Jealousy: The Best Fuel For My Creativity

Actor turned writer-director Cory Wexler Grant on the emotion that drove him to make his directorial debut, Painter, out now on VOD.

Jealousy is such good fuel. I love my jealousy. I can’t imagine life without it. I can’t remember a time I didn’t feel it. It lives in me, always at a low simmer. It comes in waves. And when the tide is particularly up, my jealousy is blinding. Deafening. Hot. I sweat. My neck gets wet. Even behind the ears. I’ve always been this way. I don’t know why. Well, I do, but I don’t want to fix it. I need it.

And why am I talking to you about my jealousy, my stalwart companion? Because it forces me to write and make things. I’m a writer. I’m a director. I have been an actor. I’m lazy by nature. But jealousy forces me to try to be great at something (in the case of my new movie, Painter, the writing and directing), exceptional even – at least as good as that fucking asshole I know from my past, who doesn’t deserve an iota of the success he’s received, that prick!

… Jealousy.

Cory Wexler Grant with actress Betsy Randle on the set of Painter.

I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling. I know a lot of people feel this current of jealousy vibrating through them. I know it’s fuel for many people. Most people, I would bet. Artists, academics, politicians, technologists, lawyers, professional athletes – they must all feel it. What is competition without jealousy? And what is life without competition? I bet Anna Wintour is viciously jealous. She must be. She looks the type. I can picture her wringing her hands with a piece of good silk, under her desk, until those boney hands crack and bleed. And look at all her success! … I mean, she looks successful enough. I don’t know shit about Anna Wintour. Anyway…

We aren’t supposed to like our jealousy. It’s one of the seven deadly sins, correct – to covet? We aren’t supposed to feel this way. It’s not good. It’s not righteous. It is not a value we are to cherish. We are supposed to snuff it out. Kill it. Pray it away, or some bullshit. I go on jealousy benders. Like an alcoholic. Days, months, years of honed jealousies live in me. And I welcome them. Something ignites it – a commercial, a billboard, an ad in the subway or on the bus, a review, a new film – infiltrates my psyche, and it begins. My focus becomes narrow. My hearing goes fuzzy. My unsuspecting foe, my nemesis, floods my whole world. I let it happen. I marinate in the jealousy. I steep in the jealousy. And then, at just the right moment, that jealousy ignites the spark that gets my ass in the chair to write another screenplay, a play, a musical. I turn that rage, that myopic war, my fear, into something. I write fast. I write a lot. That jealousy becomes an avalanche of words, a deluge of ideas. And I thank it, my jealousy.

I won’t list them – the people of whom I am jealous. Too boring. … Actually, that would be the juicy part of this little piece you’re reading, wouldn’t it? That would really make this interesting. If I listed, right here, all the people – the successful people – of whom I am jealous, and why I am jealous of them. Explain our histories. But see, I’m jealous of them. So I don’t like mentioning their names. I don’t like adding to their notoriety. They don’t deserve it. But I thank them.

Cory Wexler Grant with actor Eric Ladin, who plays the title during the making of Painter.

My first feature film, Painter, is about jealousy (and delusions of grandeur – which is another thing I indulge in quite frequently). A young painter named Aldis Browne is discovered by an art collector, Joanne Marco, an older woman who becomes determined to make Aldis a successful artist. As their relationship develops into an Oedipal quandary, Aldis confesses to Joanne his jealousy for a successful painter he knows from his past, an unsuspecting nemesis named Ryan West. Ryan is ruggedly handsome, a darling of the art world, rich, famous, and a permanent psychological scar for Aldis. To detail what happens next would give away the film’s plot. But one can be sure that the relationship between Aldis and Joanne evolves into something monstrous in the way that only jealousy and delusions of grandeur can when taken to their extreme.

One would think that after writing, directing, and producing this film over years, that the jealousy which fueled such a piece of art would subside, run low – that the making of the film would act as a confession, or function like a long stint in the hands of a good psychologist, allowing the jealousy to ease, soften, and become manageable. There, one would be wrong. The jealousy did not subside. It may have transformed. It may have been filed into a different cabinet in the recesses of my mind, but it did not go away. On the contrary, new jealousies formed and rose to the surface, so much so that I have written eight more screenplays and a stage play since finishing production on Painter. That is gallons of jealousy, swimming pools of jealousy put to use. In fact, I believe I have the jealousy, and thus the fuel, to write, direct, and produce many more films.

I hope it doesn’t go away, my jealousy. I’m not sure who I’d be without my jealousy, without my art. They are the lenses with which I look upon the world. I don’t know how to look at this life another way. And again, I don’t want to. I don’t want to change my eyes. It took a lot of jealousy to write my movie, and make it, and keep making it. I had to quietly be jealous of a lot of people, over many years, and push through all the self-doubt to make Painter. But here it fucking is, my little film. About jealousy. You should watch it. It’s not for kids.

Cory Wexler Grant is an actor, writer, director and producer. He spent his formative years in San Francisco and Chicago, but moved to New York permanently after being accepted into NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Cory graduated with a BFA in acting, and has worked for the last 20 years as an actor. Cory started a theater production company in 2001, and began writing, directing, and producing original theatrical works: 3 plays, and 2 musicals. Cory wrote and directed his first feature film, Painter, completed in 2019. Cory lives in Greenwich Village with his husband, his son, and a brand new daughter. He has several other screenplays in development.