So it’s August now. Eight months in and I wasn’t an expert in background, but I felt pretty solid about doing it day-to-day. That was the daily grind up till then. Since July, I wouldn’t say that I’ve been booking commercials left and right, but I was able to wrangle a few big bookings under my belt.
The biggest change was auditioning. Whereas in the beginning of this venture an audition was an occurrence once in a blue moon, it had become something that happened two to three times a month, to now something happening two to three times a week. And yes, some of it was being signed an agency, but it was also having the casting directors seeing you, knowing your look, and knowing that you could deliver. I had the run of audition locations down pat in my head and the casting offices had become normal sights.
It was a comfort to know that I was making progress. That’s the hardest part of the whole process, knowing that you’re making strides. I think one of the biggest myths in this industry is the ‘big break’. Yes, it may seem from the outside looking in that there was one particular moment when an actor hit the jackpot and his or her career just took off from there, but if you take a closer look, it’s almost always a result of preparation, hard work, talent, and yes a bit of luck.
All of a sudden, I hit a milestone. They had used me so often in ‘Manifest’ and since I was in the hero row I was needed for shots featuring the principals. I had three SAG waivers in my hands, I was eligible to join SAG-AFTRA, ready for the big leagues. Now, the choice is harder than it seems, yes, I can join and get an immediate pay bump to all of my background gigs, but that would cut off my legs for a lot of commercial work.
I thought about what I had been doing the past eight months, and while I was proud of the progress that I had made, I also realized that I hadn’t done very much acting. Extra work was a way to get by, but as an exceedingly shrewd veteran extra told me, “Don’t haul your ass to set as background and call yourself an ‘actor’. At least add ‘aspiring’ in front of it”. Yes, I had been in commercials, but there’s a running joke, “If you need to take commercial acting classes, you probably shouldn’t become an actor.” I will never turn down a commercial, it’s amazing money and an amazing opportunity, but it’s usually not the most challenging piece of acting.
I think everyone that wants to become an actor has a creative and artistic bent to them, and deep down they want to express that through their work. The reason why I had started doing extra work was to learn how to be a professional on set, possibly even earn my way into SAG. Done and done. I was able to book principal work in commercials and sign with an agency, great steps. But, how much have I grown as an actor?
Talking to Julienne, she advised me to do more student films and more short films just to be able to flex the muscles and remain in practice. Late in the summer and early autumn I was privileged enough to be cast in a few and it felt incredible to be doing the work that I wanted to do again. But the lingering fact remained, I started down this path because I believed that I had a voice, and I believed that it should be heard. I took a step back and re-examined how to proceed from here on out, and I decided down a more daring path.
No more extra work, no more safe grind. By 2019 I would leave that world behind, I had gotten as much out of it as I could and I would start that transition right then and there. I would be gunning for principal work only. I would gamble on me. More importantly, I decided to start writing.
There’s been a lot of talk about representation, and from what I’ve heard, it has gotten much better recently than in years past. However, if you take a look at casting notices, the calls for Asian roles are still a tiny percentage of what’s out there. In addition, the roles that are available are usually secondary roles at best, and even some of those are calls for deli owners and the such with the need for horribly racist and outdated accents. I don’t think any actor genuinely wants to play those roles, but if they’re offered, would I have the principled strength to turn it down?
That’s when I realized that I had to make the leap.