Destination: Hollywood – Part 2

Continuing our Hollywood Story from Part 1

Representation is Key

Destination Hollywood!

 Whether moving to Hollywood as an established actor like West, or in the early stages of a career like Knai, getting the paperwork approved is not an insurmountable task, according to casting director Carla Hool.

 “I’ve seen a lot of actors who get their paperwork,” she says. “The challenge for that is that they usually need a sponsor, which is often an agent. So that’s the one thing that makes it difficult.”

 Hool, who moved her casting business from Mexico City to Los Angeles in 2006, has carved out her niche casting roles for Latino actors. She teaches workshops internationally to guide actors who hope to make the transition to the United States. In these workshops, she advises actors to do their research, network, study acting and – like any aspiring actor – hustle!

 “If they really want it, they really have to work every day toward what they want,” she says.

 For international actors, the need to hustle is magnified by their unique time restrictions. “They only have three months to be here without a visa, so they need to get on it,” says Hool. “They need to do all of the research before they come, and research managers and agents that know how to sell their archetype. There are tons of agents, tons of managers, but they can’t waste time.”

Paying the Bills

 Moving here at different career stages is common, according to Hool. “If they’re really young – early 20’s or younger – and their English is good, they should go ahead and come here early to start their career,” she explains. “If they are past 25, I would say build their career in their country first, and then come.”

 The timing of the move may be largely dictated by personal finances for less established aspiring actors. The legal and paperwork costs, on average, run around $4,000, though the results vary wildly. “I have probably spent between twelve and thirteen grand,” says Knai.

 Add to these costs moving expenses and cost of living in a large city, and the bills can quickly pile up.  With limited non-acting work opportunities allowed on the O-1 visa, the timeline for success must be considerably shorter.

 You Say Tomato…But Do You Say it Right?

Hool cites the difficulty of acting and cold auditioning in American English as a non-native speaker to be the paramount challenges for transitioning actors. “It’s not easy to act in a different language.” says Hool, adding. “We don’t like accents here!”

 Even English-speaking actors of foreign descent, therefore, need to work on their English…their American English, that is.

 “There are very few accented parts out there, and even fewer are from your specific country,” he says, noting a low demand for actors with a Norwegian accent.  “You need to be able to fake a standard American accent.”

 Hool agrees that the rule is simple: “Come in the room already speaking American.”

 Knai worked on his accent while at the New York Academy for Dramatic Arts, both in classes and in extracurricular activities. He also credits surrounding himself with friends that will point out “accent words” and turns of phrase that stand out as foreign against the American lexicon. “I would say ‘Nice to meet you!’ whenever I’d say bye to people I already knew, which apparently doesn’t work except for when you first meet them,” he says.

 Beyond the benefit of qualifying for a larger range of parts, another reason some actors work on their accent is the fear of losing out on a part simply because they are foreign. “There’s just this bias against hiring foreigners because people fear it may be a problem somehow,” says Knai, adding, “even though I’m set, they are going to go with the other guy who’s just the same, but American.”

 West’s experience, however, has been different. “There are no rules – just like Hollywood in general,” he jokes.

 West initially worked to reduce his accent on the advice of his first agent. “I spent the first year obsessed about not having an accent while going in for different jobs. I would go in as an American and I would work on that,” he says.

 As time went on, however, he has developed deeper relationships with casting directors, and does not use an American accent beyond capably auditioning in the accent prescribed.

 “Some casting people and directors like the fact that you’re from somewhere else. If they don’t even think about your accent when they listen to you being American, the conjunction of the two is more interesting to them, in my experience,” he says.

Auditions: Don’t Kiss and Tell…Actually, Don’t Kiss at All

 Adding to the transition is the need to abide by cultural norms to survive in a profession based so largely on first impressions. Learning the professional and social customs during casting calls and meetings can be the difference between getting a call back, and never getting called back.

 “If they are Latin, they have a problem that they are used to kissing,” Hool says. “Casting directors see so many people each day, that we don’t even usually shake hands!”

 The professional norms, such as the style of head shots and demo reels, and even the casting process in general can be part of the cultural divide. “In Spain, for example, they don’t really use head shots, they don’t really do a similar demo reel. What they do is put together a lot of different images with music, and that’s not good for us. We need a short demo reel with short scenes and what will sell them most,” she says.

 The look in auditions varies across cultures as well. “There are a lot of cultures that wear a lot of perfume or makeup,” says Hool. “I tell them no perfume, less makeup.”

 Even shifting attitudes cross culturally can play a role on selling oneself into success. Self-promotion is one that West had to adapt to upon moving to Hollywood. “Being English, I don’t think we’re so used to saying we’re really good at something, or telling people to look at what we’ve done,” he says. “We’re much more like, ‘I don’t want to impose, are you sure you want to see this?’”

 Knai suggests learning appropriate onset behavior before securing a paid part. Visiting a set and observing what to do, and more importantly, what not to can prevent a detrimental snafu. Networking with other actors who have made the transition, along with research on the culture, are transitioning actors best friends.

The Chance to Strike Modern California Gold

Overcoming the extra challenges is not without its reward, though. There are more roles in the center of the global entertainment industry, both in acting and other performance facets.

 West’s career, for example, has expanded to include the niche of voiceover acting. On top of his roles in live action film, West has provided voice work for video games, audio books and features. The work has been so regular and lucrative, in fact, that he has even built a recording studio in his home.

 “It’s not where people’s minds go to when you move to Los Angeles, but I’ve discovered there are so many other avenues to have a really good career out here,” he says.

 Beyond the numbers game, the move to Hollywood not only means the chance to succeed as an American actor, but also as an internationally recognized one.

 “It’s Hollywood,” says Hool. “That’s the goal for any actor. That’s the most they can be.”

 Noting the lack of international male celebrities from Norway, Knai believes he could be positioned to be the first. “What does Brad Pitt have that I can’t possibly learn?” he laughs.

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