In Disney’s reimagining of the 1941 classic animated film Dumbo, Irish actor Colin Farrell portrays the handicapped war veteran Holt Farrier who fights, along with his family, to reunite Dumbo with his mom. The family-oriented and fantastical film brilliantly deals with and champions themes of family, courage, and acceptance.

However, Dumbo also delves into the darker, more oppressive elements of alienation, exclusion, bullying, and cruelty. So, when Farrell was asked about the first time in his life in which he felt like an outsider, he replied, “I still have a lazy left eye, so as a kid I had to wear a plaster over my eye, and I wore glasses. And that wasn’t the most comfortable state to find myself in as a six-year-old. So, the message [of the film] is a beautiful one to be part of.” Feeling awkward and misunderstood, Farrell turned to acting as a creative outlet and a way to make sense of the world.

But Colin Farrell is certainly not the first actor to feel alienated and afraid; nor will he be the last. Another heartthrob who struggled to fit in is none other than the American Psycho himself, Christian Bale. Bale claims he was bullied incessantly and beat up on a regular basis. “They put me through hell,” he said, “—punching and kicking me all the time.” And this is the guy who turned out to be the Batman!

The preeminent rapper and actor Eminem told Anderson Cooper in a 2010 interview that due to financial circumstances his family moved a lot when he was a child.  “I was beat up in the bathrooms, in the hallways, shoved in the lockers—for the most part for being the new kid.” And singer-actor Justin Timberlake felt the sting of exclusion as a youngster too. Of his early days, he said, “They called me ‘different,’ they called me ‘weird,’ they called me a couple of other words I can’t say on TV.” But the man who purportedly brought sexy back says, “Thankfully, my mother taught me that being different was a good thing, that being different meant you could actually make a difference.”

It’s definitely not only actors who’ve taken a few knocks in the miasma of youth; famous actresses seem to have had to endure their fair share of browbeating and menace. Jennifer Lawrence—she of the lethal bow and arrow in the Hunger Games series—asserts that the bullying she experienced became so bad she had to switch schools to flee from mean girls. As well, Christina Hendricks, the ample beauty of Mad Men fame says, “My school days were pretty unhappy. I had the worst high school experience ever. I was a bit of a goth with purple hair, and I was also part of the drama group, so my friends and I were all weird theater people and everyone just hated us.” And indeed, the child star Selena Gomez states in chilling candor, “I was bullied every second of every day in elementary and middle school.” As well, 2019 Oscar winner Lady Gaga definitely didn’t fit into “normal society.” In fact, it seems she was bullied constantly and called a freak. “Being teased for being ugly, having a big nose, being annoying. ‘Your laugh is funny, you’re weird, why do you always sing, why are you so into theater, and why do you do your makeup like that?'”

People join the theater arts for many reasons, but many experience a tremendous sense of belonging and a much-needed avenue to express themselves freely after years of alienation. And it’s important to remember that actors, artists, intellectuals, and dreamers have traditionally felt left out or even left behind. Heck, Einstein failed high school math; Joan of Arc was illiterate and her village got burned to the ground as a child; Dostoyevski spent time in prison; and Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard. The path is not easy, and there are certainly times of immeasurable doubt and interminable despair. But for those who hang in there and maintain their dignity and continue to pursue their goals, there is always the chance to create and achieve. As Colin Farrell says of Dumbo’s influence upon others, “There is a softening, I think, that takes place in the heart of more than one character, mine being one of them, as a result of how helpless but also how magic, how different, how sweet Dumbo is,” he told ABC News at the film’s premiere.

Dumbo premiers in theaters March 29th.

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