I earned my BFA in stage directing and acting at New York University and Playwrights Horizons Theater School before beginning my career as an actress. My first professional job as an actor was playing a twelve-year old boy looking at porn in Tompkins Square park with an amnesiac in Hal Hartley’s Amateur, which premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes. I work regularly in television and film and am most known for my recurring roles on Mad Men and Mad Dogs as well as in the Academy Award winning film, The Artist. I also star opposite the late, great Danny Aiello in his final, soon-to-be-released feature, One Moment, a heartbreaking comedy about a single mother trying to harness her already hectic life while her aging father slips into dementia.
Dissatisfied with the amount of work available to women in entertainment, I began writing my own material, performing stand up early in my career, then spinning it into a rave-reviewed one-woman show, Strip Search, about finding love and happiness with the help of a 12-foot pole. Another monologue I wrote and performed, Pie in the Sky, was published in the anthology about lust gone wrong – Worst Laid Plans: When Bad Sex Happens to Good People alongside works by Whitney Cummings, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Allison Brie and Laraine Newman. I made my producing debut on horror spoof, Smothered, shot on location in Baton Rouge. My directorial debut, a self-penned childhood drama, Cracked, stars Marguerite Moreau and garnered awards and laurels around the country. My second film, Pie, starring fellow Mad Men alum Jessica Paré, was a favorite on the festival circuit in 2018, also garnering awards and laurels internationally.
In 2016, I won a CineStory fellowship for my first feature script Never Been Born. While attending the retreat, I met accomplished YA novelist and Emily Dickinson First Book Award recipient Kristen Tracy, and the two of us co-conspired to collaborate, conceive and co-produce our short-format series FETISH which launched in early September this year. I’m also in the process of penning a sequel solo show to Strip Search called STRIPPED about dismantling a love affair with the help of a twelve-foot pole. My ambition is to create more stories for and about women and to foster opportunities for a diverse point of view in theater, film and television.
What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture or to make significant changes in an existing business?
The ebbs of a career in this business are the hardest part, and once I got a good look at how difficult it was going to be to break in and have success in show business, I decided to take matters into my own hands and create my own work. I wanted to be up onstage making people laugh, cry, gasp, whatever, and then I wanted to do it in front of and behind the camera too. So, instead of waiting for someone to pick me to be in their play or movie or tv show, I made my own.
How did the idea for your business come about?
I first started creating my own content by writing and performing stand up. It was easy to find open mics any night of the week in New York City and Los Angeles, so this gave me an outlet to create and perform my own material and have instant feedback from a live audience. I loved it! I don’t think there’s any validation better than hearing a bunch of strangers laugh at something I wrote and performed. It was also the most terrifying thing I’d ever done. I was so scared I did most of my sets with my eyes closed because looking out at the audience made me panic and forget my jokes. Honestly, though, the moments of forgetting my routine - of which there were many - were actually some of the biggest laughs I got…
Once I’d built up a large enough repertoire of material, I started to spin it into a one-woman show. It was a big hit. After writing, producing and performing live theater, I decided I wanted to make a film. So, I did that, twice. Then, I decided I wanted to make a series, so Kristen and I wrote and produced Fetish.
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
Money is always an ominous hurdle. It’s a wall that inhibits creativity because it makes things feel impossible if you believe you don’t have “enough.” So, instead of worrying about what I couldn’t do because of lack of funds, I decided to look at what I did have and what kind of stories I could tell with what was available to me. I craft stories that could take place in my own home so I wouldn’t need to pay for a location. I found collaborators who wanted the opportunity to work on a project in a higher capacity than they had in the past and so were willing to work for the experience and credit. I also found accomplished colleagues who simply wanted to give back and support a fledgling creator because they liked the project and thus were willing to donate their skills and expertise to work on something fun and meaningful.
What books are you currently reading? And your recommendation for entrepreneurs to read?
I’m currently reading Brianna Wiest’s The Mountain is You which identifies and reframes self-sabotage, not only to shut it down but to retool it into a compass for growth and expansion. I’m also reading Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. A dear friend gave me this book for my birthday and it’s been instrumental in putting life and strife into proper perspective which is especially useful for 2020! I’m also rereading The Artist’s Way, an essential tool for entrepreneurs who must constantly reinvent and create new paths for their business.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits?
How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
My family has periodically tried to talk me out of my career choice. Looking back on these debates, they came precisely at moments when my career was ebbing and I felt insecure, worried and vulnerable. It could also be that this is just when I heard their fears about my choices the loudest. I still managed to stick up for myself and defend my path and prevail. There’s not much about my handling of this I would change. I will say this: undermining someone’s belief in themselves is a form of abuse. Don’t do it. If it happens to you, say a prayer and walk away, or contact me. I’ll give you a pep talk.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
My will to create and author my own material and thus my own success on my own terms.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
No one’s going to come and tell me, “Hey, you’re a success!” There’s no magic cavalry that's coming to celebrate some special moment when that “happens.” So, it’s important to just make the choice and believe you’re successful from the onset. I think it’s best to believe success happens the moment we decide to go on the journey. Do a victory dance daily along the way, rather than at the end when your joints are tired and shot!
What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?
Los Angeles can be a lonely and isolating place for actors, filmmakers and creatives. I found it incredibly helpful to get myself into a class and find a community of artists who were maneuvering the same field as I am. Some studios I recommend are 'Risa Bramon Garcia' and Steve Braun’s 'BGB Studio'. They’ve created more than a place to take classes (and by the way, they’ve done an amazing job at pivoting their classes into a virtual setting to be Covid safe) - they’ve built their studio into a community that supports artists. I respect them so much. I also love studying with Larry Moss when he’s in town, and UCLA’s Extension classes are amazing for continuing to hone your craft. Their screen and television writing classes are top notch.
There couldn’t be a better time to be a content creator internationally. At the same time that this pandemic has limited our lives in so many ways, it has also opened up an infinite number of virtual possibilities. Not only are people globally craving and consuming more content than ever, but creatives can now access so many more online classes, workshops and coaching sessions to up their game and often at a reduced cost. I’d say take advantage of these opportunity and be creative about producing content as well as acquiring new skills.