My First Guest Star Aired This Weekend.
Not a co-star. Not a featured extra. A whole ass guest star. (This is going to be a read.)
But first, I want to tell you why this means so much to me.
At the very beginning of my "career" I started out in LA, like many Hollywood hopefuls looking for a shot at stardom do. It's a story rife with heartbreak, disappointment, frustration, and loneliness. The entirety of my time out there I spent it living in my car. No, for real. I would eventually retreat back to Atlanta after that became untenable for over a year. There was no movement and I was tired of not finding ways to even stay above water. Naturally, I was embarrassed and ashamed. I felt like a complete loser and the definition of failure. Anyway, I struggled with deciding on how much I wanted to share about what the journey has been like for me. After all, who would even care? It's not like I "made it" and am a real star with inordinate talent, on my way to superstardom and red carpet events, with a story to tell so people could say, "Wow, look, a real rags to riches story!" It's easy to feel like a bonafide nobody in this industry, when you can go entire years without ever getting into any rooms and industry "experts/professionals" telling you that you are unemployable. But I am happy to tell you, sometimes even these people are wrong. And that's really what I want to talk about.
"Everyone that works as an actor and is successful has a certain "IT" quality. And I just don't see "IT" in you." - Industry Professional
It was a chilly "winter" night in LA and I was toiling away on my beat up old laptop at a coffee shop in the valley. It was late, but I needed access to the power outlet because, you know, I was homeless. Long story short, I had made a friend that I'd see there every now and then and we bonded over certain things in pop culture we both enjoyed and had in common. He would that night reveal himself to be someone with, let's just say, a very respectable career in Hollywood. I then reciprocated with my own lifelong dreams of being an actor. The conversation quickly went south from there. I could see his face contort with the familiar, "Ugh, another one," that I've grown accustom to seeing in that town whenever I expressed what I was doing in LA. I told him about what some of my challenges were when he told me, with a matter of fact tone of voice that made me feel that much more small, that of course I was having these problems. That you can just tell who has "IT" and who doesn't. A certain quality that stars apparently just have. And he could plainly tell that I didn't have "IT" in me. Satisfied with his own assessment of me, he returned to working on his laptop seemingly without consideration for what impact his words might have had. Suffice it to say, I was crushed. I packed my things, slinked back into my 2012 Mazda 3, drove to my overnight parking/sleeping spot, and just sat in the darkness. Replaying that conversation over and over in my head. And it's certainly not one I think I'll ever forget.
We never spoke again.
"Have you ever done any stunts? The network is considering you for the role of Francisco." - George Pierre, Casting Director
There is a lot of history and background story on the subject of disappointing experiences and failures in LA. I'll leave all of that for another blog or maybe even a vlog because let me tell you, it's never ending. But we'll fast forward to several years later, to what at the time of this writing is present day Atlanta. My career hadn't really changed much since that night I was told I didn't have it in me. Auditions were few and far between and all were self tapes. For all I know, no one was even watching my tapes I futilely submitted into oblivion. Suddenly, I get an email. I'm told that there is an audition. A real one, in person. I'm told it's for a guest star for a new show called Superstition on SyFy, a network I have grown up watching. George Pierre was the Casting Director and I really couldn't believe it. I knew who George was. He did the Atlanta casting for huge shows and movies I loved. And he wanted to see me? Why? I had no real credits to my name, no real material to show I can act? And he wanted to give me the time of day to read me? I was stunned. But I was so happy just to fucking get into the room, I didn't even entertain the idea that I could actually be considered for the part. I spent the afternoon before coaching with my teacher, Nan Dutton, who is an eccentric and brilliant woman from LA who really is my secret weapon. I was as talentless as a rotten banana when I began studying with her and if I have any iota of talent, it's really because she helped me get there. I went to my appointment, confident in what I was going to do in the room. I honestly did not think I was going to even make the shortlist. If history was any indicator, I shouldn't have even been in the room! But interestingly enough, not having expectations relieved me of pressure. At best, I just wanted to show someone that I wasn't totally talentless, that maybe it would be understandably too much a gamble to hire me for this, but, perhaps, there could be a two liner or something in the future I could maybe be good enough for. Well kids. I got way more than what I bargained for.
"The network approved you." - Justine Martin, Agent.
Wait. What? Earlier, my agent called me to tell me that SyFy wanted me to meet with the stunt coordinator to talk about the dangers of stunt work on set. Mark was a really cool guy with a great attitude. But he was very skeptical, as he should be, considering just how serious any stunt could be. The smallest of mistakes could cause lasting damage for myself, my colleagues, the show, etc. I drove out to set to meet him at the designated time. Naturally, I was still a little doubtful. So, ok. Even if this guy does give me the thumbs up, there are a plethora of other people who have to also like me. For all I know, 5 other people were being sent to stunt coordinators to be battle tested. But I wanted this. I fucking wanted this. The role was really cool and supernatural and right up my fucking alley. And fun! My God, I could actually be a total weirdo and it would be OK and I could do it on a show and people could watch it and it would be part of a fantastic story with some really cool characters played by some awesome actors. And I really felt a glimmer of, "Oh my God, they might really hire me." I tried not to think about it. I didn't know if I was ready to deal with that disappointment.
I got the call. It was agent. And it was official. I was cast. And, for a little bit, I didn't say anything to anyone about it. I was certain there had been some mistake. First of all, Mario Van Peebles was directing, producing, and starring on this show. The man has had a prolific career in Hollywood spanning from before I was even born. He is basically what I want to be when I grow up. And this show was basically his baby. So that meant he had to watch my tape and like what he saw. This man wasn't going to hire just anybody. He is a big fucking deal. And he wanted to hire me. Like. What? I couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it and at the time of this writing it's nearly 3 months later. Someone actually wanted to hire me. No games. No bullshit. No special little contingency. I went in. I read. I got hired. The feeling is indescribable. And in the next blog immediately after this one, I'd love to expound on what an amazing experience actually being on set was. SPOILER: Mario is my hero.
No, but really. I don't know everyone who was involved in my hiring, but I wish I did, because I would love to have the opportunity to tell them how much this opportunity means to me. I would love to tell them about how I would never forget them for what they did for me. To thank them for giving me a sense of validation that everyone who wants to be successful in their careers wants to feel. One of the most surreal things happened shortly after it aired: I got engage in friendly banter with fans of the show on Twitter and sort of talk about my character with them, which was incredibly fun. The writing of Francisco's story was a gift in that it really gave me an opportunity to act with colors. I was truly fortunate to have been able to do it.
But mostly, I want to say thank you for making liars out of everyone who said I would never work. Not for them, but for me. Because for the first time in my life, I felt like I could really do this. I could really be a successful, working actor, with a real career and everything. And no matter where I go or what happens, I will always remember this was my first real break. And that means more to me than they would ever know.