When Marta Cross thinks back to her most embarrassing audition, she remembers the time she got starstruck by Luke Wilson. She was at a callback for one of his independent films, and he surprised her by being in the room when she entered. She ended up tripping over all of her words, and forgetting most of her things on the way out. For Claire Glassford, it's the time when she ran into a casting director's office after hearing her say, "Hurry up!" and realised she was actually talking to her dogs.
Believe it or not, it took many years, a chunk of money, and a lot of hard work for the women to even get the opportunity for those embarrassing moments, and even now, there are other actresses hearing these stories and wishing they had the chance to bomb that badly. That's because the career of a working actress is hard. There's so much that comes before they get their Oscar moments, before they step on their first red carpet, before you even may have heard their names, and that's what Refinery29's new series L.A. Land is all about.
Cross, Glassford, and Kenesha Bolton all appear in the series, but got their start in the industry in wildly different ways. Cross, now 37, has been acting for the past 30 years, following the advice of teachers to pursue the craft and landing her first commercial in Costa Rica and had a role in her first major film by age 24. 26-year-old Glassford took the community theatre route, eventually going to school for acting at NYU, and auditioning on the side, both eventually deciding to try their luck in L.A.
Bolton, who is in her 30s, has a story that is much less traditional. She had neither the parents nor the childhood to support her in her early dreams of becoming an actress, so she had to wait until she was an adult.
"A lot people had that one family member or one friend to be there with them when they get started, I did it by myself," she told Refinery29. She ended up Googling how to become an actress, and started taking classes and getting headshots. In September 2014, however, she decided to take her biggest leap of faith yet, selling her apartment, getting in her car, and driving to Hollywood from Georgia. She broke down multiple times, using up all her money on repairs, and relying on the kindness of strangers to get her to L.A. where she initially lived out of her car.
While L.A. was the place to be, none of the three women found immediate success.
"Man, did it take a while," Cross said. "You keep taking the classes, you keep going to auditions. My first audition which I had submitted myself for was a PSA for non-smoking and it was on a studio lot, so I was going onto a studio lot for the first time." Another early role included an appearance on a Nickelodeon show where she had to kiss a monkey.
"The monkey was not cooperating," Cross remembered. "He kept throwing pillows at my head."
Bolton started doing background work and appearing in music videos, and despite her living circumstances, was happy to just be doing what she loved. In fact, despite the rigorous environment and perhaps overwhelming expectations of Hollywood, none of the women are worn down.
"The amount of people who are also here doing the same thing has only inspired me," Glassford said.
The monkey was not cooperating. He kept throwing pillows at my head.
However, it definitely hasn't been easy. As working actresses, all three of the women have relied on side gigs to supplement the money from their acting (for Cross it was temp work, Glassford as a server, Bolton as a delivery woman for Postmates, among other things) which can take a toll mentally, not just physically.
"Balancing that kind of work with your auditions can make you feel like you kind of weren't making it," Cross said. "I wouldn't call myself an actor. I took that title off of myself because I thought I needed to be on the red carpet — which I was! I was waiting tables and I would get off work early and I'd be in a tie and an apron and I'd change into a gown in the car and throw on some makeup and jump onto the red carpet."
"It's always something I encourage myself to repeat," Glassford said. "Like, 'I am an actor.' Every day, actively choosing to be an actor."
And Bolton, despite having trouble finding better side gigs for herself, knows it will pay off.
"I'm working towards a bigger goal, a bigger dream," she said. "One day it's gonna happen."
And the way things "happen" in Hollywood is not just in the audition room. Sometimes it's as simple (theoretically) as surrounding yourself with the right people. For instance, Cross found that changing her management team did wonders for her career, and some of her best opportunities have come from the recommendations of friends. And while Glassford has found similar success by meeting the right people, she tries not to let it cloud her social interactions or cause her to form inauthentic relationships.
These dynamics can be tricky, however, when you're a woman of colour.
"I'm trying to go up against all these other Black folks who are trying to make it," Bolton said. "I'm trying to figure out how do I stand out, but the same not I'm not trying to compromise who I am as a woman. I want to make sure I get there the right way." Bolton says there's not that same friend-of-a-friend, pay-it-forward attitude among Black actors in Hollywood because the roles for them can be so scarce. While she's always happy to help the next person, she says she hasn't found herself on the receiving end of that help very often.
There are other challenges that come with being an actress of colour. As a Latina woman, Cross has to navigate finding roles for herself without falling into a box.
"They're bringing in Latina, Asian, and Black for the same role 'cause they are filling in the diversity," she said. "I would even for certain roles put more of a tan on, out of [a] bottle."
But she doesn't want to just go out for roles as a Latina. "I do relate to being Latina fully," she clarified. "But I also have an Irish-American father and grew up in Texas. I relate to being a woman."
But Cross says she is seeing Hollywood's attitude towards race get better before her eyes — and the same goes for women. In the wake of Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood is listening even if we don't see it fully yet.
I just want to act. I don't need to be famous.
"All the [TV] pilots that people are doing reflect where the nation is, where the world is," she said. "Last year it was all prestige roles and crime and politics, and this year it's all women-based stories."
Glassford told me that every week she has a conversation with her fellow actor friends about instances of sexual harassment on set, but that this means "we're all creating a language and conversation and safe space to talk to other people about it."
Of course, time will only tell if this change actually manifests on (and off) screen, but Glassford is positive.
"I think it's hopeful," she said. "I really feel hopeful about it."
That's pretty much these actresses' attitude in general. Sure, they've faced their share of rejection and embarrassment and scrambling to find side gigs, but the way they see it, they've made it this far — why give up? It's not that they want to be the next Angelina Jolie (although Cross won't deny that everyone pictures their Oscars moment), but that they want to do what they love for as long as possible.
"I just want to act, I don't need to be famous," Bolton said. "I just want to make that my full time job."
"I want to be 50 and still acting," Glassford said. "I want to have longevity in my career, and because I want to have longevity it sort of relinquished the feeling that it needs to happen now. I'm not thinking I have this expiration date."
And their goals go beyond being on screen. Cross writes, produces, and directs her own work, and hopes to get even more unique stories out there, even though she's currently struggling to find a studio that supports them. Speaking of, Bolton hopes to one day have her own studio, and Glassford wants to direct and coach, to be an expert in her craft while working on her own career. Those are a lot of goals, but in they end, they're not asking for much.
"If I'm on a TV show where I'm just acting," Kenesha said. "Like my job is to get up and go to the set and act...I'm good to go."
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