"I am learning to trust myself by finding out what is right for me."
A few years ago, I was chatting with the producer during a wrap party. We'd just finished the TV movie in which I'd had a sizeable part. After about 15 minutes of pleasantries, I finally drummed up the courage to ask him what I really wanted to know: Why he had cast me out of all the dozens of young women he'd seen at the casting calls.
"Because you were the only one who trusted yourself in the audition," he said. "You made good choices, you came in with an accent. No one else did that. We want to work with actors we can count on."
Ok. Let me get this straight: I trust my instincts as an actress, yet find it impossibly hard to trust them in my real life. Am I alone here?
In an acting class I once played Ophelia in a scene with Hamlet. As we were about to start, I sat down with the text, and clearly saw how strong Ophelia was at this point in the play. I sensed how Ophelia saw herself, and went with that feeling. I went into the scene completely in the moment, playing off my partner.
So, I'm staring in Hamlet's eyes as he's ripping me apart with his words. I can't help but feel moved by this actor — he's overpowering and frightening — but I react not as myself, but as Ophelia. I grab the bottle of wine from his hand. No planning. I was not directed to do that. I had an instinct to grab the bottle, so I did. And that caused him to rip it back from my hand. With that one action, we now had a heated moment filled with a fight for our love, passion, and pain.
It was my first time performing this material. We were playing it without any rehearsal, yet the teacher said it could have been opening night of the play. The class was in tears. I felt that I'd risen to the occasion as an actor.
The following day, I had a meeting with my new manager. I was new to Los Angeles, and determined that I would be successful once I found representation.
Unfortunately, the words "the right representation" didn't seem to occur to me.
My manager was five feet tall, bald, and... flamboyant. But here was my first clue that he might not be what he said he was: He worked out of his apartment. In the Valley.
His tiny "office" — really his living room — was covered in posters for Broadway musicals, and had cat hair all over the place. His cat was the devil himself. It attacked me every time I came by. At our first meeting, the damn thing bit me.
But I pretended everything was fine, even as tears ran down my face.
I was embarrassed when I should have been angry. After all, he was a real Hollywood manager. The first one who wanted to sign me. So I must be misreading the situation, I thought. All managers are this 'colorful.' I'm just green. After all, he has other clients. I saw headshots on the wall. He must be good.
But other cracks didn't take long to appear. I remember one conversation a few months after he signed me. It set the tone for our whole relationship:
M: My little Poo Poo face. My kitty. She's such a bitch, huh?
A: Um, yeah. She's... sweet. So, were we thinking of moving in the direction of film or TV?
M: Do you want to see a picture of me when I was twenty and a dancer? (He stands up and starts dancing behind his desk.) Oh! I should have been on Broadway! I'd still make a sexy motherfucker, don't ya think?
My manager started fanning himself with actors' headshots from his desk, a few of which dropped on the floor. I notice that he's not wearing shoes. And his bare feet reveal toe nails that have not been clipped in... years. He then sits, panting.
And it would go like this each time we met. I never felt like he believed in me, yet something inside kept me with him. I ignored my instinct at every turn. Even when they were screaming that this wasn't working out.
At one point I realized I needed a commercial agent, and he would not set up a meeting for me with anyone. I asked him for months if he could help me find one. Every time I asked for his help, he would say, "Well... you've never done any commercials, so it'll be too hard to find you an agent." Um, ok. So, the answer is no, then? (Eventually I found one on my own.)
The final straw came when he had a Christmas party. It was held at a client's home, a woman who stars on a soap opera. His biggest client.
Several months before, he'd gotten me an audition for a movie, which I landed. It was my first good-size part, and I'd done my best with it. Plus, the film was finally debuting. And my manager knew that — we'd discussed it only a few weeks before.
At the party, I saw him entertaining a small circle of people with a story. He always had a way with storytelling. I walked up to him with my boyfriend to say hello. He gave me a Hollywood hug — you know, friendly yet not — and I introduced him to my boyfriend. They shook hands.
But that was it. I was waiting for him to say something — happy holidays, congratulations... something. Instead he went back to chatting with the others as my boyfriend and I stood there awkwardly. Then he sputtered out, in front of the whole group: "Don't you have something coming out soon? What was it again?"
You mean, that project for which you got paid? I thought. My first big step as an actor? Oh... that?
"I have a movie getting released in January," I muttered, embarrassed. "Oh, yeah, congrats," he said, and went back to his animated story. My boyfriend and I eventually drifted away.
I wanted to cry. To me, a manager is supposed to help manage and promote your career in whatever ways they can. At the very least, he should know the release date of his client's project. I walked away realizing it was time for me to move on.
You may be asking how on earth I would stay with a "manager" like that? I'll be honest: At the time, I was scared I wouldn't be able to find someone else to represent me. So many actors are looking for an agent or manager, I thought, I should feel lucky I wasn't in that boat.
But I knew in my gut this man didn't believe in me, and the thought of what it would take for me to change was more than I could bear. So I pretended I didn't hear that voice warning me. Again, denying my instincts.
So I pretended I had an amazing manager — and believed it.
For a long time, I would have an easier time teaching a dog to talk than to simply trust my instincts. In fact, it took a few more experiences like that before I started listening more carefully to my inner voice.
I won't lie to you and say that I always do listen now. I'm still more Hamlet than Ophelia. But I'm getting better.