“Part of the test of becoming a working actor is being able to be resilient and work through those road blocks in whatever way you can.” – Jenna Fischer
Jenna Fischer has likely gotten used to being called “Pam” since she will forever be identified with her character on The Office. Now, in addition to being an actress (and Pam), Fischer is now an author. Late last year she released The Actor’s Life, A Survival Guide, in which she shares her successes and failures (mostly failures… at least at first) while trying to make it as an actor in Hollywood. To promote the book, she did a Q&A with the University of Arizona’s Daily Wildcat and shared her advice on making it as an actor.
Fischer has some direct advice for those who wish to pursue acting but are generally introverted. She explains, “I would advise them to join an acting class. A class provides structure and an immediate community which will allow you to connect with other people. Branching out and collaborating with others will help you in the long run.”
Beyond that, Fischer has more important words regarding one of the most difficult hurdles faced by novice actors — scams (a much younger Fischer auditioned for an “International Spice Girls group” that turned out to be a scam). She says, “There has to be a type of common sense that you employ when you are looking for acting work and sometimes, like myself, I would be so blinded by my own ambition that I would ignore clear warning signs or clear red flags.”
Other common sense things include, for example, if you live in a place like Omaha, Nebraska, it is very unlikely that a real top casting agent or talent agent is scouting your city. Don’t pay that person $300 to audition for them because most likely they don’t really work for that agency that they are trying to represent.
It is important to do investigative work and make sure that all of the factors check out. You shouldn’t have to pay for an audition, ever. Casting directors are paid by the movie or television studios, not paid by the actors.
Keep in mind that sometimes, people prey on newcomers and their lack of knowledge about how the system works so be aware of your surroundings and source of information.
In addition, Fischer is familiar with how frustrating the process can be, especially when one hasn’t landed a job in some time. She has encouraging words for those who find themselves in that common position:
Don’t start to believe that you don’t have what it takes just because you’re facing road blocks and frustration. Part of the test of becoming a working actor is being able to be resilient and work through those road blocks in whatever way you can.
As long as you are getting messages and small successes along the way, you need to have a good judgment of your progress. If you are in the same place you were four years ago, then maybe this isn’t the thing for you or maybe you are simply not doing the right thing to get ahead.
If you are getting callbacks, have a talent agent and each year is better than the last, then you are probably on the right track.
When asked by the interviewer to provide her “number one lesson,” Fischer encourages actors to go into business for themselves by creating their own opportunities. She says:
The number one lesson is that you must create your own work with other artists and create your own momentum. You can’t wait for other people to jump and give you jobs.
A huge part of your learning and readiness regarding being prepared for a professional actor’s life is going to come from practicing your craft with other artists like you. Everybody I know that is an actor has side projects.
Will Ferrell is a great example of this. He is always making little YouTube videos with his friends or creating Funny or Die (the website) and making short films, etc. He is not doing this because he is getting a huge paycheck, he is a creative person who is compelled to create content that he loves.
You need to have that energy in order to be successful in this business. The single biggest piece of advice that I have for people is to tap into that energy and get started now.