‘The Happiest Season’ Star Mary Holland on Her Game-Changing Career Discovery

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Photo Source: Josh Telles

The following Career Dispatches essay was written by Mary Holland, who stars opposite Mackenzie Davis and Kristen Stewart in Hulu’s new holiday feature “The Happiest Season,” streaming Nov. 25. 

Many professions require a certain amount of predictability. You don’t want to be undergoing an operation by a surgeon who greets you with, “Welp, no idea how this will play out. Fingers crossed!” It wouldn’t give you great comfort to be on a cruise ship and hear the captain’s voice over the loudspeaker saying, “We’ll end up somewhere eventually, don’t worry about it. I think we’ll just keep floating? In the meantime, check out the mac’n’cheese bar on Deck 5!” (And also, what are you doing on a cruise ship right now?! Get off that cruise ship!)

But as an actor, it can feel like you’re standing on a hiking trail somewhere in Wyoming but you’re trying to get to Paris. You don’t have a map or a compass. And yet, you have to believe that you’ll be in Paris one day. You have no idea how it will happen—maybe a helicopter will appear in a week or two and can give you a ride to New York, get you part of the way? Maybe you’ll travel for months and months only to discover you went south instead of east and now you’re in Texas? Maybe you’ll suddenly be gifted the ability to fly (and if this one happens, you should really consider monetizing that skill). 

But the embracing of not knowing what will happen and when and how? That’s exactly what’s required of an actor. You have to let go of the expectation of stability. There is no assurance, no guarantee of anything, no “just follow these directions and you'll achieve your dreams.” 

I had to learn how to let go of expectations. I had to learn to be at ease with being entirely clueless about what my life was going to look like in three days, in a year, in four years, in 20 years. I moved to Los Angeles to be an actor and I had huge dreams. I knew where I wanted to be and what I wanted to be doing. Early in my career, as the years went by and I never got a single thing I auditioned for, I would think about my dreams and goals and my heart would break; I saw no path to get there. I didn’t know how it would possibly ever happen, and I started to wonder if it ever would. 

When I began doing improv comedy, I learned that not knowing what’s going to happen isn’t something to be feared and worried over—it’s something to welcome and even appreciate. Not knowing means freedom. It means endless possibilities. It means forcing yourself to stay in the present, to detach from results. I do my best to prepare and bring everything I can to the table when I have an opportunity. And sometimes there are no opportunities. But hope continues to spring eternal. Be open to opportunities coming from places you don’t expect or couldn’t foresee. Be available to that talking bear who appears on the trail and tells you he knows a shortcut to Nebraska. There are lots of different ways to get to Paris. 

And please, if you are on a cruise ship, disembark ASAP. 

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