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by Jenna Fischer
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I've received tons of letters from people asking advice about the entertainment industry and, in particular, pursing a life as an actor. People have also asked how I got to be on The Office. This blog, I hope, will address some of those questions.
The world of Hollywood is mysterious. You hear stories of girls being discovered at ball games. Success is about having "it" or being pretty or some other intangible magic. You have no model for how to succeed. Everyone's story is different. One person does stand-up for 15 years and then gets a TV show, someone else finances their own movie and it takes off at a festival and suddenly they are the hottest thing. But for each of those people there are thousands of stand-up comics and filmmakers who never got their break. How do you know what to do?
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I thought being an actor meant being famous. But, most actors aren't recognizable. It's funny. I watch TV in a whole new way now. Like, I watch a show and I see the person who has 3 lines on Law and Order and I think, "Their family is gathered around the TV flipping out right now. I bet that was a huge deal for that person!" There are so many actors that make a living by doing support work on shows. I was that person for many years. For me to stay in this business, it had to be okay if I was never recognized. I learned that I loved the craft of acting:
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more than the idea of being famous.
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It isn't who you know. It just doesn't work that way. I didn't know anyone when I moved to LA. Most people don't. I shared an apartment with an old college buddy. He had a commercial agent and I was sure that by knowing him, this agent would take me on. She didn't.
Here is how I got "discovered". I had been living in LA for about 2 years. A friend wrote a TV script and wanted to do a live stage version as a way of attracting TV producers. He asked me to play a small role. It meant lots of rehearsal for very little stage time and no pay. Along the way I questioned why I had agreed to do it. But, it was very funny and he was a friend, so I agreed. After our 3rd performance, his manager approached me and asked if I had representation. I said, no. She offered to represent me saying she thought I had a real future in television comedy. Naomi is still my manager today.
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So, how did I get The Office? Spin City was cast by Allison Jones. She also casts The Office. She became a fan of mine through a series of auditions. I kept going into her office year after year auditioning for different things. I got some and not others but she kept bringing me back. I developed a relationship with her - not because I met her at a party and we schmoozed - but because I had proven to her over the course of many years that I was a reliable and serious actor capable of providing a consistent body of work. That is what this business is all about - from a real working actors perspective. Allison remembered me when it was time to cast The Office. She called me to audition and I finally got the part.
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I know how hard it can be when you first get out here. Go out and meet as many people as you can. Create a family for yourself of creative, supportive people. AND, don't stop your personal life for your career. I know a lot of people that wait to do things - visit family, friends, have relationships, get married - because they are waiting until they "make it". Or, they don't go to a friend's wedding because they might "miss something". Life is too short and it's not worth it in the end. I always took off and did that stuff and it turned out fine. I was often anxious and worried in the process but I did it. I believe that in order for my professional life to move forward, I have to keep my personal life moving forward as well.
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This Spring marked my 12 year anniversary in Los Angeles. I didn't land the part of Pam on The Office until year 8. I'm hardly an overnight success. Likewise, Rainn Wilson toured the country doing theater and was one of those working but unrecognized actors for over 10 years. Steve Carell had been kicking around for close to 20 years. Most of us on The Office have a story like that. I think that is one of the reasons why we are all so very, very grateful to have landed such a wonderful job. Slow and steady wins the race.
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