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This week I decided to share something a little different… how I got started in the biz. It’s not a vanity piece (I hope!), but sometimes I just find it so discouraging to read another interview with a celebrity – the newest, hottest 21 year old, who had showbiz parents, went to Hollywood high, attended Yale Drama School and then Uncle Steven (Spielberg) offered them a “small part”.
We’ve all heard that story before, or something similar. And while I really and truly am happy for people have that kind of wild success, for most of us, we just didn’t have those options or opportunities. If this is you, read on!
I have worked in the entertainment industry all my adult life. I don’t know that this was so much a choice as a happy accident… Or maybe not so happy! Believe me, there have been many days when I questioned this. The entertainment industry is something I really just kind of fell into. Yeah sure I went to drama school, but I also took fashion design. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do but somehow I thought it was going to be in the public eye. In truth, I don’t think I’d really considered acting as a “career”. I went to college as a way of getting out of a small city I hated and to escape an unhealthy family situation. Where I grew up nobody did “acting” as a career. I didn’t know any professional actors, I didn’t grow up anywhere near New York or LA, and I didn’t come from a show business family. So how have I ended up in front of a camera, on-stage and behind a microphone my entire adult life? Short answer: I love it.
My journey started out in ballet, not just as a three-year-old turning circles with her arms above her head, but I seriously wanted to be a ballerina. From as early as I can remember I was captivated by prima ballerinas. The costumes were mesmerizing, and I was intrigued at the idea of being on stage, but what really fascinated me was the incredible feats that professional ballet dancers could perform with their exceptionally well-trained bodies. Fast forward: a gym rat in the making.
I didn’t get to study ballet really young, I grew up phenomenally poor. But somehow when I was an older kid my mom found the money for weekly classes, and my favorite aunt sent me to a live-in ballet school and summer – I was in heaven! But soon my body started to mature, money for dance lessons have evaporated, and it became apparent that being a prima ballerina wasn’t in my future. But by an incredible coincidence, my favorite art teacher also happened to be a dance teacher, and also a part-time theater director. She started a before-school program to teach modern theatre dance. For where I lived this was the poorest and worst neighborhood, so in retrospect she was one of my angels. A bunch of us sweated it out at 7am every day, and I got a part time job so I could take more theatre dance classes on the weekend. She had picked a bunch of us for chorus line work in a musical she was directing. After that she had me audition for a lead in a play – I was terrified and didn’t want to do it, but I also didn’t want to disappoint a woman who was changing my life. So I auditioned… and got it.
Of course you can guess I loved it! Acting was the next best thing in the world to dance for me, but I STILL didn’t consider doing acting for a living. Her and another teacher pressed me to apply for college as soon as I could. College took up the next few years of my life and still not living in New York or LA or a cool European country where I could be a chic and artsy type, I grabbed a job in a bar because I was tired of the “starving” part in student and decided I’d figure life out as I went along.
Then a bunch of really serendipitous things happened + a few conscious steps:
Open Calls: A Long Shot
ONE: Someone from an ad agency came into the bar looking for hot girls (I was 😂) for a beer commercial. I showed up at an open call with 400 girls … and booked it.
Everything Starts With Photos
TWO: Another girl working at the same bar told me she was starting to do modeling and commercials. She had done a photoshoot with a retired supermodel turned stylist and make-up artist and her photographer daughter. They were fab and the pics were amazing – I was on board!
Also read: What is An Actor’s Headshot and Why Do You Need One
Crickets Happen Sometimes
THREE: I had the beer posters and commercial thing going so I thought what-the-hay and started sending out pictures to agents…. But I had no resume. Crickets. Crickets and more crickets.
Background Work… works!
FOUR: I met another girl who was doing background work on big budget feature films that came to town. Short notice, last minute work, long hours, lots of cold over nights, crappy pay, but I did get paid, they fed me, got to rub elbows with Hollywood heavy hitters and REALLY start to learn about the biz.
Also read: How To Be An Extra in a Movie…. No Auditions, No Experience!
Acting Classes Are Mandatory
FIVE: I decided it was time to start to take this acting thing seriously. I enrolled in more acting classes and started working for free in student films.
Also read: How To Find The Best Acting Class for You
There’s Money to Be Made On-Camera.. Everywhere!
SIX: I bumped into a girl I went to school with, who was then living in the same building as me and she was making a living modeling on The Home Shopping Channel .. or Network ….. or something. She also did catalogue work and hand modeling and said I should try it since I was already kind of hovering around the industry. She pointed me in the right direction to get started with that. Still doing it.
Build Your Resume to Get Your First Agent
SEVEN: After two years of busting my butt doing background work, taking acting classes, acting for free in student films and shorts, building my resume, taking new modeling pics and acting headshots, talking to anyone I could in the business and asking for advice and knocking on a hundred doors… I FINALLY got an agent!
She was cool and knew her way around the biz and really took me under her wing. She got me a few modeling gigs and I thought I was on my way to Hollywood! Not so fast Cinderella! The cool agent did a few things that were… well not so cool. She quit the biz shortly after that and left town and has never been heard from since. And I was back to no agent and crickets.
Commercials Are An Easy In
EIGHT: Two more agents came and went and I started doing trade show presenting. They wanted trained, pretty actors who could memorize large blocks of technical dialogue, get up on stage in front of a few thousand people and work a microphone. I met women there that I am friends with to this day. In the meantime they shared everything they knew about the business with me. And after two more years of hustling, taking classes and submitting, I signed with the agent of my dreams! She was a Modeling and Commercial agent who got me auditioning and working every day of the week. Bookings would overlap and auditions would overlap. But it got me clearly established and working in the biz.
That was in Toronto, Canada 2 decades ago. My career has continued to evolve and change. There have been a lot of ups and downs, some really amazing experiences and wonderful jobs. There have also been others that were dreadful, in the middle of the night, where people were short tempered and tired, and I had to be surrounded in heat-shields so the lights, perfect for the product I was holding but way too close for human contact, didn’t set me on fire – no kidding.
I have been left in a parking lot when the film crew forgot me. Stranded on an island with no one who spoke fluent English and no internet or tv because it was taken out by a hurricane level storm that was preventing the film crew from flying in. And most recently sipped champagne at a swanky Netflix party in Beverly Hills, where I now live.
Never could I have ever predicted this career path, but looking back I can see that every single thing hinged on me making a decision, having steely determination, taking myself seriously and taking the next step. Clearly, I haven’t had the seemingly too-typical Hollywood meteoric rise to fame. For me just getting to Hollywood was a major struggle, but I’ve made a full-time living as an Actress, Model and Voice Over Artist for the last 25 years. And you can too!
I’m not sure if I can help you with overnight super-stardom, but I can help you avoid a bunch of nasty pitfalls and load you up with some seriously wicked short cuts in this biz. Mostly because I haven’t had it easy, I didn’t grow up in LA or even the U.S. and that clear “Become An Actor” career path just wasn’t available to me. Yet I STILL made it work; I am making it work. And having a tonne of fun in the process. I’m cheering for you! And hey… I’m pretty sure that fame and fortune are just a determined decision and a series of next steps away.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, comment and any questions below. xo Hunter
p.s. Like it? Love it? Be sure to share, tweet, pin, post or send it to an actor friend. It’s a tough biz and we could all use a little help!
* Please Note: I am not an agent, manager, or casting director. I do not procure work for actors. All information, workshops and coaching are for educational purposes only and are not a guarantee or promise of employment. Thank you for being here!
That’s a very cool story Hunter! Thx for sharing 🙂
You’re welcome! 🙂