Megan Boone
July 23, 2013 AT 12:00 PM EDT

Actress Megan Boone stars in the upcoming NBC drama The Blacklist, opposite James Spader. Below, she reflects on her first experience with fans at San Diego Comic-Con and includes photos she took during the week.

“Can I have your autograph? It’s for my dying mother,” a fan asked me at our signing late last week, handing over a stack of headshots.

In response, I began signing my first autographs at my first Comic-Con. Ten or 15 signatures into his stack of photos, the autograph-seeker’s story began to seem dubious. I didn’t even know people bought and sold autographs anymore, but why would his ill mother need over 20?

That there’s a level of fandom which inspires someone to lie about their mother’s health to sell autographs is the darker side of Comic-Con I’d been warned about. Maybe it was just because I hoped his mother wasn’t actually dying, but I chose not to buy the story.

Stories can be very hard to sell, to which many of us on panels this year can attest, but when we get it right it can create the frenzied fanfare that fuels Comic-Con.

Even if you’ve never been to this circus you know it’s like Beatlemania, but instead of screaming teenage girls, this crowd is predominantly masked males who convulse at the sight of a zombie.

Kevin Winter/BET/Getty Images

Crowds of face-painted fanboys disguise themselves as the heroes or villains of their favorite modern myths, or at least wear the t-shirts. I wish I could tell you more about them. I wish I had the time to investigate the individuals in this crowd. It might have helped for me to sleep on their floors and see how they raise their children, but that would disrupt the hierarchy of this strange social experiment. Instead of satiating my fascination with the madness of these crowds, I am cast into interviews.

In between these interviews, which take place in press suites, are stretches of lobby and standstill traffic. There is the occasional famous passerby in the hallway, like Kevin Bacon with his swagger and indoor shades, Key (or Peele), packs of young they-must-be-famous people I am unfamiliar with, plus an affable Jason Ritter.

After a long day of answering questions alongside these familiar faces I was jolted back to life by the entertainment of the evening. Weezer played a solid set at The Walking Dead celebration, highlighted by “Say it Ain’t So” and a “Sweater Song” encore that prompted Rivers Cuomo to stagger the stage like a cardigan-clad zombie. Afterward I discovered the best dance party at Comic-Con: Zachary Levi’s Nerd HQ party, which drew an enthusiastic crowd running on fumes. Peele (or Key) was dancing some tantric conga line behind Nick Kroll for Ken Marino’s iPhone cam. I discovered a hidden talent in my Blacklist co-star Diego Klattenhoff when he melded his ballroom dance training with traditional dance party moves to spin me and various ladies around the room.

When I had a moment to reflect, I realized that the exhilarating and puzzling aspects of Comic-Con can be matched by only one other activity in life… making movies.

Making film and TV is the most chaotic art form that exists. Music is the least chaotic. At least musicians are forced to play by the rules of rhythm and pitch. Bands may break up and musicians may have meltdowns, but they know their rules. Those of us who work in film and TV don’t have those kinds of rules, not always. And neither do our audiences. Both filmmakers, actors, and their fans are humans, mere mortals. We make mistakes and maybe sometimes lie about our mother’s health to get an autograph. And so we are compelled to dress as superheroes, and root for a heroic triumph over the zombie apocalypse.

Everywhere in downtown San Diego during Comic-Con people try to emulate a fictitious character that someone else created, wrote down, handed off to someone else to embellish with animation or costume, which they then handed off to someone to embody and that person (the actor) who spoke the words conceived by the creator… will never live it down.

Predominantly male, masked masses will view it as the most important thing that actor ever did. To be honest, most people will. When for the actor, it was simply a lucky string of weeks in their lives that they went to shoot a movie with George Lucas. Then they might have done it two more times. And unless they’re Harrison Ford and became another iconic character — Indiana Jones — that’s it for them. They are forever Luke or Leia or some representation of an archetype. They are both immortalized and crucified by that experience.

I can’t question people’s motives for holding these films and TV shows in such high regard. I have dedicated my entire life to wearing masks and costumes.  Much of the experiences of an actor can feel like taking a whipping, then we spend a few hours in a movie theater and are compelled to rise again. I think I understand the fanatical enthusiasm and obsession more completely after attending Comic-Con than I had originally realized.

Actors and filmmakers are probably the biggest fans of all.  We live our whole lives for these stories. In my masks I’ve run from a psychotic miner to my death, I’ve attempted to help an astute lawyer crack cases and failed, and I’ve pragmatically questioned the daring moves of a young, dance-happy protagonist with an impossible dream. None of those masks were heroes, villains, or even wise Yodas. They were all flawed humans providing obstacles for a heroic protagonist, and that was my career in my young adult life.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Now is the only time since my obsession began 25 years ago that I have gotten to pretend to be a hero anywhere but in my own imagination.

The Blacklist‘s Elizabeth Keen jumped out at me the minute I read Jon Bokenkamp’s script. She was brave and vulnerable. There were mysteries that intrigued me, and characteristics I could relate to in her psyche. She was thrust into situations where I hoped she would succeed, but I wasn’t sure she could. She wasn’t perfect, but she was fighting the good fight.

Some think the fans at Comic-Con are engaging in some futile lifestyle or simply wasting time. They must not realize that the lives of these characters we wear are not some imaginary, ephemeral thing that leaves us when the stories end. Pretending to be Elizabeth Keen has infused me with more energy and enthusiasm for life than I’ve ever had. Engaging with these stories is my life.

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