By Julia Lehman
“Hey… wait a second… aren’t you the girl from that commercial?” By far the best thing an actress can hear to boost her ego. “Why, yes, I am! Good eye!” I say cheerfully, right before my day job kicks in, “Can I get you something to drink to start you off?”
Ah, the life of the L.A. actor.
If you live in Los Angeles, you’ve met us. We’re in your coffee shops making you your morning espresso, we’re serving you veggie burgers-just the way you like it-and we’re even parking your cars. We are actors, surviving our day jobs in order to have the opportunity to follow our dreams. Most of us have some experience under our belts, you may even encounter a recognizable face, but none of us make enough money acting to help us get by without another job. Although the media depicts it differently, becoming an actor is not a glamorous journey. It takes hard work and dedication, but more than that, it takes heart. To endure the struggle, the rejection and the frustration, you have to really love to act.
To be a working actress is not easy. One must have an agent in order to get consistent auditions and agents are nearly impossible to sign with if you do not have a good, long list of credits. It’s a vicious cycle because you cannot get an agent unless you have a resume and it’s hard to get a good resume if you do not have an agent. Once you do finally get an agent, it’s very difficult to get a job.
Sometimes upwards of 500 people will submit their headshots to be given the opportunity to audition for a leading part (that is, if it has not already been offered to a big name actor). If you are lucky enough to make that cut, then you are competing against a select group of maybe 100 to 200 people. As you can see, the odds are against you. It is a competitive industry, so the only way to boost your numbers is to practice your craft.
Since acting is a profession about pretending to be other people, there is a belief that it’s easy. “If you can talk, you can act.” There are stories of actors being “born with it,” who have “never taken an acting class in their life,” but this is hardly ever true. And in the rare case that it is, it is not recommended for a long, lasting career. Like any other profession, you must know your trade. I had an acting teacher, Robert Carnegie, who used to say, “I don’t understand. You wouldn’t show up to a tennis match expecting to win if you didn’t know how to play; why would someone think they could make it as an actor if they didn’t know how to act?” Acting is an art that needs to be studied, understood, and practiced. Although talent is a start, dedication is the key.
The majority of actors in Los Angeles have uprooted their lives to move to Hollywood and follow their dreams. Every actor, big name or small, has an interesting story as to how they realized their dream. Everyone started somewhere. Jennifer Aniston was both a waitress and a telemarketer to get by; George Clooney sold suits to pay for acting class. They may not live like it now, but at one point they were one of us too. So, the next time you order soy drumsticks at your favorite West Hollywood café, take a moment to recognize your server. Give them a big tip and a smile and try to remember their face. Give it some time… You may see them on the cover of People magazine.
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