjusting his sails during his audition for the 1984 American drama film Birdy based on William Wharton's 1978 novel of the same name. Set in 1960s Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the film focuses on the friendship between two teenage boys, Birdy (Modine) and Al Columbato (Nicholas Cage).

Modine originally auditioned for the role of Al Columbato, but the director Alan Parker decided to cast him as Birdy, believing that the actor possessed an "introverted honest quality" that best suited the character. Modine said, "I was flabbergasted because I hadn't auditioned for Birdy. I had never imagined playing the part of Birdy. So, I had to really go through an extraordinary transformation in my mind of trying to bring this remarkable character to life. It was an incredible experience making the film." Modine adjusted his sails to undergo the required transformation of mind as he needed to learn a completely different character.

Kubrick contacted Parker while his was shooting Birdy and expressed interest in Modine. Parker sent an audition tape to Kubrick of Modine. Upon reviewing the young actor’s tape, Kubrick was less than enthusiastic. Luckily, there were a few minutes of Modine not acting, and just being himself, and that is what caught Kubrick’s eye.

If Kubrick had not cast Modine, and since Modine helped recruit D’Onofrio there would have been no D’Onofrio either. Adjusting your sails can have a multiplier effect so do consider making the necessary adjustments as the winds of opportunity enter your life and career. You never know how far forward the winds will propel you.