“As a female actor, it’s 10 times more difficult to deal with rejection because not everything is about talent.”
I first met Eileen when the two of us were university students working at a night club in Waterloo. At the time, she was completing her Bachelors of Arts in Theatre at the University of Waterloo.
Eileen told me she has always been drawn to the arts, ever since she was little.
Her parents and sisters moved from China to Winnipeg Manitoba in the 80’s before she was born. They moved to Toronto when she was 3 and have been living in the GTA ever since.
I decided to reach out to her for FIO, and see how she is doing in the Toronto acting world.
What is your day-to-day like?
“My day-to-day is always changing. My life is unpredictable in that way. I do try to stick to regimens but then I fall out of them and then back into them again. On a good productive day, I’d be awake in the morning. I go straight to my computer before anything and run through all my news including social media. I start to write notes and ideas for projects from previous days so that I have them in mind for later and then I’ll start to write for a bit.
The process is always different. Sometimes I’m like “Yes, I’m on a role!” Other times I hate my life while I stare blankly at my computer. I’ll grab an early dinner/late lunch before I go to work and by the time I get home again it’s probably anywhere from 12am-2am. Then I start all over.”
What type of training did you need to complete to be an actor?
“The path of an artist is so difficult to map out. The experience is different for everyone and there is no step-by-step guide I can offer to guarantee success.
As an actor, training is a must and learning is on-going, but where you get your training doesn’t necessarily play a key role in you booking a gig. Many actors choose to go to theatre school and spend four years training as an actor. There are also a lot of working actors that have never been to theatre school and do just fine without having gone there. Most actors take acting classes in studios in the city and are constantly working on their craft that way. I’ve done both.
I have a “Joe Job” that works well with my auditioning schedule and most actors work at night to achieve this.”
What does Joe Job mean?
“A Joe job is a term that refers to a job you work in order to support yourself while you’re pursing another career. It can be anything from office work, bartending, different odd jobs – literally anything.
Currently, I work at a restaurant. The hours are at night so days are free for auditions.”
What is your long-term career plan?
“More and more I’ve come to realize that actors have to create their own work. It’s a hard industry to break into and good roles are limited. Being an artist is synonymous with being an entrepreneur and so many actors are becoming successful in that way. It’s much more fulfilling that way and you’re not waiting by the phone.
I have a few pieces on the go that I’m working on. I have some ideas for plays and others for short films. Making your own shorts and indie films is a lot of work and there is a lot of investment involved; but it’s a very exciting time to do that kind of work.
We have so many mediums like Youtube and Vimeo and there are a lot of artists that utilize that platform. In the next 5 years I hope that I’ll be working on my own projects. I want to write, create, tell meaningful stories, and have creative control in my career.”
Do you think that social media has been a game changer in the acting world?
“Yes. Social media has changed the acting world dramatically.
If you’re down to two actors for a role, and both of the them are equally as talented, and one actor has a ton of twitter followers, the one with more twitter followers will probably be cast. It’s a numbers game. Someone with a bigger following will probably influence more people to see your movie/tvshow/play.”
Do you use a lot of social media outlets to gain exposure?
“I do have most forms of social media – Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I’m on them a moderate amount. If I had a show I wanted to promote I would definitely spread that on social media. I personally am still indifferent to it (maybe I shouldn’t be) but I know people who are constantly posting, constantly trying to connect with followers, and trying to build that fan base.
So now it’s not just about being talented and fitting the part, it’s about how popular you are, and how you connect with fans and potential fans. Social media is a new player in the game and I think it’s here to stay.”
What type of female would you recommend going into your career field?
“You really need a thick skin and you need to have the determination stay in this industry. You have to be able to take many No’s and very few Yes’s.
I’ve been fortunate to have been able to work on a few projects straight out of school. That really gave me a lot of confidence. But not knowing when the next gig will come – those moments in between can be very difficult. And as a female actor it’s 10 times more difficult to deal with rejection because not everything is about talent.”
Could you elaborate on that last point you made? “As a female actor it’s 10 times more difficult to deal with rejection because not everything is about talent.”
“When I say it’s not about just about talent, I’m really trying to say that looks play a big part. We live in a world where the media, especially Hollywood, still portray women in a specific way. That her value is in her looks and her youth. “Looking the Part” is important in the industry. So if I want to play those lead roles in movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, I’d better be as good looking, as fit, and as talented as Zoe Saldana. That’s a lot of pressure for an actress that has those kinds of dreams.”
Can you walk me through the process of an audition?
“You get a call from your agent about an audition (usually) the very next day. They give you the time, location, and send you the breakdown and the sides through email. A breakdown is a character breakdown that gives you a bit of insight into the character you’re auditioning for.
Basic things like age, gender, and even race are identified in this breakdown. The sides are a few pages of the script that have your lines on them. Every actor has a different process but most will take the sides and start to go through the text so they can start to build a character.
On the day of the audition you’ll go to the casting location, wait with other actors who are auditioning for the same role (some may look eerily similar to you,) and you wait until you’re called in. You go into a room with a camera operator, a reader, and sometimes the casting director or their assistant. You do your scene maybe twice and not more than 5 minutes later it’s over. You don’t find out if you get the role unless you book it or you know the shoot date has passed. No joke.”
Do you have an agent? How do you find auditions?
“I do have an agent. I was lucky to get one straight out of school. The ACTRA (actors film/tv union) Toronto site is a good place to look for reputable agents. You have to send them packages with a professional head shot, cover letter, and actors resume. Your actors resume will have all the credits that you’ve done in the past and any training and special skills you may have.
If you’re just starting out and interested in doing some work, you can find auditions for non-union (generally non-paid) films on Mandy.com. You can also sign up for the Canadian Actors Equity Associations (CAEA) mailing list and they send auditions for theatre all the time. They have work for people in the union and who are non-union.”
Is there a strong female representation in your field?
“There is and there isn’t. There are a lot women who work in this industry but they don’t all call the shots. The industry is still a male dominated one, so a lot of things being produced are looking through that lens. That’s why we need more female writers, directors, and producers to tell the stories of women and feature them in strong and interesting roles.”
Do you see anyone working to change this?
“I do see people doing this. Like I said before Mindy Kailing is running her own tv show and she’s a woman of colour which makes it that much more exciting. And since Mean Girls, Tina Fey has been really producing a lot of great things.
Currently I’m watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt, which is produced by Tina Fey. Female comedians are some of the boldest and smartest people. They’re going to be the ones who really break us into those decision-making roles.”
Could you provide me with more insight on being a women and a minority in this industry?
“Diversity in Hollywood is still a big issue. This year, no person of colour was nominated for an Oscar for best actor/actress or supporting actor/actress. I’m not saying that the actors and actresses who were nominated and won didn’t deserve it, but it’s hard not to notice the demographic in Hollywood is predominately white.
The types of roles minorities play are usually either supporting roles or very specific and usually stereotypical. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone out for a nurse role or something of that nature.
Most recently ABC put out a show called Fresh Off the Boat. It’s the first TV show that has featured an Asian American family in 20 years since Margaret Cho’s All American Girl. Twenty Years! That’s insane to me, because I’m Asian and I know that I have interesting and relatable stories to tell. I don’t see that representation in the media. Now the CBC is about to produce a show called Kim’s Convenience. It’s based off a play – by the same name, that was produced by Soulpepper theatre a few years ago. It’s about a Korean family from Regent Park who own a convenience store. I saw the play and it’s funny, moving, and very Toronto. I can’t wait for the TV series!
With all this being said, I can’t expect a big Hollywood exec, who may be white and or male to know my stories and experiences. He can only know his own experiences through the lens that he looks through. So I think it’s important for women, women of colour, and people of diverse backgrounds to step up in the industry and make their stories heard.”
What would you have done differently to get where you are now?
“To be honest, I don’t think I would’ve chosen to go to theatre school. Just for me personally, I think I’ve benefited more from acting classes in the Toronto studios. Film is the medium I prefer. I really regret not moving back to Toronto earlier, and just doing it.
Professional Development websites utilized by Eileen: