Welcome to January. This month we will be exploring the interconnectedness of Mental Health & Authenticity.
Hello & Happy start of the week after a long weekend! In the name of forsaking small talk, I’ll hop right to it…
Alli George is an old editor of mine. She lives in LA with her husband, working as an actress and writer. She is capital H HOT, and really just an all around catch when you’re looking at appearance, personality, smarts and sense of humor.
Continuing the search for answers on keeping sound mental health after the hellscape that 2020 delivered, I asked Alli how a creative professional like herself is dealing. Here’s what she had to say.
Creatives know all too well the merit the term “struggling artist” holds. What does it mean to you?
When I left the corporate world to pursue my passion in acting full time, I knew it would mean a lot of sacrifice. But I sleep better at night now, not knowing when or where my next job may come from. I never felt that way when I had that corporate credit card in my wallet.
And I can’t speak for all artists, but I know that most actors would tell you that if it’s in you, if you’ve been bitten by the acting bug and it truly feeds your soul, you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy.
Because it’s not for the faint of heart. Not only is it a struggle to start out, and a struggle to get work consistently, acting is a career that involves soooo much rejection. It can beat you down. So if it’s not something that you HAVE to do from the depths of your soul, you will find out quickly that it isn’t for you.
A shocking statistic for most outside the industry is that only 2% of working actors in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) make a living acting. And a minuscule portion of those make the A-list level big bucks.
So, the large majority of us have to rely on other sources of income we call “side hustles” or “struggle jobs” to make ends meet. Finding the balance between that and feeding your creative spirit is the biggest part of the struggle.
How has the pandemic changed the course of your career? Of your life?
I came into 2020 with a ton of career momentum. I was feeling good, had some projects on the horizon, was in a great place with my agents and managers, and had made some promising connections that I hoped to hone throughout the year to keep pressing forward.
Then Covid came and stopped all that momentum, dead in its tracks. It was devastating. Projects were postponed, then canceled. I feel like I’m having to start from scratch in some ways, to go back in time to where I was in my career years earlier.
So much of acting is left to chance — the right opportunity at the right place at the right time — and it often takes years and years of consistency to break through. And here I was finally making some headway. Then, BOOM.
It took a few months for the industry to get its legs underneath it and figure out how to move forward. Self-taping auditions at home (and with many self-tape services all over Hollywood) was already very much the norm, but it then became the only.
I started seeing audition requests rolling in again around May, and had my first Zoom callback audition in early June. That then became my norm, 1-5 self-tapes a week, but no bookings. In September, I got the call that I’d booked a feature film that was shooting on location near Boston in October.
I was ecstatic, as I hadn’t booked acting work since January (which I should note isn’t uncommon, and would be a totally normal stretch of time even with no pandemic), and then I got the call saying it was pushed another month. Then it was, “We’re hoping to get it filmed before the end of the year.” Then the investors pulled out.
Yet another casualty of 2020. A glimmer of hope, then another letdown. This seesaw is normal in the fickle world of movie-making, but in the midst of 2020, it seemed to sting even more. In some ways it feels like I’ll be climbing out of the career hole that 2020 left for a long time, and it certainly changed the trajectory I was on.
Not surprisingly, the effects are felt in my personal life in nearly every way. As a woman, one of the most daunting decisions that crashes your personal and professional lives together as an actress is if and when to have kids. I’m at a juncture in age and life where that decision is very much upon me, and the curveball that is 2020 makes any timeline I once had pretty jagged.
Not to mention how Covid has affected my finances, my lifestyle and my everyday routine.
What are you working on now? Any exciting projects?
At present, the project I was cast in last Fall is planning to shoot in February, pending new financing. But, I won’t be holding my breath! To get any sort of film project actually made, start to finish, is a truly remarkable feat.
Even the highest, A-list filmmakers spend years and years getting things off the ground, so know that every single show you binge on Netflix, and every movie you see in theatres took a miracle to get to your screen.
This means that I have been cast in plenty of things that have never been made throughout my years in LA. It can be daunting and discouraging, but every booking is a win. For actors, every callback is a win, every screen test, every chemistry read.
Hell, even getting in the room to audition is a big win. So, I’ve had a few small wins throughout 2020 that have kept me trucking along — two callbacks for national commercials, a few table reads for friends’ new projects, as well as one big win in my feature film booking.
I am currently in the callback stages for a really fun voiceover project, voicing a cartoon character! Which has been a lifelong acting career goal. So I am optimistic that 2021 will pick up the momentum again.
As an actress (or just as a woman), do you struggle with mental health issues? What advice do you have for fellow creatives who experience the typical high highs and low lows that come with the creative industry territory?
Actors, as well as artists of all kinds, tend to often be very manic personalities. This does not lend itself well to mental stability, especially in the acting industry with its constant rejection. I am fortunate to be a very well-balanced person, and have always had a steady grasp of my mental health and of who I am.
My personal philosophy that has served me well in keeping my mental health steady and spirits high through the years is this — I walk into every audition with all the confidence in the world, like I got it in the bag, I am the one they are searching for, I am IT. And I walk out and forget about it entirely.
That way, I exude confidence in the room and in my performance, and when I do get that call that I got a callback (aka a second, third, and so on audition), I can allow myself to feel that excitement, but when I don’t I am not dwelling on it.
If we let ourselves feel strife over every single audition, we would lose our minds and our gumption very quickly. So many young actors fall prey to this, and come to LA and get “chewed up and spit out” as they say.
You have to protect your mental health with the understanding that very little of casting’s decisions have to do with your actual abilities. You may simply not fit the picture in their heads of who the character is. You may be too tall, too mature, have too deep of a voice, any number of things.
And yes, unfortunately in our business much of that can be reflective of your appearance, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your appearance is bad. It means you are not That Character. It can be very challenging as an actor to beat yourself up over every little detail, thinking things like, “I can play more mature!” “I can speak higher pitched!” because we are trained to adapt and create characters that show no resemblance to who we actually are.
But ultimately, if you prepare and put your best foot forward in an audition and you are still not what they want, you have not lost. You have done your job well, and will find a role that fits another time.
How do you cope with the “bad days” that come with being a creative? Where do you find inspiration?
Bad days are inevitable, we all experience them.
On my best days, I love to use exercise, especially running and yoga, to get myself out of a funk or clear my head. But some days require a Netflix binge in bed with a glass of wine. All of the above are a form of self care, and I am all for whatever version is going to make you feel better in that moment.
Listen to your body, listen to your spirit and just simply give yourself what you need. I believe this very American feeling that productivity is the only way to be valuable is extremely toxic. We have to normalize slowing down, treating yourself, taking a break, sleeping, and any other thing that is keeping you healthy and happy.
When I hear workaholic friends “bragging” about how they never sleep because they are so busy, I feel sorry for them. Burning the candle at both ends is only going to result in burnout, especially for creatives.
Creativity is a fickle thing, and inspiration can strike in the most random of times and places, so sometimes something as simple as a change of scenery can inspire.
But in general, I challenge everyone to change the mindset of constant productivity being the only way to success. Taking care of yourself is a success, and it will make you happier, healthier, and therefore more successful in the long run.
What are you most looking forward to in post-pandemic life?
Once the pandemic is over, I can’t wait to gather with all my loved ones again. At a restaurant! In public! I can’t wait to hug people again. I am a touchy-feely, affectionate person and grew up around a very European style of greeting everyone with a kiss on the cheek, so I have had to reign in all of my natural instincts in 2020.
So, I look froward to going back to being a hugger! I also can’t wait to travel again, as my husband and I had some big trips planned this year that all went out the window.
In my work life, I mostly can’t wait to simply get back to work! To be on a set, to be in an audition room, and to sit down in person with other creatives to collaborate. Even with the recent move toward self-tapes in the industry, I always strive to get an in-person audition because to me, there is no replacement for being in the room together working collaboratively to create something together.
This is Alli.
Thank you for reading today. I hope this article served as a source of inspiration to keep going after what fuels your soul, no matter how difficult (or annoying) or time-consuming it may be.
PS! If you know someone who wants to share their story (literally any story) on how they overcame a mental health struggle, do let me know. And if that someone is you, even better.
Because REMEMBER. Everyone has a story worth telling. The power that truthful, unfiltered storytelling holds is massive, and has the rare potential of saving someone’s life. Keep that in mind the next time you feel like your voice doesn’t matter. It does.