After reading an article on FastCompany.com about Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, regarding the hidden trials and tribulations of successful creative artists arriving at their success, I knew I had to write about a recent victory. Look, great things happen to me all the time, but this is probably the most fortuitous occurrence of my entertainment career to date, and I know they will continue with grandeur, in fact I expect it.
One Monday afternoon, I was feeling at odds. I wasn’t down, just in a mental state of what to do next to move my career forward. I’m looking for a new theatrical agent, therefore, I was brainstorming interesting ways to follow up with the targeted agents I’ve reached out to thus far. I was thinking myself into a stupor and beginning to feel angst as nothing was surfacing. My intuition told me to stop everything and go to the beach to release the anxiety and get clarity. That is one of the joys of living in Los Angeles, I can drop everything, jump in my car and make a pilgrimage to Malibu. It took me all of 25 minutes. I pulled my stadium chair out of my trunk , which is there purposely for extemporaneous trips to the beach, grabbed my fleece, a scarf and a bottle of water. There is this small remote part off of PCH that is seldom inhabited. I sat there in the sun, oh how I love the sun, it gives me energy and warms my blood. I inhaled the ocean breeze, watched the fast paced movement of birds feet and said prayers of thanks and gratitude. I tend to ask questions of the sun when I’m there. I surrendered my anxiety along with the unclear thoughts that had caused it. After 90 minutes, I felt light, back to my joyful self, I threw everything back into the trunk and headed home.
Once home, I sat at the computer to catch up on emails, when my phone rang, it was Central Casting calling. I pondered whether or not to answer it because I’d rather hear the message prior deciding if I’d accept any work they were calling me for. I hadn’t worked background in 10 months and typically only do it when my finances are lean. I let it go to voicemail, once I retrieved it I learned that I had been picture picked for 2 days of featured background work and needed to go to Valencia the next day. Since I was free those days, I thought why not, I’ll make $300 and I get to be on set. I love being on set. I returned the casting director’s call and received the details for the next day.
Tuesday morning came and I was begrudging saying yes to the interview because now I had to drive 30 miles to Valencia, from LA, which sounded really far, especially early in the morning when I’d have to deal with possible traffic. I pushed through it dressed myself for the part and headed out. It took 30 minutes to get there with no traffic, a breeze. Upon arrival I noticed there were 2 other ladies there to interview for the featured background position. I was chosen to go first, was brought into a room and introduced to the executive producer of the show and the director of that episode. Their friendliness put me at ease. I put my things down, looked each of them in the eye as I shook their hands. The director invited me to sit down next to him. He stared at me for a few seconds and thought out loud, “let’s see, what should I have you do.” I was perplexed and awkwardly repeated what he said back to him. “Uh, what should you have me do? He asked me who my favorite musician was. Me having an undercurrent of nervousness began to stammer and said well, uh, I don’t know how to answer that, there are so many musicians that I like, uh. He said just chose one. I said, okay, well, I like a gentleman named Donny Hathaway, and just as I was about to name another artist the director interrupted me and said great stand up and sing something by him. Well, I’m an improvisor and I’ve sung many solos with the choir of my church, so I said okay, stood up and sang the first two verses of a “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.” The director stopped me and said that’s fine. I sat down, and he asked me if I could act. I was flabbergasted, so offended at the is question, but of course he has to ask, he doesn’t know me. I simply said yes. He asked me what roles had I played. I told him my last TV credit was Terriers, opposite Donal Logue. His eyes widened while inquiring “that’s uh Ryan’s?” I said yes, Shawn Ryan wrote on it. He said okay, then he told me what the role was and what they were looking for. I said okay, I can do that. I suggested that he view my reel, and he said thank you but not right now and I was sent to the waiting area where the other 2 ladies were waiting. One of the ladies asked if that was me they heard singing, I said yes, he asked me to sing. She became nervous and said she hoped he didn’t ask her to sing. She was up next, and guess what, he asked her to sing. Now, she wasn’t a singer, but to her detriment, in my opinion, she didn’t commit to it. The final woman went in and she really didn’t commit to it, so much so the director asked her to sing it like James Brown with some conviction. If I had to speculate, I’d say the director was looking for commitment. I’ve witnessed a woman sing a song horribly, voice cracking, off key, but she was so affected by the words and the meaning of the song she brought the entire room to tears. Not being able to sing was not an excuse, in this scenario. The director and executive producer made their choice right then and there, I was the one hired. I was given my dates and told to visit wardrobe.
The day before my work date, I was at my internship and had missed a call from an unrecognizable phone number. When my shift ended I listened to the voicemail. It was the casting office of the show I was to be a featured background on, they said since I had played this role on the show before, they wanted to know if I could audition for a part. I was confused by this message, I returned the call and explained to the assistant that I was hired to work featured background for the role and hadn’t worked the show previously. She was unaware of my status and said that she needed to check with production and that she’d call me back. Twenty minutes later she called me back to say, Yes, the producers want you to audition. She gave me 3 options. 1. Put myself on tape and email it to their office that night. 2. If I wrapped before 5:30 the next day to come to their office at Paramount Studios, in LA, to audition for their office. 3. Come early Thursday morning to audition for them. Since I had never been in to read for that office, I wanted to meet them and audition in person. The plan was set, I’d either audition for them on Wednesday before 5:30 or early Thursday morning.
Day one of my featured background work day. I arrived to set early. Had my wardrobe approved and sat around for a few hours while production completed a scene. I waited in the quiet sound stage used as a holding area for background. Next up was my scene. We blocked and rehearsed it, and then broke for lunch for 30 minutes. While at lunch I met a young girl who was working as a stand in. We had a great chat, she and her twin sister had just moved to LA from Chicago. We discussed theatre and LA culture. after about 20 minutes she began to head back to set. I checked my phone for emails to find the casting director of the show had sent me a message that I wouldn’t be wrapping until 5:30 and they needed to get my audition on tape that night. I texted 2 friends and asked if they’d be available to put me on tape that evening. One responded quickly with a yes. I wrote the casting director and told her I’d have the taped audition to her by the latest 8pm, to which she responded, they actually needed it asap. They understood that I was on set, and asked me to get someone to film me maybe using my iPhone. A mild sensation of panic crept up on me. And then I remembered, oh I just met someone, the girl. She would understand, we had just been discussing self-taped auditions. I went to set to ask her to film me, but she was already in position, the production was getting the lighting ready. That meant she could not leave her post and my scene was shooting next. I had to think fast. Fortunately, I had brought my iPad and I had the scene that I was auditioning for loaded on my phone App called Rehearsal. A colleague created the App a few years ago I use it for all of my line memorization. I returned to the holding area, that sound stage was quiet, I was able to record my two scenes in the bathroom. I wish I had video recording of this ordeal, I’m sure it was funny. I propped my iPad on the toilet paper holder in the handicapped stall. used my iPhone with the Rehearsal App to play the lines of the other character. Shot 3-4 takes of each scene, then rushed back to set. They were looking for me because they were ready to shoot the scene. Thankfully, my character of the featured background scene was carrying a purse. I was able to put my iPad and iPhone in the purse to edit the clips in-between takes. First I had to use my iPhone as a hotspot for my iPad to email the clips from my iPad. Once I had the clips emailed I downloaded them to my iPhone, opened them in iMovie, edited the two clips together and added a fade from black transition with my name. My underarm pits were hot and itchy, my fingers were achy from moving so fast, and still this is all in between takes and I’m praying the a.d. doesn’t tell me to put my phone away. Most times phones aren’t allowed on set from fear of spoilers being leaked. Finally, I finished the editing and sent it to the casting director asking her to disregard the buzzing of the fluorescent bathroom light that was present in my self tape, and to let me know if she needed a cleaner version. For twenty minutes I checked my phone, repeatedly, for her response every time the director yelled “Cut.” She replied she had received it and it was perfect. I breathed a sigh of relief, realized I needed to pay and was wrapped at 5:45p.
The next morning I was off from shooting. I was up early and pondering if I should call one of the agents I had been targeting for the past 4 months to negotiate my deal in the event I booked the role. I concluded that I would not, since they hadn’t already taken a chance on me, I wouldn’t bribe my way to a consideration. I decided instead to ask my commercial agent if they’d assist me. Ive been represented by them for 6 years and have a great relationship with them, why not give 10% to the people who already believe in my ability. I began making breakfast, while my chicken sausage cooked, I checked my emails. The casting director wrote me to congratulate me on booking the role and inquired if I had an agent to close the deal or if I wanted to close the deal myself. I was so elated. I emailed my commercial agent and when she didn’t respond back two me in the whole two minutes I waited, I called her directly. She was happy for me and they were able to close the deal. It turned out to be a multi-day co-star role. I had unconventionally booked a co-star role on the season finale of a national network show. In total I worked 5 days, including the 2 days of featured background, playing opposite the star and executive producer of the show. Because the show has been on for 10 seasons, it was a well oiled machine of veteran cast and crew. Everyone on the set treated me like family. At the top of the table read, each cast mate, the director, the writer and executive producer walked around the table and shook the hands of the guests and introduced themselves. It’s the warmest reception I’ve ever experienced, but I’m still new to this. This kind gesture alleviated any fear or intimidation a guest of the show may have had. This is the ideal show that I’d like to be a series regular on.
The first day of my co-star shoot, I was beyond ready. I was fearless. These people said “Yes” to me and I wasn’t going to make them sorry for upgrading a featured extra. The “Luck equals Opportunity plus Preparation” was in full effect here. I’ve been training since 1996. I was more than prepared.
I had a phenomenal time. So much so I sent thank you cards to everyone I had a personal interaction with.
This is one of those golden moments where I couldn’t have known to wish for an easier way to gain access. All because I said Yes to each obstacle. There were so many opportunities for me to say NO. I could have said No to the voicemail or not returned the call. I could’ve said No I don’t want to drive to Valencia. I could have said No I can’t put myself on tape while I’m on set. My thinking was I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. There was no time to complain, forward motion needed to happen immediately. I gained a fresh television credit from a well known syndicated network show and the experience was rich. I learned that I’m ready for anything and I am more prepared than I give myself credit for. The definition of Luck is, success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions. This experience could be defined as luck, but only partially, my constant actions played a tremendous role in making it happen. One thing I know about myself is, I can make anything work.