It’s funny when people ask me what I do for a living, and I say “oh, I’m an actor” and they look at me like a puppy discovering a new sound; I get the cock of the head and the zoom of the eyes with the face of “OH REALLY?” and I have to put the addendum of “I was a child actor, went to college, and then came back to the business and luckily I’ve been able to steadily work since then.” The moment “child actor” leaves my lips is when their shoulders and face relax and they begin to nod and smile, like “OH OKAY NEVERMIND YOU ACTUALLY ARE AN ACTOR” which simultaneously aggravates me (I wasn’t lying or playing it up, bro) and makes me feel accomplished (look ma, I have a career!), but then I think about how, while I have been blessed and lucky to be able to work and be able to do what I love as my job, I am bridging the gap and how the life I imagined at 16 is SO different than the life I have at 26 (yep, I’m 26 but still look 17 and play high school/college aged characters. I still get carded at the ArcLight sometimes for buying movie tickets. It’s pretty great.)
To back up, there is some backstory that needs to be put in play. I am originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and thanks to my own personal drive and a mother who was just as supportive, I started coming out to Los Angeles when I was 13 years old, signed with my first agent, and auditioned on a part-time basis. I actually booked a few jobs that I couldn’t do for one reason or another, like being an exchange student in France or that whole “still living in Tulsa” thing, but after I left traditional schooling at 15 and began to do independent study and tested out of High School, I booked my first job, the starring role in the IFC Films feature “Pizza” with Ethan Embry. Shortly after “Pizza” wrapped, I began wracking up television credits, most notably recurring roles on “Desperate Housewives” and “Complete Savages,” and I was taking meetings, going on HUGE auditions, and I constantly thought “this is what I get to do for the rest of my life, this is AMAZING.” I was never to the level of teenage celebrity, but I was known for my work as a kid and was always brought in on the higher levels of the casting process and went to premieres and did press, so I was living the high life as far as I was concerned. While recurring on “Complete Savages,” I started college early at 17 and juggled work with school, and ended up transferring to USC, which was my dream school. I knew the transition would be difficult, so I put things on hold for a while. I wanted to enjoy college, the social life (of which I was crowned “The Chancellor of Shenanigans”), the extracurricular opportunities (I got to train in motion capture, write my own solo performance show and be in a German, Brechtian 1930’s play with a Burlesque opening…if those aren’t the most varied experiences, I have no idea what else would be), and do well in my classes, plus I had burgundy red hair, and after a few bumps in the career arena, I just decided taking a year off and enjoying things would be best. Residuals were saving the day, and my parents wanted me to focus on two things: school and getting my career set up for when I was ready to return, so I didn’t really mind taking time off, especially since I ended up booking an episode of “Greek” during my summer WRIT-340 class between my junior and senior year of college (a 12 page paper was due the day between the table read and when I was working. I didn’t sleep much that week) and enjoyed travelling and having some grown-up play time. When I graduated from USC, I thought my transition would be pretty smooth; I signed with a new agent, still had my manager by my side, and I was auditioning constantly my senior year and getting VERY close on a number of projects and booked “Squaresville,” so I was back in my groove. Smooth sailing, sitting pretty, I thought I dodged the bullet…I was SO wrong.
My transition from Child Actor to College to Real World has been anything but smooth. I ended up having a major career transition in 2011 and picked up the pieces to the point where I was back on track and have worked steadily, but since then, it’s been one of the most difficult processes I’ve had in my life. The business is completely different from when I started; hell, it’s different than LAST YEAR, and I have to constantly fight tooth and nail. That’s not to say I don’t have people fighting for me; I have the best manager a girl could ask for that has repped me off and on for 10 years (first as my television agent as a kid and then I signed with her for management when I aged out of my old manager’s roster; my old manager is still part of my family though!) and she’s the older sister I never had, plus I have a brand new commercial agent and I work with an attorney if necessary, so I have a great team. The biggest problem in my transition is that my type is just so different from when I was a kid to now. To be frank, I was a fat kid, so I could go out for blanket “fat” roles, regardless if they were leads or character roles. Now, I’ve grown up and I look different, but I’m not deemed “Hollywood” gorgeous, which has its own pressure since I don’t look like Mila Kunis. Being a young actor who is deemed “character” and not “ingénue” or “leading lady” means that even though I’m a big fish in a small pond, it’s a VERY small pond and I’m rarely seen as anything but as the ‘character’ type, which means the amount of auditions I go on is very small compared to most of my friends and colleagues and it’s hard to break type when so much is already against you. Also, since I am considered a dinosaur in this business but I’m not considered a ‘name’ actor, the amount of roles I have lost out on in the past several years is a hard pill to swallow. I’ve even received the “when are you going to quit and move on” question a lot lately from people I never expected (like I can just simply throw in the towel and move on when I literally don’t know anything else outside of the entertainment industry). Basically, if 16 year old me saw where I was now, she would be horrified. Yet somehow, I still hold on. I don’t know if it comes from a place of spite or determination, but even when I’ve had glimpses of how different and comfortable my life could be if I just quit and got a job in marketing or finance or something that on my most difficult days I scream “WHY COULDN’T I JUST BE AN ACCOUNTANT OR SOMETHING,” there is something about acting and performing that I HAVE to do. I cannot do anything else with my life; if I could, I would’ve gotten out of the business a long time ago, but I cannot, and until then, I just have to suck it up and soldier on. No one ever said this was easy, which I’m the first person to admit that, but the transition from child actor to ACTOR is infinitely more difficult, but we’ll make it work.