A 'Working Actor' Success Story

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Dear Readers:

When Jackie Apodaca and I send our advice out into the ether, we rarely know whether it has any effect, or even whether it's followed. The case below is an exception. Space prohibits printing the entire correspondence, but you'll find it all on our Working Actor message board at BackStage.com under the title “A 'Working Actor' Success Story.”

Dear Michael:

I'm a teen living on the East Coast. This sounds extremely cliché, but I can't even explain to you in words how much I love acting. Every single day, it's all I think about. When not in school, I'm either reading a book about the craft or learning more about the industry. I have a lot of experience on stage and a lot of training. I am now ready to start my career in television and in feature films.

However, I live in Maryland, and, obviously, here it's hard to get work in front of the camera. For a long while now, I've been begging my parents to move to L.A., but they're worried about leaving behind elder family members here. Also, I have three siblings, and it wouldn't be fair to them. I've realized that it's selfish for me to think about everyone moving there just because I want to try to become an actor.

But acting is my passion, and I will not let anything get in the way. I don't care how many times people tell me that the chances are one in a million. I'm ready for tons of rejection and competition. I'm ready to be faced with pressure and hard work. I need to begin my career now. I even followed in Emma Stone's footsteps and created a long PowerPoint presentation on why my family should move to L.A., to the song “Hollywood” by Madonna.

All my acting teachers have been impressed with my skill and even recommended to my parents that, with my maturity and talent, I would be 100 percent ready for a career. I always have this gut feeling that all I am supposed to be doing is acting in front of the camera. I'm so obsessed I have begun to think that I may have a problem. I understand that all teens my age want to be the next big thing, but I don't care about being famous. Just the thought of standing on a movie set makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. As you can tell, I want this more than everything in the world.

Now, you may say to wait until I'm 18. I've been so patient, and I just can't wait. What about Dakota Fanning, Emma Stone, Chloë Moretz, etc.? They have all been successful without having to turn 18 first. And I feel like I would be wasting my time to wait four more years, as this is all I want. Once again, I know this sounds very cliché, but please understand my desire to act on the big screen and give me all the advice you can. I read your column every time I get Back Stage in the mail, and I can't wait to hear back from you guys! Thanks so much!

—14 and Relentless

Potomac, Md.

Dear Relentless:

I loved your letter. From where I sit, it's very easy to tell when someone has the true calling, and it sure sounds like you have it. One of the telltale signs is that you don't seem to be in it for the fame, or because you think it will fix all your problems, or because you have a miserable life, but simply because you have to. And I find that inspiring. You remind me of my own passion for acting, which also appeared at an early age.

Now, some of what I'm going to tell you, you already know: You're 14. So this can't happen without your parents' permission. At 14, you can't just go, much as you might want to. And honestly, that's a good thing. As mature and ready as you are, you still need to collaborate with adults who may be a bit more savvy about the world. But don't despair just yet. I have an idea or two.

Okay, first: Many young aspiring actors, while unable to convince their parents to move, are successful in convincing them that one parent should take them to L.A. for a visit—ideally for several months, maybe for pilot season or episodic season, just to see what it's like. I find that many parents are afraid of L.A. Once they see that most of us TV folks are just normal people trying to make a living, they're less so. And they'd also have the opportunity to talk to other parents of kid actors here. So talk to your folks and see whether they'd consider that.

Next, I'm going to give you the old “bloom where you're planted” speech. I know a bit about Maryland, having worked in Baltimore for five seasons on “The Wire.” I know there's acting work there—less than in L.A. and New York, yes, but it's not as if there's nothing going on. And what you have to your advantage is this: There aren't a lot of 14-year-olds pursuing this with your gusto, so you might do well.

Seek out local agents. (But make sure they're not scams! No legitimate agent or manager charges up-front fees. They get paid only if you book a job. Don't work with anyone who asks for money or promises to make you famous.) Look into taking classes with top-notch area theaters like Centerstage and Everyman Theatre, where you could talk to professionals about what to do next, meet with their casting people, and ask their advice on things. At this point, you could benefit from interacting with people who do this professionally. I'm also going to forward your letter to a few friends and associates from there and see if they have other ideas.

Hang in there. I'm taking your letter seriously. In spite of your age, I can tell you mean business!

What followed was an exchange that included advice from two Baltimore-based professionals and an update from Relentless. Then, just the other day, this:

Hey, Michael!

I have good news! My parents gave more consideration to my career, and we are going out to L.A. for the summer to meet with agents and managers. I'm so excited, and thanks to your advice, my dream is starting to come true and become more real every single day! We are even looking into buying a condo out there! Thanks again.


Questions for The Working Actor? Send an email to [email protected]. Thank you!