How does an actor become successful? Magic? Luck? No. The success of an actor is based on hard work, talent and integrity. It is unwavering commitment and the relentless pursuit of passion. At first, it seems daunting and yet there are thousands of actors working full-time worldwide. Their stories are similar; they all worked very hard to get there.
Our first experience was in 2010 on the set of Immortals, a Hollywood film directed by Tarsem Singh, starring Henry Cavill, Freida Pinto and Mickey Rourke. Surreal. My daughter Zelia, eight years old at the time, was cast as a Young Priestess, playing the younger version of High Priestess Ayisha Issa. What an honour.
Zelia got this role thanks to my own intuition, resourcefulness and perseverance. We had no agent at the time so here’s how it happened: Kenyon Wells Casting in Montreal posted a call for new faces on Facebook to play the young version of Freida Pinto. I researched the agency by asking friends who worked in the film industry either as makeup artists, set designers or screenwriters. It was unanimous, they all said “Go for it, this is one of the top agencies in the city affiliated with Hollywood!” Really? Still hard to believe, but we went for it.
I submitted Zelia’s photos by email and got no response. We went on vacation and when we returned, there was a voice message saying that Zelia had been requested to audition. I called the agency and the receptionist said: “It’s over, they’re no longer looking.” That’s it? Something didn’t feel right. So I called back immediately. Someone else answered. New to the industry, it didn’t make sense to me that they would call her for an audition to then say “We don’t want to see her anymore.” So I explained that I wanted to understand how the process worked. Little did I know that this naiveté and thirst for knowledge granted us a second chance. We were asked to submit photos by email again and got a call within five minutes: “Yes, we would absolutely love to see Zelia.”
The audition process went well. They explained that this first step was a recording they would send to the director and production crew. After decades of Zelia repeatedly asking me “Did you hear back from the movie?”, they finally called. I had explained to her that there was a possibility they may never call so when they did, it was a big deal. “The director wants to meet her.”
So we traveled to Montreal again. At the time, we had no car, so I rented one. We brought our own snacks. We practiced lines during the drive. We got lost in the maze of Mel’s Studios. I was way more nervous than she was. In the waiting room, fellow “Movie Moms” were hounding each other, comparing notes on their children’s recent features and auditions. It was intense. We stayed quiet and kept to ourselves. I coached Zelia on her lines, how to convey emotion through her eyes and be as natural as possible. Once she was done her audition, one of the Assistant Directors came out to speak with me. “She did really great, I’m sure we’ll see each other again soon.”
We were truly honoured that she had been called for a second audition. It was such a thrill. I explained to Zelia that this was something to be immensely grateful for and that we could not control what would come next. Bravo for a job well done. The End.
And then she booked for the role! We were ecstatic. I had no experience coaching an actor and since we had no agent, now was the time to chat about professionalism on set: listening, being polite and following direction. Mission accomplished. I was so proud. If I had not persisted and asked questions during the audition process, none of it would have ever happened.
Zelia loved her experience and in the end, the scene was cut from the movie. The cool thing is that it was on Blu-ray and her name also appeared in the credits. As a bonus, I got to see a top Hollywood director in action, the exemplary enthusiasm of the ladies working on hair, costume and makeup, the exhilarating immensity of the set and crew, and how everyone works in symbiosis. The strange thing is that when I first walked on set, I felt at home.
What did this mean? Why did I feel so much affinity with a massive warehouse space, an exhausted crew and countless takes? A film set is a hub for the creative process. After years of performing on stage as a ballet dancer, being in school plays, working on the radio and graduating university as an art director and graphic designer doing minor sound and video editing, after numerous people from the industry telling me I should “try it too,” I felt compelled to explore this thing they call show business.
Three years later—that’s how long it took to convince myself I took classes, workshops and auditing in Ottawa, Toronto and New York City. I loved it. It felt natural. This learning process came with doubt, fear, frustration and reluctance, and I got an agent and head shots regardless. In 2013, I booked my very first audition. I worked on Motives & Murders and appeared briefly on television. Amazing for a first time, I thought.
After that, and for almost 18 months, everything went blank. No auditions, no roles. Zero. I had technically turned my back on everything because even though I intuitively knew my agent was not a good match, I stuck with her. In 2015, after inquiring with acting classmates, I signed up with Lisa Meuser. It took seven months from the time I first contacted her to the time I was actually was on the roster. I didn’t let lost time deter me, and was tenacious in re-connecting with her knowing how busy she was contributing to many actors’ exposure. I went for it again. New head shots, more determination, more focus. And I made sure to communicate this clearly to Lisa: “I love this work. I’ve never felt so empowered. Let’s do this.” “You will be busy,” she said. I didn’t believe her.
Fast forward to today where I booked 10 times in seven months. I have auditioned way more than 10 times and there’s no point taking any lost personally. It’s disappointing, of course, especially after driving back and forth to Toronto from Ottawa in the same day, sometimes twice a week, but I do not let any results define me. And besides, if someone would have told me two years ago “You will be in a commercial that will have over 5 million hits on YouTube” or “You will book two feature films within three weeks,” I would have never believed them. Why? Because even if the universe is clearly showing me that I’m on the right path, the work and discipline persists. I actually feel motivated to work even harder.
I must underline that I would have never pursued everything with so much passion without the expertise and encouragement of my current agent. Lisa understands the industry. She has strong insight and knowledge. She’s very motivating and this is so empowering. It feels great to see things coming to fruition and now I have proof that persistence pays off. There are other reasons I have pursued acting and spent less time worrying if I will ever return to work as management in the corporate world, but that’s another story.
Acting is not inaccessible or impossible, it’s a job. And like any job, there are tricks to the trade. There are many articles out there about the technical aspects of acting. What about the personal side? When you walk into an audition, you’re showcasing who you are, sharing your range, your character, the concept of YOU.
Here are a few tips to succeed in this exciting industry:
1. You Are Unique
There is no one like you. Rejection is not personal. The industry is designed with a specific idea in mind. It’s also all about timing. And no matter how much talent, aspiration or passion you have, remember that ego is a turn off and confidence is sexy. Believe in yourself! Be patient and humble. No one likes a diva. Being pretentious or self-doubting makes everything heavier for no reason. It’s important to build a solid, reliable reputation for yourself, even with your peers. If you love this work, go for it.
2. Be Prepared
Head shots, resumes, workshops, research. Have everything ready and up to date before an audition and when you’re not called in, work on your craft, take classes, read about what’s going on in the industry, join Facebook groups, ask questions. If you’re auditioning often, being prepared also means showing up with your head shot and resume each time; have a few printed in advance and ready to go! Other great ways to prepare is to travel with healthy snacks, have a full tank of gas, make sure your mobile phone is fully charged and that you bring your charger, arriving 10 to 20 minutes before an audition, or whatever you need to do to feel at ease. Preparation is key.
3. Be Fearless
Take risks. Driving back and forth to auditions in the same day, investing in professional head shots, going to an audition even when you “don’t feel like it” or you think “it won’t be worth it”… Make it happen. No fear. No excuses. Take a deep breath and put yourself out there. Is this not what acting is all about?
4. Contact Your Agent
This is important. A good agent is a manager, a networker and an administrator. If you’re as lucky as we are, your agent becomes a friend. Keep in touch, let your agent know where you’re at, ask questions about industry trends and next steps. Be mindful and respectful, your agent is not a therapist, your agent is a professional connection that helps boost your career! A great agent works hard behind the scenes and if you don’t keep in touch, they might start to wonder if you’re serious about acting.
5. Be Balanced
Good food, sleep, exercise. This sounds logical but so many actors dismiss the basics and wonder why things derail. Your body is your temple and your look is what gets you in the door. Your character, your talent, and your entire persona is what gets you hired! Honour yourself, no matter what age, shape or size. If you’re showing up at an audition stressed, famished or exhausted, don’t expect great results. Directors need reliable actors that follow direction without any glitches. On set, time is money. There’s no room for imbalance or special requests. Be focused, stay healthy and be easy to work with. Staying balanced is another great way to ensure you’re prepared.
6. Work Hard
Professionalism, resilience, perseverance. Don’t give up! Be alert and observant. You never know when you’ll be called in. Show up, stay calm, be disciplined and be consistent. Don’t compare. Acting is a profound, personal investment, and no one cares about your personal life. So stay classy. Have a certain sense of decorum and a great a sense of humour. Work on being the best version of yourself. Success is hard work! The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.
Hold on to what is individual about yourself, do not allow your ambition for success to cause you to imitate the success of others. You’ve got to find it on your own terms. – Harrison Ford