We all hear humiliating things from time to time, right? Too often, we’re tempted to accept it. But if you want to be successful in Hollywood, and in life, you have to be careful who you listen to. If someone’s opinion is stopping you, please don’t listen to them. Listen to people who empower you!
Last summer I spent some time with a talented, funny, Actors Studio member who struggled through N.Y. and L.A., trying to find her break. We swapped war stories. I told her about that agent I met in N.Y.C. who made me walk across a room only to say, “You walk funny. You’ll never work in this town.” She said, “Oh my God! That would have wrecked me! How did you find the nerve to keep going after that?”
She revealed that someone said harsh words to her about being slightly heavyset when she came to N.Y.C., and it stopped her from acting for the next year and a half. I couldn’t help but ask, “Really? Was the person who said this to you absolutely perfect?”
We could find something wrong with every single person on the planet if we really wanted to. But . . . if they want us to accept them, for whatever they are, they have to accept us exactly as we are, right?
How do I find the nerve to keep going? I have a different reaction to criticism. I don’t care what they think anymore, unless it’s useful. No one is perfect and I know what I am capable of. That agent was underestimating me, and the integrity of our entire industry. Perhaps it was his own lack of effectiveness he was projecting.
Rather than accepting his negativity, I gave him something to think about. You see, not only had I seen his underwear hanging from a bin in the bathroom, i.e. living in his office, but also, something happened earlier that week to give me just the ammo needed for this moment.
I was offered an opportunity to be in Playboy by a huge casting director, and turned it down. In her frustration she shrieked, “Do you know how many girls would kill for this opportunity? We’re talking six figures here!” To which I responded, “Do you know that my mother would come out of her grave and kill me?”
Maybe it happened just so I’d have the confidence to handle this agent effectively. In that awkward moment following his ignorant prediction, I looked over his head at the photos of the girls he represented, and smiled. “I’ve already turned down what most of your clients aspire to do. I think I’ll do just fine.”
I walked out his door, opened the Ross Reports, and plotted locations to drop headshots on the way home. I did that every day, often sweet talking my way past security guards at the biggest agencies in N.Y.C. One of them called the following week. I was soon signed and on my way!
Casting directors used to look at my resume and ask, “How did you get with thisagency?” I didn’t even know what a big deal it was at the time. Thank God that smaller agent was shortsighted, because I ended up with a much stronger agent. I believe everything happens for a reason, even if we can’t see it at the time. Mom used to call them “Blessings in Disguise.” So smile when they reject you! Trust and keep going. Something better always comes along.
My Mom showed me how to handle thoughtless rejection before she died. The lesson came in high school when I had a crush on a boy. It was the weekend before junior cheerleading tryouts. I was anxious because I missed cheering sophomore year due to several foot surgeries, and having lost my voice coaching friends before tryouts. I had been the captain of the freshman team, coaching the newcomers, and cheering for years now, so it meant the world to me. I’ll never forget the moment this boy responded to my nervous excitement by sneering, “How can you cheer when you can’t even walk?” It’s like a swift kick in the gut when our “flaws” are made fun of, especially by someone we really like, right? Crushed, I thought, “What? I walk just fine . . . I can do anything! I’ve won awards for cheerleading.”
But the hurt and shock was so intense, I didn’t say a word. I just smiled, allowing the insult to sink in. I went home and walked through my Mom’s kitchen with my head down. Suddenly I heard, “Stop! Come back here.” I turned to face my all-knowing Mom. She looked into my eyes and asked what happened. Choking down tears, I told her my date asked how I can cheer when I can’t even walk. Mom looked at me with empathy, then smiled and asked the golden question I wish I’d thought of an hour earlier . . .
“Did you ask him how he can talk when he can’t even think?”
Good one, Mom! We burst out laughing. She reminded me he was revealing what was wrong with him, not me. So why should anyone’s opinions stop us, ever? Keep going! Find somebody bigger!
Eileen and her hero at the junior prom
The next boy I dated? A legend from our high school, everyone’s dream guy, came home from University of Florida’s championship football game and took me to my junior prom. A confident athlete with impeccable integrity, and he liked my walk! Sometimes one person can dissolve the pain of many who came before, but we have to be open when they come along. Someone better always comes along, and accepts us exactly as we are.
Here is another little secret about making it in Hollywood . . .
Whatever the reason they say you will not make it, is the very reason you will make it, if you persist. Embrace your differences . . . one day they will be the trophies on your shelf!