The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide
Genre: Nonfiction/self help
Hogwarts House Recommendation: I would say Slytherin because of the ambitious nature (or perhaps Gryffindor because it takes a lot to put yourself out there), but really this doesn’t have a house. It’s open to anyone who likes acting.
When Jenna Fischer first moved to L.A., she, like many people, had dreams of making it big. And like many people, she found it to be much more of a challenge. Still, eight years later, she found herself moving on from the days of crummy apartments and Actor’s Pizza (aka bread with sauce and a cheese slice on it) to getting a great role on The Office.
Here, Jenna shares her expertise with others looking to make it big. From getting good training to getting in the union and actually getting on TV, nothing in the business is easy…but Jenna is here to make things a little easier by telling you how to get started. She’ll tell you about how to get a great headshot and how to manage your career…with help, of course. And she shares moments from her own journey as well, passing along her pearls of wisdom to new actors.
I wasn’t expecting to hear an autobiography of Jenna Fisher’s life when picking up this story (heads up: that’s not what this book is). I did read the memoirs of Mindy Kaling and Rainn Wilson, but those were straight up autobiographies. If you’re looking for Jenna’s life story, this isn’t the right place. I myself picked it up because I was interested in hearing more about the industry.
In The Actor’s Life, Jenna takes you through her personal career journey and gives you some suggestions as to how to start work. Whether or not you “make it” is up to you; she’s only here to give you a general idea and tips on how to start. The basic journey goes something like this: get training, move to one of three cities, get professional headshots, go on auditions while working day jobs, get into the union (usually by doing commercials or working as an extra, though there are exceptions), get an agent and/or manager, continue going on auditions, work on a project, look for work again. However, there is also a lot of luck involved. Jenna certainly doesn’t brush past this hard fact and even admits to often being in the right place at the right time. She may have gotten the role of Pam because the casting directors wanted absolutely no famous names.
It’s certainly a personal look at a career in acting. Maybe this is because Jenna herself is not an A-list actor, but it seems hard to think that your average Joe is going to pick this up and became a famous movie star from this book (but you never know). The steps she takes you through actually seem very doable, workload notwithstanding. And yes, it is a lot of work. It’s a lot of flexible part-time day jobs so you can barely afford to pay your rent while going on auditions. While a lot of the tips here seem like common sense, others are not. I especially liked the advice she gives about headshots and picking 5 adjectives that you want to sell- ones that helped her get the role of Pam. Jenna also shares her rookie mistakes which will make you think, I can’t believe a professional actress tried to do those things! But Office fans will also find things to like here in her chapter of how things work on a TV set. And yes, it is possible to develop a strong dislike for mint chocolate chip cake when you eat a lot of it during a certain scene! What I did like in general, though, was how she presented the material. It wasn’t threatening or overly harsh, but it wasn’t sunshine and rainbows everyone-can-do-this! either.
There are also common misconceptions addressed. First of all: not all actors are celebrities. Many aren’t. It seems funny to think about, but this is true. Many actors will not become famous and rich, and Jenna advises us to avoid the business if that is your sole focus. Also, just because you make it big doesn’t mean you won’t struggle to look for work. I’d originally thought that too: when you got famous or did well, I always just assumed that work would come to you. Finally, acting is far from glamorous. Jenna never straight-up says this, but look at the chapter on TV set life and you’ll see what I mean. We’re talking waking up at 5 AM or earlier to work 12-16 hour days. Okay, not for me. It is, however, a really interesting look at how television works.
Of course, no two actors share an experience. That’s why Jenna interviews four of her acting friends, each with different experiences, and includes them in the back. One actor friend took 40 years to truly make it on stage, while another took three. Others had breaks in between—a casual reminder that work is not guaranteed as an actor even if you’re very famous. It’s basically like freelancing. Speaking of which, another disclaimer: there aren’t a lot of actual testimonials from really super famous actors. Instead, what we get are celebrity quotes that are well mixed-in to whatever Jenna is talking about at that moment. That isn’t necessarily to say that you won’t become rich and famous after taking Jenna’s advice, but a word of warning: not everyone makes it. That’s why one piece of advice that Jenna and her friends give is to cultivate every aspect of your life, not just the acting parts.
Whether you are looking to go pro, pursue acting as a hobby, liked the acting chapters in Wilson’s or Kaling’s books, or are just curious about the industry, The Actor’s Life is a unique guide that really hasn’t been done in this way before (written by a professional actor known in pop culture). I enjoyed it; if you are interested in learning more, pick it up. And if you do want to go pro, this book actually makes it seem sort of doable.