This ‘You’ Star Admits: Actors Are Defined by Their Choices—And That’s OK

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Photo Source: Yves Bright

The following Career Dispatch essay was written by Travis Van Winkle, who stars on the third season of Netflix’s “You,” streaming on Oct. 15. 

​​In one of those rare instances in one’s acting career—during a pandemic, no less—I recently had to choose between two jobs. It was an incredible problem to have, but also one that required me to choose between two projects I loved and worked very hard to get.

In the beginning of 2020, I booked a network TV pilot that I absolutely loved. Not only did I have a great working relationship with the network, but the producers and actors on the show were people I respected. I was beyond excited to potentially spend the next several years of my life with them. But as we entered March, it became apparent that COVID-19 was incredibly dangerous and something we didn’t know how to navigate. Just days after booking the role, I flew to Toronto to film the pilot, had a fitting, and met the whole cast. We rocked our first table read together; then, just as quickly, we packed up and went home. 

Over the next several months, we all just sat waiting to see when we’d get back to it. As time dragged on, the show extended its potential filming date, so I busied myself with auditioning. There are no guarantees in this job—zero, none, never. You don’t know if you’ll work, when you’ll work, if you’ll love the work, if what you loved filming will turn out great or not so great, or if you will land on something that will forever change you and the trajectory of your career. So I kept going. And somehow, after an incredible audition with material I immediately clicked with, I got the call that I had booked the third season of “You” on Netflix. 

Cary was a character that I instinctively felt suited me, on a streamer I relied on heavily throughout the pandemic—I’m not sure there is a murder documentary I haven’t watched; thank you, Netflix—featuring a group of actors and producers that I deeply admired and wanted to work with. 

“This is the life of an actor: making choices on the page, on the day, and in your career.”

There are moments in your career when everything just lines up, and this was one of them—or so I thought. But a day or so later, I got the call that the pilot I’d been working on would be filming after all, a month or two before “You” would wrap its season. There was no way I could do both. I immediately felt an insane amount of anxiety, as both were incredible opportunities. One could potentially run for multiple seasons, with amazing writers and actors, but there was no guarantee that the pilot would even get picked up. The other involved me playing an incredibly rich character that I knew I could have so much fun with, on a show I was already a fan of. 

I asked my team and the people closest to me for advice, and everyone had their own ideas and strong opinions. But ultimately, the choice was mine. It wasn’t easy, but the work I got to do on “You” makes me proud. If I could have done both, I would have flown through the night and filmed 24 hours a day to make it all work. But I had to go with the choice that allowed me to dig into a character that I wouldn’t necessarily have the chance to play on network television. I would get to build new arms for myself (literally and figuratively; the workouts were insane). And I got to play in a sandbox that was exciting, scary, and fun. 

READ: Penn Badgley’s ‘You’ Character Is a Lesson in Listening

I pushed myself to commit to a challenging and inspiring regimen to embody my character. I peeled away layers of myself to find more to him, and I ultimately had a wild ride on set with the actors, crew, and writing and producing teams. 

I still don’t know if this path was the “right” one. Only time will tell. The pilot did get picked up, and that team is now getting ready to film the first season. And while I’m loudly cheering them on, I also know that the toolbox I put together on “You” is one I’ll keep adding to. This is the life of an actor: making choices on the page, on the day, and in your career. We are defined by the way we choose and what we choose, and we have to hope that the choices we make will shape us for the better. If you watch Season 3 of “You,” maybe you’ll be able to tell me if my decision to play Cary was worth it.

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