The Daryl Hannah Experiment

June 04 2012, by Megan Dunn

- SCENE 1 -

Imagine my surprise when I woke up one morning and discovered I had turned into Daryl Hannah. I lay in the dark for some time feeling indescribably different. When I swung my legs over the side of the bed my feet hit the ground sooner. I pulled my hand through my hair and golden locks gathered in my palm.

I got out of bed. My hotel suite was anonymous and expensive. A bouquet of fruit sat next to the large cream bed. Naturally I spent a long time gazing at myself in the bedroom mirror. Daryl Hannah’s sensitive blue eyes peered back. I could sense her personality, like a whiff of perfume in a room recently vacated. I pinched myself.

‘Ow,' Daryl said.

Shaken, I riffled through the bedside drawers for a cigarette but discovered that she didn’t smoke. I did however find a small container of Valium. With a slender hand I skulled back two Valium and the glass of water on the side of the bed, full of vodka.

This isn’t right. I unpacked her make up bag, desperately searching for some trace of the woman I had been the night before. That over educated, underpaid woman with oily skin, a chain of blackheads across her nose and an unfulfilled passion for uninhibited sex with good looking men. I applied a generous smear of Daryl Hannah’s lip gloss in an effort to restore my sanity. Let’s go over the facts. I had been writing a rather strange protracted thesis on the film Splash, the central motif was the mermaid’s tail as vagina. Perhaps my supervisor was right: I really had gone off the deep end this time.

During our last tutorial my supervisor had asked me to consider what I was really trying to say. ‘Do you think there’s any logic to this dissertation?’ he asked. My smile quivered. Tears filled my eyes. My supervisor’s kind, yet glacial, face wobbled in front of me. He suggested a trip to the university counselling service. Words like stress and anxiety offered themselves as new friends. During the long walk back to my flat, fragile trees of insecurity brushed past me. I spent the evening skulling vodka and crying into my - fat - pillow.

All my life I had wanted to be beautiful. Now it had finally happened.

I opened the diary on the bedside table. Monday June 12th 1983.

The phone rang and I answered.

‘Miss Hannah, your limousine is waiting outside.’


Daryl, I didn’t know how exquisite it would feel to roll your tongue around my mouth, to speak with your husky feminine drawl. Where are you from? What was your childhood like? All this time I have admired you, yet I have no idea who you are.

- SCENE 2, TAKE 1 -

I arrived on set, full of high hopes. Whatever happened next could only strengthen the argument of my thesis.

Ron Howard smiled. ‘Daryl, great you’re here. They’re waiting for you in make up.’

I was ushered across the set, tripping over electrical wires, clutching my bag, filled with Valium and a banana from the fruit bowl. I managed to steal a prawn from the buffet as I passed.

Make up took forever.

A hairdresser came at my head with a pair of sizzling tongs. ‘What are you doing?’

‘We’ve got to crimp your hair.’

‘But I’m hungry.’

I thought fondly of the buffet: an easel of pates and dips spread across a white table cloth. The orange mermaid tail lay in the background on a single bed, a husk of skin, a lobster shell. I couldn’t believe I was going to have to squeeze Daryl’s legs into it.

‘I had no idea this tail was so heavy,’ I said, as the team of assistants oiled my legs and began rolling the latex tail over my feet. ‘God, it’s like putting on a massive condom.’ I laughed. The assistants laughed too. ‘You’re in a good mood today.’ One of them held up a tube of superglue.

‘What’s that for?’

‘Don’t worry, it’s water based,’ she squirted the glue over my legs.

Ron’s ginger halo poked around the corner. ‘Daryl, did you go over those script changes?

I nodded.

‘What’s that in your hand?’ he asked.

I held up the prawn.

‘Great,’ he looked amazed. ‘You’re really getting into character.’

'I sure am.' I threw the prawn into my mouth and felt it splash open on my tongue.

A bouquet of roses arrived.

‘Gorgeous flowers, who are they from?’

‘John F Kennedy Junior.’

The assistants eyeballed one another. ‘Are you seeing him?’

‘Not yet.’ I wanted to tell them that one day the twin towers would tumble from the sky and Ron Howard would go bald.

Five hours later I lay on a stretcher flapping my tail up and down, trying to get used to the sensation of having my legs so tightly knitted together.

‘Where’s Tom Hanks?’ I asked.

‘Tom’s not on set yet.’ My assistant wore her hair scraped back in a severe ponytail. ‘Are you sure you’re feeling alright?’

‘Yeah, I’ve never felt better. Can I have an espresso?’

'Are you sure? You won't be able to go to the bathroom for a while.'

‘I forgot.'

‘You don’t seem yourself today, Daryl, I'm worried about you.'

'Don't be. I’ve seen Splash loads of times.’

- SCENE 2, TAKE 1 -

Cameras stood on steel stalks above the bathtub. The bathroom was flooded with light. The team lowered me into the bath. I lay in the luke warm water. My tail felt like a brick.

‘Cut, this isn't working yet,’ Ron called from a loud speaker.

He appeared from behind the cameras, crouched down beside the bath and touched my arm.

‘Daryl, just do the scene the way we talked about it yesterday.’

‘Ron, I wish I could.’

I glanced at his wispy ginger hair.

‘I feel self conscious,' I said.

‘That’s good.’ Ron told me. 'Use that feeling in the scene.'

‘What’s my motivation?’ I asked.

‘You’re a fish out of water. You’re a mermaid in New York City, of course you feel self conscious. You’re vulnerable, that’s why you’ve come in here and locked the bathroom door. You need a few moments alone.’

‘So I can touch my tail?’

‘Touch it if you want to. Do whatever feels right.’ He stood up, then turned and walked behind the cameras. I was alone in the light. ‘Action!'

I lay in the bath. The water lapped coolly at my sides. I tried to think like a mermaid but all I could think about was how much I missed sex. I remembered the first time I had touched a penis, it feels like skin. My hands brushed the sides of my latex tail. I let the tip unfurl. I submerged. Under water sound amplified. The lights felt softer, distant. My hair drifted in front of my face, I closed my eyes.


'Are you an actor?’ I slipped a sliver of mango between my lips.

He shook his head. 'I just work on the buffet.'

'You look a little bit like Brad Pitt.’

‘Who?’ Hs eyes were like two green olives framed by lashes.

'Are you Italian?' I asked.

'No.' He blushed and wiped the edge of the knife along his apron.

'Well, you look a little Italian,' I shovelled a heaped fork of lasagne into my mouth.


We went at it hard and fast on a low lying refrigerator on set. I arched my back. My tail slapped against the side of the fridge. His breath was hot in my ear. He smelt of cigarettes and other manly things. Things so manly I couldn’t concentrate. I closed my eyes and dug my fingernails into his back. Never had a hairy back seemed so right. The refrigerator purred.

Then he spun me round, so I was lying face down on the fridge. He spanked me.

'Ow,' Daryl said.

'How do I get this thing off?' he asked. ‘There’s no zip.'

'I don’t know. Haven’t you got a knife?’ My breasts were sandwiched against the fridge.

‘Are you sure you want me to cut you out?’

‘Yes,’ I said. My hair dripped from my head like butter.

He grabbed a fistful and smelt it. 'Golden, so rich.' Then let go. ‘But the tail is so expensive. I don’t want to get fired.’

He flipped me over. ‘I can’t do it.’

The tail had turned into a chastity belt. I was trapped inside it.

‘Why?’ I noticed Daryl’s voice had reached quite a nasty pitch.

His trousers hung round his knees. 'I don't want to ruin the tail.'

- CUT -
- SCENE 4, TAKE 1 -

I gazed out the limousine window at the long streets of New York City. Lights wavered in the mirrored windows of sky scrapers. My legs were now stretched inside a pair of denim jeans. I had a wisp of Daryl’s hair in my mouth. It tasted bland. Cabs honked their horns, like the mating calls of whales, navigating their way through the cold and lonely sea.

‘I want to go back to my hotel suite,' I said.

‘What about dinner with Ron? He’s booked a table at a vegetarian restaurant.’ My PA said. Even her concern was well organised.

‘I’m exhausted.’ A desperate choke welled up inside of me. 'I just want to go home. And I want a Kebab.'

'I thought you were vegetarian?'

'Not anymore. I've changed.'

‘Daryl, are you okay to be alone tonight?'

The tenderness in her voice took me aback.

‘What’s your name?’ I asked.

‘Penny.’ Now it was her turn to cry. ‘God, you can't even remember my name. Sometimes I feel like you don't even know I exist...’


Penny and I stood in the hotel foyer waiting for the elevator. I combed one hand through my hair. The lift chimed. The golden doors swung open. We stepped inside as though stepping into a dream. I looked into the mirror. Daryl stared back.

The lift began its ascent.

‘Penny, there’s something I need to tell you. Something important. I need you to promise that you won’t tell anyone else.’

‘I promise. You can trust me.’

‘My name is not Daryl Hannah.’

Penny nodded. Her eyes darted sideways.

‘My name is ____ _______, I am a twenty-nine year old Masters student from Norwich. A week ago I woke up inside Daryl Hannah's body. At first I thought it would be great to be Daryl Hannah, but I have to admit I’m feeling a little homesick. I want to speak to my Mother. Not Daryl’s mother, although that could be interesting for my thesis.’ I shook my head. ‘Penny, I don’t really know what’s happening anymore. I thought stuff like this only happened in films. You know like Freaky Friday, where the mum and daughter swap bodies for a day, but this thing doesn’t seem to be wearing off.’


Penny paced the carpeted penthouse. ‘So much is making sense to me now.’ She shook her head. ‘If I think about it you don’t even really look like Daryl Hannah.’

I told her all about Norwich, about the East Anglian sunsets, the streaky skies, the buttered bursts of sunshine. I told her about Cromer crabs. We gnawed on fruit from the fruit bowl. In the middle of the night we attacked the pineapple. Penny called room service and ordered a magnum of champagne.

‘You're a great PA.’

‘You’re not just saying that?’

‘I mean it,’ I helped myself to the last grape, after all I was still effectively her boss. ‘How many other PA’s do you think would have believed me?’

She sniffed. ‘I guess.’

‘And you found out my mother’s phone number.’

‘But you didn’t even talk to her,’ Penny said.

‘I couldn’t. She’s my mother, I didn’t want to upset her. I mean technically I am seven years old right now. You know, think of that. I am actually alive – in England – right now.’

I propped myself up and stared at Penny.

‘Where do you think Daryl is right now?’ I asked.

Penny shrugged. ‘I hope she’s okay.’

‘Maybe she’s writing my thesis?’

Penny shuddered. ‘What should I call you on set tomorrow?’

‘Daryl,’ I put my hand over hers.

'Of course.


Daryl’s sex life was so barren – I blamed myself. Was my internal sense of ugliness leaking out and contaminating everything? In Norwich I was the slightly pudgy girl standing in the corner of the party, like the last chip on a plate. Sure, I had a story but it wasn’t one that Ron Howard would turn into a movie. I was fresh out of a bad marriage. I had studied at art school, only to pursue a Masters in Creative Writing. I was yet to make a splash. I lay on the towel between scenes. A man leaned over, touching up the paint job on my latex tail. It required a lot of work. ‘A little to the left, Daryl.’ 'Hold still.' ‘When you’re swimming under water try not to bump into anything. It scratches the paint.’ ‘Have you found your sea legs yet?’ ‘Daryl, do you need any water?’ ‘Here’s a bottle of Evian.' ‘Would you like the feta cheese?’ ‘Daryl wants a Greek salad for lunch.’

I was surrounded by vegetables. I spent days filming under the sea. Bubbles spewed forth from my lips. The tail made sense under water. It felt weightless, buoyant, unharassed. Fish swam beside me, underneath me, they followed me like fans.


‘Daryl, how did you get into acting?’ Tom asked over dinner.

‘Well, Tom life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’


A school of mermaids lay face down, their tails blistered and chaffed in the heat, seagulls circled and sharks moved in as the sailors rowed across the waves. The captain hauled a lone mermaid onto the boat. He laid her down on the deck and instructed his team. The sailors were working from a large palette. Their brushes were tiny, intricate. Each stroke, worked the colour back into her face, her tail quivered, then flapped. They painted her hair, but not blonde like Daryl Hannah’s hair. Brown, like mine. I noticed the mermaid’s body was stocky, perhaps even porky. A voice spoke in my dream. 'Mermaids taste like bacon. Salty and delicious, especially when fried.' The mermaid convulsed. She belched out a mouth full of ocean. A soup of words and fish bones and desires. The mermaid looked up at the sailors. Her tail trembled like a tongue on the verge of saying something, then gave up.


One day Tom was late for set. He rushed in.

‘Run Forrest run,’ I cried.

No one laughed.

I woke – gasping for air, my head broke the surface of the bath water. The bright waxen lights of the camera were on me. ‘She’s squinting.’

‘Relax.’ Ron was at my side. His hand soothed my tanned and perfect arm. Daryl Hannah's arm was subject to the same sensations as mine, in hot water it tensed and turned pink.

‘We think it’s the tail. It’s too hot in the bath. She keeps passing out.’

The cast and the crew closed in. The camera lights shone on my skin. I closed my eyes and felt the rush of the ocean, words flying off the keys.

- FIN -