4 Steps to Having a Thriving Acting Career

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Photo Source: Joyce Park

It was the summer after I turned 18. I had signed with a local talent agent about six months prior in Memphis, Tennessee, and started sending out self-tapes for anything and everything. I landed a role on a small independent horror movie with some really cool people, and I soon realized that my path was leading me out to Los Angeles. So I packed everything I could into my 2006 Honda Civic, and my dad and I drove three days straight—a trip that still inspires such fond and important memories. When he hopped on a plane back to Memphis I looked around at the tiny room I was renting and thought, Now what?

Since that time, I’ve learned a few things. Things I am still learning each and every day.

No. 1: Trust your journey.
A big part of trusting your journey is having the faith and confidence to embark on it—no matter what your bank account looks like, or what you think you ought to be doing. When everything inside you is telling you to pursue something, listen, no matter how unlikely it may feel. Start somewhere.

When I moved to L.A., I was only 18 with no family and no college degree. I’ve worked every kind of job you can imagine: babysitting, waitressing, catering, retail—even foot modeling. (That’s right. You heard me.) Every one of these jobs brought me joy, frustration, anxiety, but most importantly, human connection. Each one was a brick in the path that led me to where I am today, and they’ve given me some great stories. Working with people you otherwise wouldn’t have crossed paths with is the greatest character study of all time.

No. 2: Trust the timing of your life.
You feel like you should be further along? We all do. But I can’t stress enough the importance of appreciating and even loving where you are. Happiness is relative. There will always be something more, something bigger or better. The more you focus on the present and the things that make you happy (for me that is family, friends, cooking, hiking, etc.), the more fulfilled you’ll be and honestly, the better your work will be.

No. 3: Don’t compare yourself to others.
This is a tough one. Oftentimes when we feel like we aren’t far enough along, we justify that feeling by looking around and pointing the finger at our peers who appear to be doing more. Firstly, you don’t know what their journey has been up until this point or what it will be in the future. And secondly, it doesn’t matter. There aren’t a limited number of opportunities. Be happy for other people. Trust that you are on the individual path you are meant to be, and as long as you are working towards your goal, the universe will meet you halfway.

No. 4: Focus on the work.
This may be the most important advice of all. I used to get tragically nervous before going onstage. In fact, I still get nervous. In high school I had a very influential acting teacher that told me, “Nerves are free energy. It’s your body preparing you for something great, and you can either use that energy or let it sit in your stomach like a rock and weigh you down.” It was all about my mindset. And it’s absolutely true. I actually look forward to the feeling these days.

I’d also say taking advantage of opportunities falls under this category. It’s so important to just say yes. I can’t tell you how many small gigs I’ve done that led to important friendships or other jobs down the line.

Lastly, take your future into your own hands. Focusing on the work could mean taking an acting class, or reading a great book. (My personal favorite is “How to Stop Acting” by Harold Guskin.) But we also live in an exciting time where it is possible to create our own content. This in itself is a wonderful way to focus your energy. Sometimes you can’t wait for an opportunity. You have to create one.

This is all advice that I would give my younger self, but it happens to be the same advice I give myself now. I continue to remind myself of these things because although I know them to be true, life—and acting—isn’t a destination. It’s a journey.

Hopper stars in Amazon’s “Goliath” alongside Billy Bob Thornton. Season 2 premieres today, June 15.

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