"There was always that itch [to perform], and I would constantly think about getting discovered on the street," he says, chuckling. "I woke up one day, and I was like, 'I can't go on like this.' " Nonnenberg packed up his life and moved to Los Angeles in March 2008. Since then, he has landed representation, auditioned, and started studying with acting teacher Margie Haber. He's very happy with the way things are going.
But how did he know it was the right time to make the big move? The actor says he thought through everything he would have to sacrifice: time with his beloved nieces and nephews, his network of close friends, a steady job, and, yes, his Yankees season tickets. "When I made the decision, when I understood fully what it was that I needed to sacrifice, I was willing to do that in order to make this step for my career," he says. "I made a hundred percent commitment to do it, and that's when I was ready."
In Your Own Good Time
Every day, actors all over the country wrestle with the question of when to move to Hollywood. Commitment to your career is one element that goes into this thought process, but there are many other factors as well—and the timing is different for everyone. "I am a firm believer that every person has their own time schedule and every career has its own specific arc," says agent Nancy Moon-Broadstreet of the Geddes Agency. "So it's really hard to tell when it's right for an individual."
How do you know when it's your time? From a career standpoint, keep a close eye on where you're at on a local level. "The time to move to L.A. is when you simply can no longer achieve your goals in the city that you started your career in," says manager Bruce Smith of OmniPop Talent Group. "At a certain point, you'll feel like you've just hit a wall, that there's no further you can go unless you move to Los Angeles."
For instance, actor Jason Grasl knew he was California-bound when he realized he had become "a medium-sized fish in a small pond." Grasl had already earned his Screen Actors Guild card by working in industrials and commercials in Detroit. The actor was booking a number of the jobs he was auditioning for and was also doing two or three plays a year. "I guess there's a certain saturation point," he says. "In the fall of '06, I was in a play, and the actress who was playing my love interest said, 'Why are you still here?' That kind of made me realize, 'Hey, I'm in a pretty good place. I'm comfortable enough in the small pond where I'll take a chance drowning in the big ocean of L.A.' "
That said, make sure you've taken the time to work on your career at a local level before you take that plunge. "I'm always suspicious of somebody who comes to Los Angeles from a place where I know there are fine theaters and opportunities and they don't have any of those credits," says Moon-Broadstreet. "For example, somebody from Minneapolis who has never worked at the Guthrie, or even taken a workshop there, I'm always curious why. Now, if they have a very good explanation for it, that's another story. But for the most part I expect somebody to have pursued their local venues first to get a taste of whether or not they're going to enjoy their career as a performer and also to get as much training as possible before going into a bigger market."
In addition to giving you credits and a taste of the actor's life, experience in your hometown also helps you build confidence—something you'll need once you relocate to the epicenter of the brutal entertainment industry. "If you are the No. 1 actor in San Diego and you've done plays at the Globe or La Jolla Playhouse and you are the big fish in the small pond there, you're building a sense of self-confidence, building a sense of self-worth," says agent Neil Bagg of Don Buchwald and Associates. "The No. 1 thing one needs to be successful in this town, more than anything, is confidence."
Background, Background, Background
In addition to local credits, there are a few practical things actors should consider having in place before deciding to pack up and leave. "If you don't have the basic tools before you move here, it just becomes time lost once you are here," says Smith. "I would argue that L.A., like any big city, is too expensive to live in if you're just losing time trying to get a press package together. If somebody is moving here and they have absolutely no tape at all, then they have nothing to show an agent, they have nothing to show a manager that the agent or manager in turn would show a casting director or a producer. You're asking for a little too much."
Grasl says that when he moved he already had his voiceover demo and the clips he needed to start putting his reel together. "That's kind of necessary, because without that, no one knows who you are when you come out here," he says. At the very least, Smith adds, you should have a Web link to send to people: "In a perfect world, you would link to a website, and the website would have headshots, a bio, a résumé, a reel—a reel that shows somebody in Hollywood that you have a good starting place and something that effectively shows your work and the caliber of your talent."
And whatever you have in your arsenal, be open to changing it once you get to town. "Don't spend the ultimate amount of money you have on photographs if, when you get to L.A., you're going to be told you need to upgrade or your photos are old-fashioned or not the kind of style that people are looking for," says Moon-Broadstreet. "Some people come into town with these glamorous three-quarter [shots], and they're really not that useful for me as a theatrical agent."
It also helps to become acquainted with seasoned Angelenos before you uproot yourself. "If you, in your town, can get a representative who happens to have relationships with Los Angeles casting directors, Los Angeles agents, managers, it's always a plus," says Bagg.
Knowing Whom to Know
Even if nothing comes directly of them, pre-existing connections can help you from a mental standpoint, so you're not coming out here with nothing. "I had a few other actor friends that had moved out here previously to at least be, if nothing else, moral support," says Grasl. "And my agents back in Detroit had a couple of agency connections. Even if it doesn't pay off, it gives you a feeling of confidence: 'Okay, I'm not starting from ground negative 100.' "
Indeed, as you ponder whether to move to L.A., having a sense of where you are emotionally is just as important as knowing where you're at careerwise. After all, no matter how big a fish you were in your hometown pond, in many ways, you'll be starting over, moving from a place of comfort to one of extreme uncertainty. "You hear stories of some of the larger names that may have had a lot better connections and they got right into the groove of things, but I think for most actors, remember what you did the first time when you had to start, and realize you're going to have to put your nose to the grind," says Grasl. "You need to keep that humble nature, because it doesn't matter who you were, unless you were on Broadway in New York."
Adds Nonnenberg, "I think, ultimately, the mindset that leads to a lot of heartbreak or downfall is 'I'm gonna take this city by storm.' It's compounded by the fact that you talk to people who have 9-to-5 jobs, and they've developed this psychology of how things should work. [They'll say], 'It's been three months; things aren't happening; you should think about a career change.' That's just not how it works here. You have to stay positive, hope for the best, but plan for the worst."
In that vein, Smith notes that you should have a game plan for failure as well as success. "Always prepare for the struggle," he says. "Do not come out with the mindset that it's all going to be easy because you're talented. You want to go into every situation believing you're the exception to the rule, but if you did a profile of 100 people who are moving to Hollywood at the same time, clearly they're not all going to be the exception to the rule. You have to prepare for the struggle much more than you have to prepare for a fat bank account."
Moon-Broadstreet is also a fan of having a well-thought-out career plan before you decide to move—as long as you're flexible within that plan. "Know what you want in your career before just jumping in," she says. "It's great to have a good assessment of your own skills or know what your range is. But a lot of times, actors find that a happy unexpected turn is what makes their career, so you can't be fixed on something to the extent where you don't notice that there are other opportunities that are very good for your career that you're not paying attention to."
On the flip side, you're probably not ready for the big move if you haven't thought these things through or if you are tasting your first bit of local success. "If you got a really good review locally, that doesn't mean anything—I mean, it does, but that's still just a starting point," says Grasl. "I don't even think graduating with a BFA is necessarily enough. You might be good to be a casting assistant or an intern somewhere, but a BFA does not mean you're ready to move to L.A., I don't think."
At the same time, don't be so overly cautious that you miss your opportunity. Moon-Broadstreet notes that sometimes actors allow fear to hold them back. "I think having no support group [in L.A.] is something that prevents people [from coming here]," she says. "But you will find out that at a certain point in your career, whenever you walk onto a stage or a set, you will know someone or you will have met someone. If people are held back by that, they should get involved in their unions on a local level, and that way when they come into town, they automatically have a place where they can check in. If you belong to Equity somewhere outside of Los Angeles, when you come into town, check in with Equity and say, 'Hey, is there a committee I can volunteer for?' You can build your support group."
In the end, remember that the journey is different for everyone. Only you can determine when you're ready to take your career to the next level. Says Nonnenberg, "I think when you have an extreme desire to do something and it's followed by a willingness to do whatever it takes to do that, that's when it's time to make the move."