I moved out to Los Angeles to become an actor and the first thing I learned is that everyone hates you.
There are three stages to Los Angeles relationships:
We begin with The Judgmental Acquaintance. You will not be able to hold a conversation with a single human being without getting at least one eye roll at your hopes and dreams – even (or especially) if theirs are the same. You are immediately reduced to a cliche and they will never bother to get to know you beyond that.
Then there’s The Competition. If your one conversation turns into multiple conversations, which so seldom happens in this town, the next question to you is essentially, “how so?” How do you plan to overcome your cliche? What makes you think your shit is so worthwhile that you’ll move to a different town, work your shitty jobs for such shit pay for a couple of shitty years until you can prove to everyone that your shit is the shit? What gives you the right to add yourself to the ever-growing population of the most hopelessly stereotypical representation of the failed American Dream? Because Lord knows they don’t need any more competition.
And if you make it past “acquaintance” and through the “competition” stage, the next conversation comes from – my favorite of the LA relationships – the Unwelcome Mentor. They have probably lived in Los Angeles for at least one week longer than you have, and therefor know everything about everything. They’ve already given up on their dreams and they would be glad to advise you on how to do so for yourself. They will either tell you to do things that you are already doing, like “keep at it” or “don’t give up!”; or, they’ll tell you to do things that sound eerily like giving up, like “why don’t you just move back home for awhile?” or “why don’t you just become a bartender?” or “why don’t you just toss aside that cute little ‘acting’ hobby and commit yourself to climbing up the ladder at your soul-sucking day job?”
When people talk about liking everything about LA except the people, this is what they mean. Everyone is either shoving unwelcome advice down your throat, viewing you as competition, or judging you for thinking the way you think about your own life. And the worst part is that, on most occasions, it’s actually all three at once.
So, it didn’t take me long after moving out here to pretty much dismiss my dream entirely. I think it was approximately three months before I decided not to pursue acting at all. Maybe I will just try climbing up the ladders. After all, I needed a steady paycheck, and the competition was right – who was I to rank myself among them? I hardly had experience, I couldn’t afford to take any classes – I can hardly afford rent, car insurance and student loans, let alone a new set of head shots. Was it ever going to be worth it to keep aspiring to acting?
I was fortunate enough to have a (welcome) mentor explain to me why I had already given up on acting before I had even started. He explained to me the evils of being an “aspiring actor.” What was it I was aspiring to? Was I aspiring to see my name on a marquee, may face on a billboard? Was I aspiring to an Oscar or a Golden Globe? Was I aspiring to be a role model for the youth of America, or a sexual fantasy for fans? Because most are. If they’re “aspiring,” it’s because they have an end goal in mind, an image of what it means to have “made it,” to have nothing left to aspire to.
But if I wanted to act because I like to act… then I should act.
It took me half a year to interpret that.
There is no such thing as an aspiring actor. If you are pursuing acting as a career, you are an actor. If you take improv classes once a year because you think they’re fun, you’re an actor. If you played Prince Charming in your elementary school’s rendition of Cinderella, you’re an actor. If you aspire to act, then you save up to take the classes, you sell yourself to the agents, you go out to auditions and fail miserably, and all of those things make you an actor.
The beauty and joy of being an actor is that the aspiration is the job. We don’t have to start in the mail room then work our way up to assistant then work our way up to junior agent then work our way into a more prestigious agency then work our way up to what-the-fuck-ever in order to achieve our title. We just are. Which is why everyone else in Los Angeles hates us so much. Because even though we, too, have to work VERY HARD to get where we want to be long-term, our hard work is doing what we love. Doing it as often as possible and as well as we can. All the time. You may be paying the bills as a barista and not gotten a callback in two years, but as long as you’re trying, you’re a God-damn actor.
It’s that last part that stumps most people. It stumped me for my first year here. I didn’t really try because I wasn’t really sure because it was really scary. What if I never “made it?” Well, as the wise Donald Glover put it, “The second you say you’ve made it, you’ve failed.” In other words, “The joy is in the journey, not the destination.” And, you know, all that other cheesy shit that people say to make them feel better about their shitty lives. But seriously, if you’re not enjoying the journey, it may be time to try a different path. Or at least try cutting across the woods to jump onto the one you meant to follow in the first place.
I didn’t move to Los Angeles to become an actor. I moved to Los Angeles because I am one. And because I like the beach.