Book: 10,000 NOs
Photos By: Corey Nickols
1. What do you hope readers of your book, 10,000 NOs, takeaway from it?
I want readers to know that, even if they're stuck at the moment or they've just been knocked down by life, they're not alone. I want to remind them that others, even people that they may look up to, have been there at one point or another. No one gets out of life unscathed.
So my hope is that, by hearing stories of struggle and discussing ways in which I, and guests on my podcast, have turned those perceived failures into opportunities, readers will feel encouraged to battle through their own NOs.
2. Who are some actors you looked up to growing up and what impact did they have on your life and career?
I didn't get "the call" to be an actor until I was almost twenty, so I had to do a lot of catch up work throughout early adulthood, studying films of the 70's and other edgier fare than I was exposed to as a kid. I guess one honest answer could be Harrison Ford. When we got our first VCR, we got Raiders of the Lost Ark with it. I must have watched that thing till it wore out the tape. I could literally quote the entire movie.
So maybe on some level that kind of adventure, quest and wanderlust seeped into my psyche. He was also Han Solo in the Star Wars films and really, I was a Spielberg kid, born in '72, so the 80's were my formative years. Truth be told, though, I don't think I even made the connection that actors were humans back then. I certainly wasn't examining it as a craft as much as I would just lose myself in these larger than life worlds.
3. How did you keep the faith and ambition strong despite going through all the ups and downs?
I'm not quite sure. Sometimes I have to admit I must've been half-nuts to keep going because there were times when my pursuit just felt delusional. I guess deep down, even when things had really fallen apart, I had this inner voice telling me it was going to work out. Also, and I know this can be met with eye-rolls from some, but I'll say it anyway... I feel like God was involved.
There were just too many times for me when it felt like there was no way I was going to make it through and some random break would seemingly fall from the heavens into my lap. It was always when I was just teetering on the brink of destruction. I can't help but feel like there was some force larger than me guiding me. And I'd just keep working my ass off, even when it felt like it wasn't making a difference and eventually the wind would be at my back.
4. For up-and-coming actors looking to make a way in Hollywood what would be some key principles you would tell them to learn?
Love the work. Work hard. Fight like hell. Don't allow your worth to be decided by the opinions of others. If there's anything else you'd like as much as this, do it. This is not for the faint of heart.
5. What would you say was your most notable role and what’s one role you would’ve thought twice about playing looking back?
Jason Alan Ross on Huge in France had a special quality for me. The combination of laugh-out-loud comedy and dark, heavy pathos gave me a chance to really stretch. I'm not sure I've ever been "given the ball" as much as I was on that series and I like it when I'm forced to use all of my faculties for a role, which is how that one felt.
While there are definitely more than a few gigs I took because they were a better alternative than bartending or unemployment, I'm not sure I'd say I regret them. I learned a lot, sometimes even more, on the terrible gigs. I can't say I wouldn't want to destroy some of those tapes from ever being seen again, but if you have the right attitude, and are willing to put your ego aside, embarrassing situations can be a great catalyst for growth.
6. You talk a lot about the insides and outs of being an actor especially in an industry that doesn’t have a lot of people doing so. How important is it for you to give transparency to your industry?
I'm not sure I think about it on such a grand scale. I just don't want to BS people when they look at me like I have some glamorous life. I don't. Even the actors I know who have reached what is universally accepted as the pinnacle of our industry have problems.
And they've all worked really, really hard to reach those heights. I'm just not a fan of people selling dreamers a lie that they can have everything they want, overnight, with some 5-step program. Anything worthwhile costs you something.
7. What made you want to start the 10,000 NOs podcast and whose story of failure and triumph has had the most impact on you?
I guess I'm obsessed with examining facade vs. reality. And I love studying what makes people tick. I do it as an actor, when I ask questions of my characters' motivations. And now I do it with real people on the podcast. I started 10,000 NOs because my run on Scandal dried up and I felt like I couldn't get arrested in audition rooms for a long period of time despite doing what I thought to be good work.
I wanted to be able to exercise my creativity without being given permission by someone else. In terms of which of my guests' stories has impacted me the most it's difficult to choose because I've sat down with some incredible people. Two that come to mind, if I have to choose, are my friend Matt Long, FDNY/Ironman who was run over by a bus, given a 1% chance to live, and came back 3 years later to run the NYC marathon and then the Lake Placid Ironman) and the founder/CEO of Poo-Pourri, Suzy Batiz.
Suzy was sexually abused as a child, physically abused by her husband, bankrupt and down and out for four years. That was when she founded her company, which is now worth over $500 Million and has placed her on the Forbes Richest Self-Made Female list. But more than that, she's a good human, a natural teacher who lives authentically and she's making a huge impact.
8. It was once said, “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” What was the biggest “Yes” you’ve received, and on the other side, what was the toughest “No”?
Professionally speaking, the "yes" by David Chase to bring me onto The Sopranos in Season 4 has to be pretty far up the list. At that time, with that show being literally one of the greatest shows in television history, the closer I got to scoring the gig, the more impossible it seemed. When I got that role (of Cousin Brian Cammarata) it was as if the universe was encouraging me to ask the question, "why not me?"
There are so many NOs to choose from, but one that was kind of shocking and took the wind out of my sails was on a series called Paradise Pictures. The planets had aligned for me and I finally landed a regular gig on a pilot that was sought after by many actors. We shot it and there were so many intangibles that made it feel like it was destined to be a hit, or at least get picked up.
So, for three months, while waiting for the official news on the pickup, I paid a boxing trainer to get me ready for the eventual shooting of the series. As the deadline kept getting pushed back for us to get our news, doubt started to creep in, but it still felt inevitable. Then, right before Thanksgiving we got the news that the Network was passing on it. And there I was, out of work again, back to square one, just in time for the holiday season.
9. What was something that you learned about yourself while writing, 10,000 NOs?
That I could write over 50,000 words. In a couple of months. I honestly almost did a spit-take the first time my publishers told me the word-count I'd have to hit.
10. Can an actor be successful if they are only in the business for fame?
"Success" is a tricky concept. For me, fame does not equal success. But I guess it comes down to the scorecard you’re choosing to use. I think success is being able to sleep well at night and look yourself in the mirror knowing whatever it is that you're doing, regardless of whether you're an actor or anything else, you're doing it to the best of your ability.
11. Overall, what was your writing process like?
I kind of loved it. I had a lot of success getting up really early in the morning, before anyone in my house was awake, pouring a nice cup of coffee, and just letting it rip. That said, because of the self-imposed time constraints I had to deliver my manuscript before starting a season of television and it ended up being crazy.
I literally wrote in our car on the way to my brother's house in San Francisco for Thanksgiving, then over the Christmas holiday in a local library near my sister-in-law's house on the East Coast. And, finally, in a ski house in the Catskills surrounded by family, including hoards of nieces and nephews running around. It was legitimately bonkers. Thank God I have practice having to focus on busy sets.
12. What’s your best advice for getting over writer’s block?
Puke something out, even if you know it's horrible, so that when you sit down at the computer the next time, you're not staring at a blank page.
13. What’s the best book you have read this year so far?
I just re-read Sanford Meisner's On Acting, which I hadn't read since the mid-90's as well as William Esper's The Actor's Art and Craft for the first time. They hit me hard because they reminded me of how lucky I am to do what I set out to do so long ago. They also reminded me that, while I've come a long way in my craft, I'll never stop being a student and I'll never stop growing. And if I do, I may as well hang it up.
14. What’s the best advice you have ever received on happiness?
One of my guests, Nataly Kogan, started a company called Happier Now. It's founded on this thought: Replace, "I'll be happier when __________" with "I'm happier now because ______." Essentially, have more gratitude for what you've already got instead of always looking for the next thing.
15. Do you plan on writing more books in the future?
Absolutely. I must be a glutton for punishment, but I think I've got at least a few more in me. I've already begun speaking thoughts into dictation app on my phone and emailing them to myself in text form. At the moment, though, I'm focusing on my acting and kind of just basking in the fact that I can force my family to call me an author and get away with it. Sort of.
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