Acting, Hollywood, Casting, Big Breaks And More….
Now that The Hunger Games is a certified blockbuster, the movie’s glowing lead, Jennifer Lawrence, has entered that thrilling but dizzying realm reserved for anointed Megastars. In the April issue of Glamour UK, 21 year old Lawrence mused before The Hunger Games opened: “I feel like I got a ticket to another planet and I’m moving there and there’s no turning back, and I don’t know if I’m going to like that other planet or have friends there. It’s just scary.” Yes, it is scary and whether or not Lawrence likes it- she’s arrived.
For anyone, sudden fame is a destabilizing force but young performers are particularly vulnerable. Without much life experience to help them gain perspective, the shock of being the main attraction in a worldwide arena (very Hunger Games!) is overwhelming. Leonardo Di Caprio, who was a working actor before the megahit, Titanic, almost sank under a titanic wave of fame. Even “wholesome” Daniel Radcliffe now admits he battled alcohol addiction after his stratospheric rise as Harry Potter. The list goes on and on…from Lindsay to Britney to Shia….there’s a pattern of emotionally “acting out” after being caught in the permanent glare of the limelight.
One of Lawrence’s co-stars in The Hunger Games, Wes Bentley, who plays game master Seneca Crane, knows this story all too well. In his promotional rounds for The Hunger Games Bentley was repeatedly asked by the media about his own experience with sudden fame, Bentley was exactly Lawrence’s age when he burst on the scene as iconic Ricky Fitts in the Oscar-Winning American Beauty. He made such an impact in the film that he immediately became one of the most sought after young actors in Hollywood. But the fame game was too much for him. As we chronicled in the documentary, My Big Break, Bentley retreated from the spotlight and followed a familiar pattern by slipping into the darker side of the Hollywood dream. It’s taken a rough ten years for him to begin his real comeback. Bentley is fortunate to have pulled through and get another chance in Hollywood – and more importantly – in life, but not everyone is so lucky.
So, why do so many promising young rising stars burn out without realizing their full potential? What happens when they arrive on that “other planet” called Stardom that so many try to reach but few do?
One of the main factors is that breaking through in Hollywood is so difficult that most aspiring actors don’t consider what it would actually mean to be successful and famous. They’re focused on working toward the realization of a dream, not preparing themselves for when that dream comes true. When they get their big break and become stars they mistakenly believe that the only thing they’ll be required to do is act (or sing or whatever their particular talent might be). Nothing could be further from the truth.
They’re immediately swept into a whirlwind of interviews, photo shoots, studio meetings, media appearances, script selection, premieres, high-profile parties and galas. It’s an exhilarating rush at first. This is the seemingly glamorous side of making it that the public sees. It’s enticing and the promise of being part of that kind of world draws thousands of hopefuls to Hollywood each year. But for many, the excitement only lasts until they find out just how many strings are attached to their newfound celebrity status. Agents, managers, publicists, lawyers, accountants and studio executives now control their schedules and activities with only one thing in mind – increasing the star’s market value. And all those glamorous marketing activities aren’t optional, they’re part of a star’s job description.
The rules and expectations that they encounter have nothing to do with their big, big dreams but they can’t escape them, so they end up resenting the demands on their time and energy. That’s the point where they start to rebel and act out instead of act – and that’s the danger zone. Hollywood allows very little push back. There’s money to be made and other up-and-comers who are more than willing to take the place of any reluctant rising star. It’s a harsh truth but one that needs to be understood before you go to all the trouble of climbing the mountain only to flame out at the top.
So, for all of you who are pursuing your dream, here are a few tips about how to handle yourself when you get your big break. With a bit of foresight you’ll stay strong, steady and successful in the face of the bottom-line reality of the Hollywood Dream.
1. You now have a job. It’s a very high profile job, but nevertheless, it is a job. There will be a lot of requirements, a lot of responsibilities and a lot of people working for you. You’ll find that most people on the business end are primarily interested in you as a “hot property”. That might bother you, but if you get lost in feeling exploited and fight them at every turn you’ll be the one who pays the price. Relax, find ways to ride the wave calmly and work with, instead of against the business types. You don’t actually have to do everything they ask but in the beginning learn the ropes willingly so you can be far more in control as you get established.
2. Great artists are obsessed with their work. If you consider yourself an artist remember, in any field the best artists are consumed by their creation. They respect it and spend their lives refining and exploring their art. Find a great teacher- you should never stop learning. Seek out other creatives in the business who live grounded lives and are dedicated to their work. Read great literature and see classic films. Study the masters who’ve come before you. Do quality theater. Things like these will help you balance the often disturbing demands of the Hollywood market culture with the artistic passion that inspires you.
3. Be thankful. Be humble. As actor Chad Lindberg says in My Big Break, “Appreciate every moment!” You’re one of the rare people who beat astronomical odds but that doesn’t mean you can take your success for granted. One of the quickest ways too lose the spark that got you that break to begin with is to stop feeling grateful and slip into jaded irritability. The audience can sense it from a mile away and you’ll turn them off. Gratitude keeps you open, inspired and inspiring.
4. Stay clean and sober. The fastest way to crash and burn in Hollywood is to buy into the “high” life that’s so pervasive in the business. Anxiety, frustration, boredom and lack of any real structure tempts everyone – from those who are struggling to those who are successful – to turn to drugs or alcohol for solace or stimulation. If you’re a person who doesn’t understand moderation or has a predisposition to substance abuse, or if you find yourself going in that direction, you’re in real danger of destroying everything you worked hard for by slipping into addiction. Sure, you think it will never happen to you, no one does, and yes, Hollywood parties can be incredibly seductive and fun, but if you’re truly committed to your work and you value your success, you’ll understand that no high is worth jeopardizing your abilities and your career. It creeps up on you – so be vigilant and be honest with yourself. Learn to go to parties and hang out without getting high or drunk. It pays off.
Elizabeth Yoffe is head of the production company True Studio Media. She received a B.A. in Theater Arts from Bennington College and an M.A. in Education from Antioch University, Seattle. She worked as a regional casting director for many films and television projects, including Waiting For The Light starring Shirley MacLaine, Dogfight starring River Phoenix and David Lynch’s classic series, Twin Peaks. In Los Angeles she served as president of Cinewomen L.A., a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the role of women in film. Yoffe is the producer of the award-winning documentary My Big Break. She also produced the award-winning Independent Film Channel favorite Brightness starring Eric Idle, Chad Lindberg and Fay Masterson and co-produced the Toronto International Film Festival official selection Carving Out Our Name. She is currently producing several projects including a documentary about The legendary director, Stanley Kubrick. Yoffe’s work as a freelance writer has appeared in Slate, The Week, Natural Health, Healing Journal and The New York Times.
Follow My Big Break on Twitter @MyBigBreak
Actor Chad Lindberg tells us why MY BIG BREAK (Directed by Tony Zierra/Produced by Elizabeth Yoffe) will always be a part of his life. He also shares why it is a teaching tool for filmmakers, actors and others in the industry, and he gives us his advice on following your dreams.