Actor Eric Kan's roommate saved money all year to buy a plane ticket for a trip to India to attend a friend's wedding. The roommate, who was also an actor, paid his December rent, flew out of town, and then disappeared. By the third week of January, Kan started to panic and called the actor. The actor nonchalantly told Kan he was in San Francisco with his family, taking his time, and had forgotten to pay his rent. Kan was furious, especially because this wasn't the first time Kan had rented the spare bedroom in his condo to an actor who had blown off paying the rent.
"Most of my actor-roommate experiences have not been particularly positive," says Kan. "There's just a million excuses, and I'm an actor myself. I'm a substitute teacher by day, but I own my condo, and I've got a mortgage to pay, and at a certain point the excuses get to be kind of old." Needless to say, Kan would not recommend living with an actor.
Whether an actor has a positive experience living with another actor boils down to not only the person's ability to pay the rent and bills but also his or her ability to perform basic roommate functions -- such as cleaning and keeping respectfully quiet in the evenings. "I think before it's about two actors getting together, it's really about two healthy people even as roommates coming together, and then the more common ground that those people have, the better off they are," says Paulo Andrés, vice president of the Actors' Network, an organization that provides business information and educational opportunities to actors. If an actor can find a responsible actor-roommate who's a good personality fit, living with someone who has a passion for the craft can prove quite advantageous.
Actor June Marie is the only woman in her household, which she shares with three male actors. She moved in with them in September after meeting them in her acting class at the Beverly Hills Playhouse. "Everyone helps with information regarding who knows which casting director. We help each other with scenes. We help each other with auditions," says Marie of some of the perks. She has found the environment to be very supportive. If she forgets to bring with her an important item or a script, her roommates are quick to help out. Surprisingly, the actors in the household have been able to cough up the rent on time. Marie says, "I don't think that's going to be an issue, just because rent is the most important bill to pay, so we all have this understanding that rent must be paid. There's no excuse. If you can't pay rent, you can't live here."
Perhaps another reason Marie's living situation has remained healthy is because all four actors understand the importance of remaining focused on the value of creativity absent of fame or money. Each month, the household holds an artistic night; people bring food and drinks and share a poem or a song to stretch their creative imaginations. Marie says this exercise ultimately helps them approach acting in a fresh way and apply new energy to a scene in their acting class or an audition, or to a role later on.
Mutual encouragement can be one of the biggest pluses of living with actors. "They can, you know, share the common bond of the struggle," says Andrés. "They're uncovering that aspect of their careers or the development of their careers together, and they kind of have a shared joy, and that can be exceedingly motivating."
On the flip side, if actors don't stay positive, they can drag one another down. "It's a very tough business, and if you have an actor that's been struggling for many years, then they get jaded, and they can make you very negative about the business," says actor Jensen Liu, who currently lives with an actor and has lived with actors in the past. Even Liu at times has to remind himself not to complain when times are tough.
Actors who live with one another don't have to worry about finding someone to talk shop with. Because he and his roommate know many of the same people in the industry and have their work in common, Liu says, sometimes talking about "the business" can get tiresome. "We're both actors, so you know, that's on our minds all the time," he says. "It's refreshing to go out with friends that aren't actors too, because you don't have to just talk about one subject primarily."
But conversely, when you live with an actor who lands a major gig, you had better be able to hack it on your own awhile. According to Liu, don't expect to get any hang time with your working roommate for at least a few weeks. "They don't have time to communicate with you," he says, and because the work requires such long hours and focus, Liu says the roommate must accept that regardless of whether he or she gets lonely.
Sometimes when a roommate lands a job, professional jealousy can become an issue. Andrés says if jealousy or competition begins to play a role in the relationship when one actor's career takes off faster than the other's, it can be destructive to the actor who's not working.
Marie says professional jealousy isn't a factor in her household. She sees her roommates' success as synonymous with her own. "We all are kind of at similar points in our careers, and so we're all striving to get to that next level, so if someone in our circle has success, that means we're next to have the same success," she says.
A female touring actor, who preferred to remain anonymous, encountered professional jealousy while living with another actor on a musical theatre tour. When her fellow actor said she was too sick to perform and the director dubbed the anonymous actor her replacement, at first the sick actor was fine with her roommate filling in. But then once she heard her roommate singing and rehearsing in the bathroom, the ill actor felt insecure and miraculously the next day felt well enough to perform.
Liu says for the most part he keeps his jealousy in check, but he adds, "It's kind of odd if somebody gets booking after booking for a period of time, and you don't get anything. I can tell that some roommates have gotten jealous when I've had that, and I've been envious too if I haven't worked for a long time and then, you know, my roommate's getting booking after booking." Liu says the toxic emotion can be more of an issue for beginning actors who don't understand the cyclical nature of the work and the long dry periods. For this reason, he prefers to live with more-seasoned actors.
Ultimately, living with someone is a business arrangement that trumps friendship and professional collaboration, and when deciding whether or not to live with an actor, people must consider first and foremost whether their potential roommates will be able to take care of themselves and their responsibilities.
"Everybody has dreams, and you want to pursue dreams, but the most important thing before your dreams is your basic needs like food and shelter and your bills. Those are the things that should be first before any dreams," says Kan. "A lot of people in this town don't ever make it as actors. They don't make it and [don't] become successful, because they didn't really take care of their business."
And if your actor-roommate is not taking care of his or her business, that will negatively impact you, financially and/or emotionally. Andrés warns actors to screen potential thesp roommates carefully for any signs of desperation or entitlement, because either quality will make someone a bad roommate. Instead, Andrés says, look for someone with a sense of humor, because "somebody who has a sense of humor is positive. Those are going to be the people you want to be around as actors. [Acting's] a process that you really have to enjoy."
Nicole Kristal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.