Former child star Jennette McCurdy is known to iCarly fans as the sardonic Sam Puckett. But behind the scenes, she was grappling with fame, an abusive mother, and an eating disorder. In this excerpt from her memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died, McCurdy describes what was really going through her mind during her first kiss on the set of iCarly.
Our lips are touching. He’s moving his mouth around a bit, but I can’t move mine. I’m frozen. His eyes are closed. Mine aren’t. Mine are wide open, staring at him. It’s so odd, staring at a person while your faces are touching. I don’t like it. I can smell his hair gel.
“Move your head around a bit more, Jennette!” The Creator yells from off-camera.
Sometimes, even when the camera’s rolling, producers or directors shout things off-camera. So long as they’re not overlapping a line of dialogue, the editor can just take out the yelling in postproduction.
I try to do as The Creator tells me, I honestly try, but I can’t bring myself to do it. My body is stiff. Unflinching. My body is rejecting my mind. My mind is saying who cares that this is your first kiss, that your first kiss is on-camera. Get it over with. Do what you’re told. My body is saying no, I don’t want this. I don’t want my first kiss to be like this. I want my first kiss to be a real first kiss, not a kiss for a TV show.
I disdain the part of me that’s romantic. I’m embarrassed by it. Mom’s been very clear about how boys are a waste of time and will only disappoint me, and how I should just focus on my career, which I get. So I try to force it away. But as much as I try to force it away, that romantic part of me is there. And it’s been there for a while. I wonder about boys sometimes. What it would be like to love one.
I wonder if one will ever love me. I fantasize about watching the Disneyland fireworks together, about holding hands, about resting my head on his chest, about laughing together. I used to wonder about kissing. How it would work. It’s a thing you can’t practice ahead of time. It just happens at some point. Do you just go with it? Is it difficult? What do lips taste like? These are all questions that now, in this moment, I have the answers to.
You try to just go with it, and if you’re Nathan, my co-star, it seems like you can. But if you’re me, you can’t. If you’re me, you’re just thinking about every single little thing that’s happening, and your mind is racing, and you can’t wait for it to be over with. It is difficult. Lips taste like Blistex chapstick.
I start to wonder if all of this would be different if I loved the person. Maybe that’s the secret ingredient. The missing piece. Maybe if I were kissing somebody I loved, it would be magical and incredible and not this terrifying rush of anxiety.
“Cut!” The Creator yells off-camera, his mouth full of something. I hear his footsteps as he pads over to us, carrying a paper plate piled with cheese slices and unwrapped mini candy bars. The crew parts like the Red Sea, letting The Creator pass by them and walk up to us.
The Creator looks me right in the eye but doesn’t say anything for four or five seconds. I almost start to laugh, thinking he might be messing with me for fun like he does sometimes, but then I recognize that there is a deep anger in him. This is no time for laughter. Finally, he speaks.
“Jennette. More. Head. Movement.”
He turns and walks away.
“WHY AREN’T WE ROLLING!” he shouts.
The cameras roll. We start the scene. I don’t even know the words coming out of my mouth, but I trust that they must be the words that were written on the page because nobody’s stopping me and saying I’m speaking gibberish. It’s an out-of-body experience, doing the scene leading up to the kiss. My heart is pounding. My hands are clammy. Here it comes here it comes here it comes.
We lean in. Our lips touch. Lips feel nasty. They’re like little gross fleshy piles of flesh. It’s disgusting to be a person.
Shoot, I’m supposed to move my head. I start moving it. Back and forth. Back and forth. I sway it around. It doesn’t feel natural so I’m sure it doesn’t look natural. Nathan, as his character, Freddie, finally breaks away.
“Cut!” The Creator shouts. I can tell by his tone that he isn’t happy. He looks to the assistant director.
“Do we have time for another?!”
“Not really, sir, we’ve gotta head to scene J if we’re gonna wrap on time.”
“Fine,” he says angrily. “That was not ideal but FINE, we’ll move on. I’ll be at crafty!”
The Creator storms off, heading to crafty for his chips or his bagel or his minestrone soup. I watch him go. I’m sad I didn’t please him.
“Hey, we’re done,” Nathan says kindly, knowing how nervous I was to do my first kiss on-screen with him.
“Yeah,” I say with a nervous half laugh. “We’re done.”
Just like that, my first kiss is over with. And my second kiss, and my third kiss, and my fourth and fifth and sixth and seventh, technically, since we did seven takes.
Copyright © 2022 by Waffle Cone, Inc. From the forthcoming book I’M GLAD MY MOM DIED by Jennette McCurdy to be published by Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.