LA Film Festival Tue 7.21.2015

Working Life for an Actor: Occasional Choices and Mostly Random Acts of Generosity

Hollywood actors are strange and intriguing creatures. They are idolized and envied around the world for their seemingly glitzy and exciting lifestyles. Fused by this image, every year hundreds of people move to Los Angeles to try to “make it”. But what’s it really like to be in the movie industry? At the Los Angeles Film Festival, Alfre Woodard, David Koechner, Mae Whitman and Kathryn Hahn shattered some of the glamorous misconceptions about being an actor in Hollywood.

Fellow actress Bryce Dallas Howard moderated the talk and started off by asking about their origins as performers. Alfre Woodard gave a beautiful analogy of the difficulties of breaking into the industry as a woman. “Some people walk through the front door. For a lot of female actors they have to take the back door, some of us come through a window. I had to walk through a wall.”

Mae Whitman had a smoother introduction to Hollywood—she basically starting acting the second she got out of the womb. “I’ve been acting since I was three-years old, so even trying to conceptualize what it is to be an actor and talk about it is difficult because it resides so deep inside of me. I felt completely unprepared for this talk, but I feel that same way about acting, putting myself in situations that are unexpected, that I don’t know how it’s going to be. I just have to try to get myself into the best possible place to be honest.”

In a completely separate note, Kathryn Hahn went to grad school for acting at Yale. “I was in New York and I was working at a hair salon, frustrated, auditioning every week. And I thought if I could go to this school and just have a rigorous, monastic creative experience for three years where I could just work on what I loved… I know there was a huge sense of denial about how I was going to pay for it afterwards but I just wanted to work!”

“Work” can be a very holy word for actors. Bryce introduced some real and gritty statistics about being an actor in Hollywood. “The stats of a working actor in SAG, which means that they are making a living acting, is that they get one in every 64 auditions. I remember my grandmother telling me that stat and thinking as I was approaching my 60th audition that I still had a chance.”

David Koechner confessed that: ”My wife and I have been blessed with five kids, so it’s not so much choices. If you look at my resume you might say, ‘why did he do that?’ Well, baby’s gotta eat. I remember when I was younger I’d see actors take certain roles and think, ‘what are you doing?’ But then you realize that everyone has to pay their bills. I would love to be the person that has ten scripts at my door everyday, but in reality that’s not the way it is. And everyone thinks that if you were just in a movie you had a million dollars. But that is not the case, you don’t get filthy rich off of a movie. It’s a constant hustle.”

They all agreed on the difficulties of fruitless auditioning and the disappointment that comes with rejection. Bryce commented that the “working life for an actor is occasional choices and then mostly random acts of generosity”. This kind of life, filled with rejection and uncertainty, is likely to induce some form of craziness or instability. Mae expressed how: “Sometimes I feel very stressed. I’m an on-the-edge kind of person but when you live in LA it’s like you have two appointments and your day is over. Everything takes up a lot of time. So often I feel like I’m stuck in a rut. Sometimes I feel like I can’t do enough. But it’s a constant struggle and like everyone, I go through waves of excitement and being anxious. But I like to remind myself that at the end of the day, I’m doing exactly what I want to.” To this final comment, they all silently nodded in agreement.

Lorena Alvarado / Film Independent Blogger