Acting for the Long Haul: Go Big or Go Home


Dani Lennon 1So you want to be an Actor? Three words determine if you are fit for this industry. Mind, Body and Soul. The first rule to live by as an actor whether you are just starting out or a seasoned veteran: Hollywood is a business first and an art second.

MIND: Be an intelligent actor. Know your type, your brand if you will and sell it! Recognize your unique voice, your individual journey and run with it. There is only one YOU so trust it and rock it.

BODY: Take care of yourself. Novices may not know this but us experienced actors know that those set hours can and will be grueling. Treat your body with respect and get as much rest as you can. By no means does anyone have to be the perfect sized zero supermodel, the chiseled action hero, overweight or the stereotypical disheveled club/party goer that is fuel for tabloid fodder. Just be healthy so you can stand the test of time.

Last…SOUL: No matter what religious orientation, spiritual or political views that one identifies with, be confident in those convictions. This is food for our souls. The beauty of acting on the artistic side is drawing from our beliefs, emotions and life experiences. Art imitates life. If we are not content with ourselves how can we be sound enough in Mind, Body and soul to break through in Hollywood?

All of us at one point or another may have all or none of these rules down, but we should aspire to get there. Not just as Actors but as human beings. While we work on our minds, bodies and souls the phrase I like to use to help myself be proactive in my career is: Go big or go home! When I use this expression I am not referring to stepping on others and desperately taking any means necessary to achieve fame, stardom and or wealth. I am saying Hustle! Hustling is in direct correlation with networking. We’ve all been to the good, bad and ugly networking parties where one can smell the desperation off of the actor throwing him or herself into conversations and handing out their business cards like an automatic pez dispenser on crack. Don’t do that! Don’t be a wallflower either. Have the intension of going to these parties to meet new friends and if the opportunity presents itself to hand over a business card or a few to fellow professionals then it’s been a good night. When a genuine connection, business development and or a friendship is formed then there is trust. Those individuals will call you in for work. I promise! I have formed real friendships and bonds with Casting Directors and they continue to call me in.

Take your career into your own hands! Do not wait for the phone to ring! Do not expect your agent to do all of the work! SUBMIT YOURSELF for projects. Three years ago before ‘The Walking Dead’ there was a new rise in the popularity of zombie pieces. When I saw on breakdowns that they were casting a web series entitled ‘Bite Me’ I decided to submit myself. Low and behold the director was a work acquaintance. Three years later he is now a dear friend but the point is rather than being worried about stepping on toes I asked the director directly what would be the best way to submit to the casting director. He gave me instructions and even a referral. Like every actor that went in, I had to work my butt off and fight for a role and I did. Regardless of knowing that director I earned that role fair and square. I got in because I had the courage and moxie to go after what I wanted. I was so excited to fight zombies and just have a good time. To my surprise that web series drew in more than 15 million views and became a short lived but popular television series. That little series however, gave me a fighting chance in this town. A bad ass Agent took notice of me and fortunately I am going out often for big studios and television series. I could not be more grateful and I am very excited for what the future will hold. For those of us who at one point or another who have lacked a productive agent, do the casting workshops! They are so beneficial. It was such great practice for me as an Actor. I did get called in for a few gigs after a workshop or two but they prepared me to be in front of well known casting directors who I now see on a regular basis.

Be as versatile as possible and well rounded. If you are musical, can write, do stunts, special skills, etc, use all of those talents to create innovative content. In two of my former pieces A Typecast Departure & Writing for Yourself: The Return of the Female Lead I describe writing your own projects. With the lack of originality today in Hollywood it is the era of remakes and book franchises where the roles are being offered to name talent only. There was a time when actors could get into the business without being Hollywood Royalty or working since childhood but those times have changed. Get your face out there with your personal creations!

Finally there is the test of time. Are you in it for the long haul? Every year thousands of aspiring actors proceed to Hollywood on a mission to become the next big star. Sadly most will become a statistic. Ninety Percent of these actors are naive and come unprepared for a career. Those Ninety Percent will leave within the first three years. Over a course of ten years a surprising less than one percent of the original transplants will remain. Those that leave were most likely a product of an environment where they were hailed as talented, popular and good looking and did not realize that acting is really a CAREER, an intense and competitive field. No matter how gifted you are as an artist there is so much more to Hollywood than just that. Those that stand the test of time will understand.

The best piece of advice I have ever been given was by the casting director Wayne Morse. It changed my life. He stated ‘Do not ever put a time frame on your acting career’ If you give yourself a number such as three to ten years than you are limiting yourself. If you REALLY truly want to be an actor and cannot live without performing than regardless of your age you will succeed. There will be a place for you. Look at Hellen Mirren, Jessica Chastain, Kate Walsh and Octavia Spencer! Success didn’t come to either of these women at 22 and they are killing it in our field. What an inspiration. Collectively I have been in the entertainment industry for about twenty years (I started very young). Regardless of my experience that did not give me a leg. Most of the time it’s about who you know and how you can get in those doors. I’ve had to work my ass off to climb the ranks and get seen and I’m doing it! You can too!

I will leave you with this. Don’t become a statistic! If you are in this industry for fame & fortune go home! Get the hell out of here so that us serious actors can do our jobs. Armed with mind, body, soul, originality and moxie, these tools will guide us to become the greats. Let’s take this Industry back and show Hollywood what we are made of. I’m not even close to throwing in the towel. Are you?