How This Actor Overcame Panic Attacks + Learned to Trust Herself

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Photo Source: Courtesy of WGN America

The following Career Dispatches essay was written by Leven Rambin, who can currently be seen starring on WGN’s “Gone” with Chris Noth.

Although I have been acting for over half my life, until recently I still felt the anticipatory jitters whenever I got an audition notice from my agents. Why? A few years ago in my early 20s, I had a full-blown panic attack in an audition room. During. A. Scene. It was a quiet, romantic scene in a big-budget film meant to star Liam Hemsworth. and I told the casting director I felt sick and bolted out of the room.

Heartbroken and scared, I cried in the dimly-lit, quiet stairwell of the office building. I called my manager and recounted the horrifying events. She advised me to go home, get some rest, and stop(!) drinking so much coffee. But I knew it was a deeper issue. This episode was a low point of my life and career. I was certain these casting directors would never call me in again. Would they think I was unstable or unreliable? Untalented? Unprepared? Weird? Just plain nuts!? And what would my agents think? Would they question my abilities moving forward and begin to deny me auditions? Did I really know what I was doing or had years of faking-it-till-I made it finally catch up with me? Was I finally being exposed for the fraud I truly was?

This litany of self-destructive, paranoid thoughts swirled in my head and wreaked havoc on my self-esteem—and my audition confidence. I actually took a few weeks off altogether to sort through the chaos of my thoughts. I knew I needed a solution. I couldn’t keep doing this.

READ: How to Stay Sane in This Crazy, Unpredictable Business

So after 2.5 years of intense study at Playhouse West in New York, I began to work from a deeper, truer, more skilled place. I felt the audition anxiety dying down. But still, it was always there, lying dormant in the back of my mind like a sleeping hyena. A tiny residue of self-doubt lingered and loomed over every audition until I managed to work through it and perform, momentarily proving to myself that I wouldn’t panic. (Until the next time when the cycle would begin anew.)

I have struggled (to varying degrees) with this particular battle up until about a month ago, when I decided this internal struggle no longer served me and I needed to take responsibility for healing this. It was then that concept of trusting myself entered my mind and piqued my curiosity. I decided to dive deeper into understanding this concept through podcasts, books, blogs, videos—you name it. Finally, I felt understood! I was able to put a name to it. That’s what it felt like: utter distrust of myself, my ability, my talent, my skills, my spirit to do the work for me once I entered the audition room. I didn’t trust myself, and it was torturing me every time I’d get an appointment. Trusting myself seemed like a quaint philosophical concept calmly whispered by my yoga instructors and other well-meaning nurturers to get oneself through a tough time. But I decided to give it a try in earnest for a change.

A month ago, I went into an audition, and instead of worrying about, “What if I panic?” I wondered to myself, “What if I am enough?” Yes, I might be tired and feel less than exuberant, I might have a pulsating zit on my forehead, and I might have five extra pounds from a few too many scoops of guacamole. But what if I am still enough? Not despite those things but because of them? And what if I let go of the need to control the outcome, to be perfect, to be my “best” and instead just be? I am worthy and enough with or without this job. And if I happen to blow it, so what? I decided to trust myself.

During my study of Meisner, I learned to be present and work moment-to-moment; to not push. But I was still “doing” present, not sincerely “being” present by releasing effort and control. When I took the striving and perfectionism out the equation, I found that I truly can trust myself and I soared in the audition in a new way. An unchained, unpredicted ride ensued and I finally proved once and for all that I can trust myself in a room.

We all can do that. Embracing our uniqueness, flaws, and humanity is what gives you value in this industry. It can be tempting to be “perfect” or force yourself into a mold you think they’re “looking for.” But the truth is, they’re looking for you. And you don’t come out until you trust yourself. Real art flows out of you from the deepest part of your soul when you do. Now I can say I trust myself, because I proved it to myself. I hope you can, too.

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