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- January Flashback: The Butterfly Effect
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Originally published in October 2014
I am an actress. My parents saved their money in 1984 so that they could pay for my SAG card. I think at the time it cost $250. I had shot a “Cheerios” commercial, which never aired. I was 9 years old.
We’re from New York City. THE city. Manhattan. And I was born a performer so my mother said she would “run around” with me if the auditions were local, meaning, in THE city. I remember many a weekday afternoon parking in Midtown’s Municipal Parking Structure, changing out of my Catholic school uniform into some solid color top and overalls, in the back seat of our blue Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera. And then standing outside the car while my mother braided my hair and curled my bangs with a cordless curling iron called the Clicka!
I remember hustling down and around the cold, grey, winter streets when it was 5 degrees below zero. Hearing the winds whistling off the Hudson River while they cut into the sliver of skin exposed on my neck, just below my scarf. I remember tears running down my mother’s face. From the Cold. She said it was from the Cold.
We would enter a giant building on the West Side and take the elevator up to some audition. I remember the bunches of stage moms brushing their daughter’s hair with a Mason Pearson hairbrush and talking about how their children had done over 50, 60, 100 commercials in the last year. My mother would sign me in and sit with me while I read the sides to her. I would read them twice and she would say, “That’s good. You got it.” The other children would read them over and over again in happy animated voices and their mothers would bribe them with gifts if they got the job. I asked my mother if I would get a gift if I got the job. She said, ‘This is THE job, Elizabeth. This is the hard part and I am very proud of you. If you always work this hard, you’ll receive many gifts in this lifetime.” Off I would go into the small room filled with cue cards and bright lights to SLATE my name. I was so happy. I got the job. I thought. I didn’t know what a callback was. I didn’t know what a booking was. My mother never informed me that there was more to the audition. She led me to believe that it was all the same, that it was all work. And I was proud of myself on every level.
When I was 18, my mother said I could pursue the business on my own if I wanted to. I was old enough to run around on my own now. So I made some decisions. I quit modeling. I had been a model at Ford for 6 years. It wasn’t my thing. I wanted more. My dad helped me find a theatrical agent, and I booked my first major motion picture the week before my senior trip. I was graduating High School and the senior class was going to Governor’s Island. I wouldn’t be able to go.
I would be shooting the Luc Besson classic “The Professional” playing the then unknown Natalie Portman’s sister.
I was really torn between the class trip and the shooting of the movie. Ultimately, I shot the movie on 18th Street and my class came to visit me on set before they left for the trip.
At the same time, I was accepted to NYU’s Dramatic Writing Department at Tisch School of the Arts. Out of thousands of submissions, the department selected 50 Freshman students. I was one of them. I continued to audition in New York, as I knew many of the casting directors well, but I worked hard at maintaining a high GPA at school. Again, my parents were working REALLY hard to pay for this education. I did some Indie Films. I did background work in commercials. I was a slipper vendor at Macy’s. I worked at Bath and Body Works in the World Trade Center every Holiday season, and I babysat in Tribeca, where I’m from.
I studied at NYU for 5 years earning my BFA, and then my MFA by being selected again to participate in an accelerated Graduate Program. I won awards. I graduated with honors. This was THE job. Working hard.
My ultimate dream was to one day merge my acting and my writing. I wanted to write my own stuff. I had a jump on my acting career, so I decided I would continue to audition until I got another big break and then I’d introduce my writing.
In the year 2000, I landed an Indie film with a little unknown actor, Adrian Brody. I did an episode of Law and Order. I recurred on a David Milch show on ABC called “Big Apple” opposite Ed O’Neill and David Strathairn, and I got pregnant. Really. Not by David Strathairn. But really, by my boyfriend in real life.
I continued to work even during my pregnancy. Mostly on comedy skits on the David Letterman show with Beth Ostrosky. Before she was Beth Ostrosky Stern, as in Howard Stern. The last job I did while pregnant was a “Burger King” commercial, and while I stood behind the counter pretending to work at the register, I felt my baby kick for the first time. Amazing. My daughter was born on September 21, 2001, 10 days after 9/11. And New York shut down for a good year. I shut down too. For a long time.
There was no work for me during the next two years. When I wanted to travel to Los Angeles for Pilot Season in 2002, my agent at the time told me that the LA office had “their girls” and wouldn’t need me. She said I would just have to go on tape and “keep my fingers crossed.” I cried in Century 21, while shopping with my mother, over the rejection. Through my tears I sobbed, “I’ll never work again!” My mother replied, “This is THE job, Elizabeth. This is the hard part.”
That pilot season I went on 2 auditions. One in late February. And another in late March. The latter was for “The Untitled Whoopi Goldberg Project.” My agent’s assistant said the character was “a white girl who could walk and talk like a SISTAH!” They FAXED me the sides.
I blew every audition away. I was what they wanted. They flew me to LA to TEST for the show. After many painful weeks of waiting, I got a call from NBC travel telling me they wanted to confirm my trip for the Whoopi Goldberg Project. And so we shot the pilot in LA. And it got picked up. And it got moved to New York. And we shot 22 episodes plus the pilot and THEN … it got cancelled by NBC the night before the May 14th Upfronts 2004.
The whole experience hit me like a ton of bricks. Red Carpets and extravagant gifts. Photo shoots and big parties. A lot of money. And I mean A LOT of money. And then nothing. No more gifts, no more parties, no more money. Back to one.
You would think, after playing a memorable character on national television opposite Whoopi Goldberg for a full season on NBC, that surely someone, somewhere had a job waiting for me. No. Not the case. I did a few guest spots and 2 Indies and decided to move to Los Angeles.
I’ve been here, in LA, for 9 years with my family. My boyfriend (baby daddy) who became my husband and our 2 daughters. My parents stayed back on the East Coast. What I didn’t know when I moved out here is that I would have to reestablish myself. The casting community here did not know me. They didn’t really want to know me. I’d have to earn my place in line and that was at the very end of it. Take a ticket.
I did book another sitcom that took me back to New York in 2009. We shot “Sherri” for Lifetime TV on the old Maury Povich set in a hotel in Herald Square. Unfortunately, after only 1 season, it too, was canceled. I worked on some good stuff to keep me current and alive on IMDB like 2 episodes of “Entourage.” I’ve done 2 plays that were wonderful experiences for the artist in me, not so great for the earner in me.
In early 2014, 11 years after “Whoopi,” 5 years after “Sherri,” 30 years after my parents saved for that SAG card, I lost my primary representation. The agency I had been with for over 21 years was “on the fence about me.”
They “loved me personally and professionally, but I hadn’t brought in any money in over 2 years.”
I still had a manager who was setting me up with appointments with new agents. I had 5 appointments with 5 different agencies. I met with all of them. I told them my story. I showed them my reel. Four of the agencies seemed to be falling asleep as I spoke. They all came back saying “They really liked me but couldn’t get the whole team on board.” Or “They liked me but the whole team was not passionate enough about me.” Shocking. Representation had never been a problem for me. I always had opportunities for representation. What could it be? The last agent I met with was a short, jumpy guy in a one room office who kept pushing his glasses up on the bridge of his nose. I sat in a chair across from him. He asked me what I’d done most recently, and I told him that I had performed in an award-winning play. This agent told me he didn’t care about theater. He wanted to know the last time I “brought in” money. I told him about my education; he retorted that if he had been in my life at that time he would have advised me to skip college! He asked me how much money did the degrees earn me? Finally, he assessed me, as he says he does all actors who walk through his door.
He told me that what he saw was “someone who was a little crazy, desperate and insecure.”
He then told me I could prove him wrong if I read the sides he was going to give me. “You want me to audition for YOU?” I asked him. He replied, “I’m sensing a little resistance. Yep, see that plays into my insecurity suspicion …” I walked out. I didn’t look back. I just left. CRAZY. DESPERATE and INSECURE. Never, not ever had I been called these names by anyone in the industry. At least not to my face. What was it? What could it be?
Finally, I met with an agency that seemed very interested in me. They knew me and my work, and they said they would be honored to represent me. I was so happy. I liked them a lot and was hoping this would be a new beginning to everything I’d been looking for. A week after signing with them, I shot one of the agents an email asking what was “brewing?” He shot back an email that read: “Do not send me emails like that. It’s bad form.” Puzzled, I called him and said that I didn’t want to misread the tone of his email. He said I hadn’t misread it. He explained that sending an email like that makes him feel like I am “not doing my life.” He told me “to do my life and let them handle my career.” I pondered these ideas, as I sat listening to silence on the other end and then finally he said, “I just don’t want you to seem DESPERATE AND INSECURE. Because I had to fight for you. I had to win over the whole team at this agency because they weren’t completely sold on you. So please, don’t be DESPERATE AND INSECURE … because you are not. You are SMART AND TALENTED not DESPERATE AND INSECURE, right?” “Of course not,” I replied.
I hung up.
After the initial sting wore off, I realized what was going on. I understood what it was. What it had been over these last few months since I got “dropped.” These words are weapons Hollywood uses on WOMEN approaching 40 years of age and older. They know if they use these adjectives they’ll hit us in our over emotional feminine hearts and keep us in our place … at their mercy. CLEARLY, if you’ve met me, you know I am anything but desperate and insecure. A little crazy, maybe. But not those other things. NO. NEVER. NOT. ME.
“This is THE job, Elizabeth. This is the hard part.” My mother explained this to me when I was 9 years. old. “And I am very proud of you. If you always work this hard, you’ll receive many gifts in this lifetime.”
She was and is right.
I’ve received many gifts. A wonderful education. A career peppered with Academy Award Winners and the like. Living life in two fabulous cities, New York and Los Angeles. Getting married and birthing two healthy, beautiful GIRLS. And existing, making it to almost 40 years of age as a WOMAN in this industry. This story is not over. Those harsh, untrue words will not diminish my talent or the path God has set before me. I have a purpose and goals, and I know what they are and I will never QUIT, which is what my Dad taught me.
My father taught me to “Play Hard and Die Trying.”
I have strong faith and am completely confident in myself and my body of work and in the time it has taken me to build a career of substance. I have never slept with anyone for a job. I have never slept with anyone on a job. I have never used any manipulative devices to get what I want. I’ve played fair and square. I’ve always worked this hard, and I am ready to accept the many gifts life has waiting for me. They can knock me down, but they can’t knock me out! If you are a woman approaching 40 years of age and anyone makes you feel like you can’t do what you used to do or what you want to do because of the date on your birth certificate … you just keep it moving. Embrace yourself and your abilities and DON’T. YOU. EVER. QUIT!
“This IS the job. This is the hard part.”
Photo Credit: © Elizabeth Regen All Rights Reserved