This is another in an ongoing series of interviews with actors around the country who are successfully pursuing a professional career. The acting biz is a tough nut to crack, and success can be measured in so many ways beyond magazine-cover-story-celebrity success. Hell, if you get up just one more day and go to one more callback or one more interview, you’re a success in my eyes! Throughout the coming year I’ll be profiling men and women who are getting work on a regular basis in regional theatre, in independent film, in commercials, you name it. This isn’t a how-to-become-an-actor advice column, but after reading these varied stories, you’re sure to find useful tips in the recounting of their journeys.
Current City: Studio City, CA
How did you first get started in acting?
I took my first acting class at Clovis Community College (in New Mexico) under the direction of Lyle Hagan. He had agreed to come out of retirement to teach a once a week acting class. It was Beginning Acting. I had such low confidence, looking back on that class now, Dr. Hagan was so supportive and all I wanted to do was hide.
What was your goal as an actor?
I owned and operated a video store from a very young age. I thought, very naively, that the home video connections I had with the movie studios would translate to possible auditions. I thought there would be a back door into the industry, and I would break in that way. So I took acting classes with this idea in mind. When I transferred to Eastern New Mexico University and got a Bachelors degree, I was planning on moving to New York. My video store distributor had a friend who was open to hiring me in a restaurant and another friend who had a cheap apartment. So I was going to move to New York and work in theater since that was the focus of my degree, but I also secretly wanted to work in film/TV. I thought at the time, I can do it all. Last minute change in life, I moved to Los Angeles.
Take a moment to summarize the kind of training you’ve received over the years.
I have a Bachelors Degree in Theater and when I moved to Los Angeles, I immediately jumped (fell?) into a class taught by industry giant Carolyne Barry. Commercial Training/Improv/Scene Study. I stayed for two years before moving to Arthur Mendoza’s Actors Circle Theater. Arthur Mendoza was hand-selected by Stella Adler to teach, using her original notes from Stanislavski. Actors Circle Theater (ACT) had a strong curriculum that began with Technique and led up to Advanced Scene Study. All students began in the same beginning class, regardless of previous training or resume. It was common to have recognizable talent in class. After Arthur retired, he handed the Stanislvaski notes and theater to Monica Garcia, and it is renamed Acting Artists Theater (AAT).
I was also very fortunate to jump (fall?) into a class taught by Amy Lyndon. This was the first awareness I had that film and tv auditioning had a specific style. Within three weeks of starting class, I booked my first Network TV credit. I have also studied with Triesa Gary, Michelle Tomlinson, and Rob Brownstein. I am currently eight months into comedy training by Todd Rohrbacher at Actors Comedy Studio. Comedy has different formats for Television and each format has different guidelines. So now I get to study for school by watching “Friends.”
How did you first start out after moving to L.A.?
While I moved here to act, for the first year as a Los Angeles resident, I did not audition. I studied in class and I did extra work. I wanted to learn what it was like to be on set before I auditioned. I booked my second, fourth and fifth commercial auditions. And then I didn’t book a commercial for three years. Which led me to falling (jumping?) into commercial casting. I worked in casting for four years before moving into feature films for two years. And then back to fully focused on acting and auditioning.
Are you a member of a performers’ union?
I joined SAG by doing extra work on the feature film “Pleasantville.” I was one of the “colored kids.” It was maybe the tenth background job I did, and for those not in the entertainment field, my plan was this. SAG stands for Screen Actors Guild. And at the time, most movies and tv shows were under SAG rules. One of the rules, was that every film or tv show had to hire a certain number of SAG actors for background work when background was needed. Every day, the SAG actors who did background were given a voucher. The voucher was how they got paid thru SAG. If, for whatever reason a SAG actor did not show up for work, the production would have an extra voucher that they had to basically give away to a non union person. A non union performer needed three of those vouchers to then join the union. Three was the magic number. Now fast forward to “Pleasantville.” I had a look (large forehead) that the director liked so I, along with about twelve other actors (out of close to 2,000) were selected to come back day after day and work background. At the end of the shoot, I had 28 vouchers. And then a month later, I got a commercial agent and booked a commercial. I would not have been considered for the commercials I booked had I not been able to join the union. Thank you Gary Ross, director of “Pleasantville.” I wonder whatever happened to him. I hope he is ok. ;-)
What path did you follow to finally get signed by an agent?
I have had many agents during my career. Agents are divided into different categories. Theatrical Agent handles TV, Film, Theater, New Media. Commercial agents handle exactly that. Commercials which usually includes print advertising. The road to my first commercial agent was thru Carolyne Barry’s commercial class. I trained and did good work and I mailed my headshot out to some agencies and got a call. Commercial representation is historically easier to get. A commercial role may audition up to 200 people for one job. Where a smaller role on a TV show may see only 25 people. My first theatrical agent came from a referral. I, along with twenty five other referrals, met this agent and she signed one of us. Me. I had no idea how it was basically winning the lottery at the time. And one of my big missteps in my career, was dropping this agent and moving to another agency. I had no idea what I was doing at the time and I ruined a relationship that was working. I currently have two agents and a manager.
When you first began to actively pursue acting, did you feel like you had been properly trained in both the performance and business aspects of being an actor? What did you need to learn-as-you-go to become a more employable actor?
I had a college degree in theater performance. It was great because it began the basis of discipline and rehearsal and exploration of characters. I had no concept of how the acting business worked in the Los Angeles market dominated by everything but theater. I had no training for television and film. Theater is usually playing bigger so that the back row of the room and hear and see you. Projection. Television and film, in my opinion, are about being very still and subtle. I think one of my surprises, was how I am typed in the industry. I thought I could fool people into thinking I was something else. In a college environment, I was sometimes cast in roles that played against type or roles that were a bit of a stretch. In TV and Film, again in my opinion, it is all about playing your type. I had no idea when I moved to Los Angeles, that I was a cousin in type to “Urkle.” A nervous nerd. And so I would get an audition for a nerd but I would want to show them I could do more than that. Basically, I kept getting offered to deliver a cheeseburger and I kept showing up with Mexican food. They always wanted a cheeseburger and I just took a while to realize that.
Do you have a “day job?”
I have had various day jobs. I was a personal assistant for various Hollywood people. Everyone was very kind and generous about auditions, but my focus was on work and not on auditions so at that time, I auditioned very rarely. Many jobs here in town offer some flexability for auditions. It is Los Angeles, after all. I am currently starting a new business, setting up red carpet events for small films or parties.
What is your opinion of the “continuing education” of actors through workshops, showcases, and individual classes?
I will say, my favorite quote. “Stay in a class until you are working so much on set, you cannot be in class.” It is such a competitive field, there is rarely room for anything less than extraordinary auditions.
Any final words for our readers?
I am a big believer in being open to any role or opportunity. Not out of desperation, but out of “how can I do my best work here and what can I learn.” I have had some of the best experiences on short films and web series, most of which do not pay, but I did not want to miss out on a chance to collaborate with other passionate professionals. And the more I collaborate now, the more opportunities I am creating for the future as we all continue to build our resumes.
Thank you, Landall, for sharing your continuing journey with us! Also, today is Landall’s birthday, so a big shout-out on that and I hope you have a great year ahead of you!