Career Profile: Actress
JAS SAMS, ACTRESS
Tell us how you became an actress. Is it something you always wanted to do while growing up? There is a terrific scene in 30 Rock where Tracey Jordan recounts how he first realized he wanted to act and do comedy. It's a flashback and Tracey (played by a then relatively unknown Donald Glover) is dancing on live television and he falls during the routine. The audience laughs at him and he quickly realizes, "Wow. I like this."
That's kind of what happened to me, sans the whole live television aspect. (That and I don't think past-me is worthy of a re-enactment by Donald Glover.) While I don't have an exact moment that I knew I wanted to be an actor, I have several moments throughout my childhood where I remember doing something ridiculous and relishing the attention that followed. I definitely got into trouble a lot as a child. However, as I got older and began to focus that need into something more creatively constructive, I realized that I really loved the precision and the fine tuning that went into a well crafted performance. I got involved in community theater, studied singing, and eventually went to Brenau University to study theater.
What has been your favorite role to date? This is hard. I will say that one of my favorite roles to date has been "Dorinda" in The Beaux' Stratagem. I adore period theater - and the Gainesville Theatre Alliance allowed me the amazing, probably once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to act in a fully produced, period correct Restoration comedy. We had corsets and beautifully detailed costumes by Jeannie Crawford, movement training, sword fight coaching from Fight Master Michael Chin, and Gay Hammond directed a brilliant cast. Another favorite was "Fern" in an original show at Dad's Garage Theater Company called Scarlett's Web. Mike Katinsky wrote this delightfully bizarre script loosely based off of Charlotte's Web. Jason Hines from the Center for Puppetry Arts directed it. There were lots of puppets - and so, so much blood. And music! It was definitely a musical. Oh man, that show was so good.
Do you have a "process" to get into character? I would say that research is most of my process. I love learning about a character's time period, psyche, or actual real life ticks and habits if I'm playing a person who existed in real life. Music makes up a huge part of my process, too. I have go-to songs or compositions for different types of characters. Sometimes sitting with the right piece of music for the right character can do amazing things for a performance.
What are your tips for other aspiring actresses? First: Practice having a good attitude that perseveres. Excessive pessimism eats at your mind and drives you crazy. It pushes people away from you as a person and as a potential talent. I struggled with this for so, so long. I was embittered and socially awkward and constantly on the defensive when I had nothing worth being defensive about. People picked up on this and my progress, both in my career and in my personal development, suffered. No one wants to work with a negative, lazy actor. I look at it this way: there are countless actors out there who are prettier and more talented than me, so I had better have a disposition and a work ethic that can make up the difference. I just wish that I had learned this a lot sooner!
Second: Make opportunities for yourself. You can't wait around for the perfect agent or manager to sign you and start sending you out. Do stand-up. Do story telling shows. Make original shorts. Do student films. Make video blogs. Work on original characters. Take improv class and form your own indie team. Do whatever you can to create content and get yourself out there. I recently co-produced and starred in a feature film called As It's Remembered. We are making the festival submission rounds right now and responses have been promising! You need to be able to talk about all the awesome things you're doing when you take meetings with agents, managers, or shell out the money to participate in talent showcases and casting workshops. True, you ultimately need an agent or manager to get you into casting rooms, but they won't come and magically find you. They need to see something they can sell.
That makes me think of this: you may sign with an agent or a manager who can't get you auditions. Learn when to cut the cord. If they cannot get you out, then find someone who can. I'm guilty of this. I've stayed with an agency that couldn't get me out because I was afraid. Don't be afraid! Your relationship is mutualistic. If you are training and doing whatever you can to better your talent and technique, then they need to be trying to get you out like they've got a mortgage to pay.
Thirdly: Don't be afraid to promote yourself. People love to hate women who post pictures of themselves online. I've heard people hate on women who strive to keep up an online presence in so many ways. "She's vain! She's a narcissist! Why is she posting so many pictures of herself or her job or her life? Psycho! Selfish!" I just want to say, "Really? Tell me, wise guy: have you ever tried to submit for a job only to fall short of the required number of Twitter followers? Have you been in a casting room where someone says to you, 'You're adorable, but unfortunately your following on Instagram isn't up to par with what the client is looking for.' Oh, you haven't? Kindly stop this nonsense, then."
Lastly: stay in class. Improv, acting, do something. I stayed out of classes for so long because I felt that college was more than enough. Remember that bad attitude I was telling you about? Yeah. For some reason I thought that I was excused from class because I went to college for theater. You are never too good for class. You NEED a gym where you can work out your talents. People don't think of acting as a muscle, but it really is. You need to stay sharp on cold reads, audition technique, and most importantly - you need a place where you can simply act.
What is your dream role? Off the top of my head? I'd love to play Dusty Springfield or Janis Joplin. It's hard to pin down a single dream role. I'd love to play a character created by Tina Fey. If they ever make a reincarnation of 30 Rock, I will fight someone to play Jenna Maroney. Can you tell that I'm a little obsessed?
The kinds of characters that I long to play are the ones you can sink your teeth into. The characters that have telling details in their posture, their ticks, their pattern of speech; anything that gives you something to play with. I am a character actor deep down and I would love to see a resurgence in the value of quality character acting. If I could play Tracey Ullman or Lily Tomlin playing their original characters - now THAT would be something!