Film Courage: Robin, when you came to LA, what was the first role that you booked and where were you in your life?
Robin Riker: Ahh! Well the first job that I ever got when I came to Los Angeles was on a television series with Lloyd Bridges. Do you remember who Lloyd Bridges is?
Film Courage: I do!
Robin Riker: He was on Sea Hunt and I used to watch him as a little girl. And I got it…first of all, I arrived in Los Angeles with $45.00 is cash, a proof sheet with headshots and free place to stay. And the girl that I was staying with, her family was in the fine art business. And she was wonderful and I loved living with her, but I needed to be with people who were in the show business. So I had been going to a school, found a job and said to my teacher “I’m going to find a place in Hollywood to live” (because my girlfriend lived in Echo Park). Found a place with one of his other students then got this job at this hamburger stand. Then moved from this hamburger stand up to this place called Simply Blues, I mean the building is still there (it’s right on the corner of Sunset and Vine in Hollywood) and I had gotten a job as a cocktail waitress.
And so back then you didn’t have cell phones and texting and all of that. You had an answering service or your home phone. And so…a lot of guys would ask for my phone number and sometimes I would give them my phone number and sometimes I would give them my answering service phone number just because, you know… I just didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. And it seemed much easier than saying “No.”
And so I had gotten a call on my answering service from this man named Roe Wallerstein. And I thought maybe he was (you know) one of those fellas. And the third time he called he said “Robin, this is Roe Wallerstein, I’m over here at Warner Brothers. Larry (the guy you used to work for at the hamburger stand) handed out your picture in the commissary and I have an audition for you. If you don’t call me back, the train is going to have left the station.”
“This is one thing that I thought was amazing when I moved to Hollywood. Everybody spent all this money on a car. Because a car…you pull up to the valet and the car tells ‘them’ who you are. Well, you’re just this far from being a valet yourself, most of the time as an actor. You might have to take a job like that. So be smart about what it is, where you set yourself up, how you set yourself up, your expectations. Bank on yourself, not the purse you carry or the car you drive. Believe in yourself.”
Well, I am over the moon (as you can imagine) and I go to my boss and I’ve just started my shift, and I say “Listen, I have this audition…it’s right over the hill at Warner Brothers” (You know, Sunset and Vine over here, Warner Brothers over here). “I can go up Highland Avenue before the crowd even starts.” And he looks at me and says “If you leave, you don’t gotta job!” And I looked at him for one unbelieving moment, untied my apron and said “Well, I didn’t come here to be a waitress, I’ve gotta give this a try.” and off I went and the part was so small that I actually had to read another character’s lines because my character didn’t have that many lines. But it was a week’s work and it was on a national television show and it got me my SAG card and it was great.
The thing that was so wonderful about it was it was a risk because….I actually didn’t lose that job! I think I did go back a little bit later for a little while but I had to take a bet on me. And anyone who comes to Hollywood is betting on themselves. I didn’t want to be afraid. I didn’t want to think “Well I can get another job as a waitress, certainly.” I did think that. Even if I lose this job and don’t get that job, I was going to be fine because I can always get a job somewhere that pays the rent.
Film Courage: How long had you been here?
Robin Riker: I arrived [in Los Angeles] on tax day April 15th (very close to the time we’re doing this interview). Let’s see and I got my first [acting] job in August. And I landed an agent by May or June. And by August I had my first job.
Film Courage: Wow! That’s really quick. A lot of people stay here a lot longer [and never accomplish either]. I just want to get back to the whole thought about how you came to LA not to be a waitress or receptionist or whatever (fill in the blank). I hear from a lot of actors that they need these jobs (obviously) because first of all it’s expensive to be an actor with obtaining headshots and all the things that go along with it. Any advice for someone that is in a similar position because sure this part-time job is just to sustain them but you took that risk [to quit] you felt that even thought you’d only been here a few months [you were going to land on your feet]. Any advice for people in a similar situation?
Robin Riker: Bet on yourself. If you have the chutzpah to come to Hollywood which is one of the most unforgiving cities and show business, which is one of the most unforgiving industries that exists and you’re brave enough to come to Hollywood, then keep that courage up and believe in yourself. And waitressing jobs, bartending jobs, those are the best jobs to get because they are the maximum financial return for the minimum responsibility.
I used to live in the [San Francisco] Bay Area, like you…and one of the things that was the driving force that had me move to Los Angeles was I was working in a bar at the end of Sunnyvale/Saratoga Road called Andy Capp’s. The business [at the tavern] was taking off, it was doing really well. And I was doing theatre in Palo Alto [California]. And the people who owned the bar offered me a small percentage of the bar which meant if I took that then I would have to be responsible and do what…I’m taking a job and I can’t go off and just do what I want. So this was my first offer of a really straight job that had longevity to it and there was a percentage of the bar or betting on myself coming to Hollywood with $45 and a proof sheet and I chose that because it was what I wanted to do.
If you have a dream or a vision of what it is that you can or should be doing, you have to follow it. You have to. Because the chief thing you want to avoid at any point in your life is regret. You have to try it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Film Courage: Right. I think anyone who has been around and looking for those jobs during The [Great] Recession….during the recession you couldn’t easily get a minimum wage job. You were in a pool [of job seekers]. You had to go on numerous interviews just for that one job. So I think people are so skittish nowadays and I don’t blame them. I get it. I think it’s scary.
Robin Riker: Yes it can be scary. But scarier than looking for a job is setting your cap for a career in Hollywood. This is hard. This is a very challenging thing and as I said, if you have the nerve to come here, if you have even a modicum of belief in your ability to “make it,” in any facet, behind the camera, in front of the camera, whatever it may be, you have to pursue it, you have to.
Film Courage: I think even scarier is regret. And I think some people they are not there yet [in their lives] so they don’t see that time does fly by and then regret is actually the scariest thing. Yes, not being able to pay your rent is very scary but regret is also scary.
Robin Riker: The other thing is, don’t come here and rent a $3,000 a month apartment. Come here and no matter how old you are, get a roommate, take a studio, live in a small place, because all of your energy has to go toward what it is that you’re pursuing and so you have to be sensible about it, you know? I mean, you can’t go mad with…this is one thing that I thought was amazing when I moved to Hollywood. Everybody spent all this money on a car. Because a car…you pull up to the valet and the car tells them who you are. Well you’re just this far from being a valet yourself, most of the time as an actor. You might have to take a job like that. So be smart about what it is, where you set yourself up, how you set yourself up, your expectations. Bank on yourself, not the purse you carry or the car you drive. Believe in yourself.
Question for the Viewers: How did you book your first job in Hollywood?
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