No Bullshit Career Talk With An Actress

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This post originally appeared on BiancaBass.com

I spent most of my teenage years sucking my stomach in. 

 

I wish that was a metaphor for something, and maybe it is, but mostly, it’s just a sad, literal truth. As a result of several years of semi-secret bulimia, my favorite thing to ask myself as a teenager was, “Do I look thin enough? What if I suck in some more?”. 

 

Then, the summer I was 17, my wonderful mother found an acting course in Paris and sent me off to be my dramatic and absurd self surrounded by people who wouldn’t find that weird. Halfway through the course, I also had a realization: during a scene, I was so captivated by everything going on and the energy around me that I forgot to suck my stomach in. I forgot to care.

 

I think that was the moment I decided this was it for me.

 

Fast forward a couple of years and I am a professional, working actress living in London, where I went to drama school and met my incredible agent. Happy ending, end of story. HA! I wish. Then again, where would the fun be in that?

 

Let me tell you something about being a “professional, working actress”: it’s one hell of a ride. 

 

Fantastic, and rewarding, and sometimes makes you feel like you’re on top of the world in a way that I think only creative professions can. It’s such a beautiful high to get lost in the art of it. 

 

On the other hand you might go weeks, or even months without an audition, or a job. And this is true for me now, at the start of my career, just like it is for award-winning actors. The beauty of the age we live in lies in the fact that more and more actors are able to get ahead (and stay sane) by creating their own work and publishing it online -but that doesn’t always negate the hurt and disappointment that come with a phone that just won’t ring. No matter how “good” or proactive you might be, it will get to you. 

 

That’s where a strong support system comes in, and why that’s so vital for anyone but artists in particular -artists are self-destructive. If you don’t have amazing friends on speed dial who will pick you up from the floor (literally) when auditions are scarce and you’re this close to losing it… you will 100% lose it. And artists are also quite dramatic, so chances are it won’t be pretty.

 

It also won’t be easy. Not at all. 

 

Hundreds of people graduate from drama schools in the UK every year. Five years is the ‘average’ amount of time people stick it out for, before either ‘making it big’ or giving up. There were 19 graduates in my year and I’m one of the 6 people who have been working since we left. I’m doing good. And still, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve cried until 3AM because it’s all just so damn hard.  

 

Want to know the closest I’ve come to throwing in the towel? 

 

This past March, I’d just left my first agent and auditions were suddenly flowing left right and centre: I was booking jobs, I was on top of the world. So of course, that was when my skin decided to go crazy on me for no apparent reason (yay, hormones!) -the day before I started shooting my first short film. Of course. 

 

Armed with 15 layers of makeup and a great fake smile, I showed up on set thinking “I’m a professional, I can do this. Focus on the work, it’s gonna be fine.” but that quickly changed when I overheard the producer and director saying they wished they’d cast a prettier girl, ‘cause me being this ugly was gonna ruin the entire shoot. Ouch. 

 

I still can’t look at that footage without my stomach knotting up -even though my skin cleared up and that producer waited 6 months to pay me, so really, screw them. 

 

Even so: they’re not lying when they say you need to have the thickest skin of all thick skins to survive in this business. People will be mean, and horrible, and you’ll get rejected and you’ll want to quit. If you’re in it for the fame, it’s really not worth it, I promise you.

 

If you’re doing it for yourself, though? If you want it so badly that the prospect of working in a tiny, smelly theatre in the middle of nowhere fills you with joy because it might not be much but it’s acting, and that’s enough? If you’re doing it for that 17 year old girl who loved acting so much that she kind of forgot she had an eating disorder? Well, then, keep going. 

 

Keep trying, and trying, and failing, and crying, until good things start happening. And then some more. 

 

Graduation: one year on

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A year ago today, I said goodbye to 17 years spent in education. Last Friday, I went along to my school's ceremony for this year's graduates, and felt... funny.

 

Out of place. A little lost. 

 

It was great to see everyone again, and the graduates did some truly amazing work -but as I watched them on the big screen, and thought back to when it was my final films up there, I couldn't help but feel like there was something missing. Like I was "supposed to" be somewhere different, have done better things with my time in the 365 days that had passed since then.

 

The only problem, you see, is that 365 days are not a lot.

 

They might seem like it, and yes, a lot of things can happen in a year -but in some cases, and in the entertainment industry in particular, a year means nothing. A year after you've graduated, you're basically still a kid. You've learned some things, and you've made some choices, and you've done some growing up -little by little. But those stories you read, about people just "stumbling" upon success one day? There's years of hard work and preparation behind that. Years. 

 

Some might be luckier than others -but then again, what does luck mean in this context? Is it fame, success, money? Not for me, I don't think so. Fame can swallow you up. And if you haven't put in the years of hard work, it will be even harder to stay afloat and not let it break you. So yes, luck. But also, we each have our own way of navigating life, and while shooting straight to the top can happen, it is generally incredibly rare.  

 

And that, I needed to be reminded of. On Friday, after watching my friends up on the big screen and congratulating them on the official first day of their career, I took a moment to be alone and remember to be gentle with myself. To be patient. To let myself live.

 

To allow myself to feel the good and the bad and the strange, because the more I yearn for some kind of "finish line", some special day when I can feel like I've figured life out, the more I'll miss all these fun bits in between.

 

 

I haven't figured it out. I haven't figured out a single thing.

A year after graduation, I am still basically a kid.

 

But I've taken little, little steps towards my goal. I've loved fiercely, and I've cried my eyes out. I've laughed loudly, and heartily, and I've lived a little.

 

 

So here's my checklist. Because I needed to write it, and I needed to cry about it, and now that I've done both maybe I can let it out into the world. 

 

A year on, I'm a lost kid.

 

But I'm a million times happier than I was this time last year, and that's progress, isn't it? 

 

*

 

Jobs I’ve had as a professional actress: 10. Some were great, some not so great, some made me hide in the bathroom and cry five minutes before calling action. Some made me cross paths with inspiring people, amazing friends, and fuelled me enough to keep going forward when things got tough. Some are still painful to think about, and I'm desperately trying to forget. I wouldn’t take back a single one.

 

Auditions I've had: around 25, maybe 30. My heart still threatens to jump out of my chest every time I walk into the room, but I got better at dealing with it. I got better at taking every audition as a chance to play, learn, better myself and not beat myself up about the outcome. The thing about it is that, yeah, it's tough -but it's so much fun. If I waste my time in the room being scared, I'll miss out on all the fun. So, that's what I'm working on. Baby steps.

 

Treated myself to post-good-audition sushi: literally every single time.

 

Friends I have on speed-dial for my regular post-bad-audition-freakout: 3. Thank you for listening, helping, getting me to stop crying in the middle of a supermarket, bringing me wine, and generally being amazing. You know who you are.

 

Inexplicably naive but endearingly hopeful emails to a super powerful casting director asking him to cast me in something I really wanted to be in but knew very well I wasn't right for at all: 1. I regret nothing.

 

Headshots I took and subsequently cried over, because how the hell does one choose between so many shots of the same identical face: 3700. 

 

Agents I've had: 2. 

 

Breakups I’ve gone through: 1.

 

Publications I’ve written for: 5 (Thought Catalog, She Did What She Wanted, Poets Unlimited, Dear Damsels, Soul Anatomy). From the girl who said she'd never write again, I am so proud of this one. I have no idea what it means, or where it will lead me, but sometimes just putting yourself out there is enough. Again, baby steps are all that matters. 

 

Times I cried on top of Primrose Hill listening to John Mayer: a million and one, according to my very scientific calculations. It's always worth it, though, when I come home with a lighter heart and a happy song in my head. 

 

Houses I’ve lived in: 4. One was a bad, bad move, and made me more miserable than it had any right to. One was my parents' house, for two months, when I needed to learn how to breathe again. One was the most wonderful friend helping me put the pieces back together when I didn't know where to turn. One is home, here, now.

 

Times I took the first flight home and cried in my parent’s arms until I could breathe again: 5.

 

Times it helped: every single one.

 

Pages I wrote of an apology letter, to the boy who broke my heart when I was seventeen and whom I blamed for every single one of my troubles ever since: 8. Will I ever send it? Probably not. Did it make me feel better? Hell yeah.

 

Volume of the squeal I let out after booking my very first flight to Los Angeles all on my own, in decibels: 100+

 

Boys I kissed: a handful. None of them turned into anything more, and that's the part I like the most about it. I needed the time for myself, and I needed to give myself a chance to be okay before rushing into anything I'd regret. 22 is me trying to be wise, apparently.

 

People who made my heart grow a thousand sizes bigger and helped me be okay again: a lot, and I'm so fucking grateful for every single one of them. Some are my closest friends, some are new friends I made (hi, Internet, you're the best. thank you for introducing me to awesome people and generally making my life better), and some probably don't even know they had a part in it. Some will surely have forgotten my name by now -but I remember them, and if I'm not a complete mess right now I owe it to all of them.

 

Pizzas I regret eating: none of them. Italy is good for the soul.

 

Pounds I gained: a few, judging from how my jeans don’t fit anymore.

 

Amount I care: literally zero. 

 

Times I went running: 32. This time last year, I didn't even own running shoes, and I'd never run more than the two minutes necessary to run after the bus & still miss it. One day in March I'd just been crying a lot, and I felt incredibly lost. In a moment of clarity, I told myself: if you can do one thing today, one thing that makes you feel even just a little better, you will not have wasted today. Just go for a jog, 10 minutes, 20 max, and it'll be enough. I ended up running for an hour and crying tears of happiness on my way home, and that's how I figured I couldn't stop there.

 

Running shoes I now own: 3.

 

Times I hashtagged #adulting as a joke after tweeting about something ridiculous I'd done proving I am not, in fact, an adult: so many that it's not even funny anymore.

 

Times I considered giving it all up and getting an office job / a business degree / a cat / all of the above: too many to count. But I keep coming back here, and damnit, that's got to count for something. If I could go back, I'd still choose this every time. What "this" means, I don't really know. A creative life. A life that lets me go at my own pace, and figure it out along the way. A life of acting, because that's the one thing I'll always love more than anything. But also new things, or old things I've re-discovered: a life of writing, and singing, and playing the piano for nobody but myself, and maybe someday directing, or producing, or all of the above. Patience, baby lion. Little steps.

 

Times I cried over Harry Styles becoming an actor: you really, honestly, don’t wanna know the answer to this one.