Inside the Lives of Hollywood’s Next Generation of Actresses

Mary Elizabeth Winstead

Thanks to the American public’s intense fascination with A-List celebrity, it’s been getting harder than ever to find articles on Hollywood actresses who don’t have have the last names of Kidman, Jolie and Aniston. While debating this press disparity, I realized that most people would jump at the chance to learn about what life was life for Jolie prior to her cracking the most elite levels of Hollywood. And thus an article idea was born.

by Chris Neumer

Article Introduction

Thanks to the American public’s intense fascination with A-List celebrity, it’s been getting harder than ever to find articles on Hollywood actresses who don’t have have the last names of Kidman, Jolie and Aniston. While debating this press disparity, I realized that most people would jump at the chance to learn about what life was life for Jolie prior to her cracking the most elite levels of Hollywood. And thus an article idea was born.

I asked a number of well-connected film world agents and managers to recommend some actresses with positive buzz surrounding their names. I steered clear of all publicists’ recommendations; I wanted this piece to be viewed as the antithesis of a puff piece.

Over the next few months, I spoke to actresses Lauren Bittner, Haylie Duff, Tiffany Dupont, Meagan Good, Jennifer Hall, Tina Majorino, Laura Ramsey, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Nora Zehetner about their lives as actresses. All nine women currently live in the Los Angeles area and have had prominent roles in mainstream theatrical features.

This is the definitive investigation into what life is like for a rising twenty-something actress in Hollywood.

Part 1: The Acting Lifestyle

There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be an actor. Most people see photos of Jennifer Lopez gallivanting in the Caribbean and attending glamorous red-carpet events on the cover of US Weekly and assume that these activities somehow factor into the nuts and bolts of being an actor. Rarely is this actually the case. If one thing is apparent, it’s that there is a surprisingly large amount of prep work and unique mental conditioning involved in the acting job description that doesn’t often get mentioned.

MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD: Acting is a job. You have to do everything that is required of you to do your job the best way that you can. You have to meet as many people as possible and make connections and get your face out there in order to keep your job. Becoming a “name” is part of what will help me do that. I don’t want to be hugely famous; I just want to be notable enough to be able to continue working. I do not want to be mobbed while just walking down the street. That doesn’t sound like an ideal way to live to me.

TIFFANY DUPONT: I think that to really be successful you need to realize that yes, you’re an artist and yes, you’re creative, but the bottom line is that you’re a product that is being marketed. I don’t think a lot of younger actors know about this, don’t understand it, or just get caught up in all of the partying, the fame and the money. Those other things are a part of it, yes, but they need to be handled a certain way. If these [filmmakers] get me into a room and my acting’s not my number one focus, it’s not going to even matter how rich or famous I am. It doesn’t matter if I was on the cover of magazines, if I’m not able to produce the kind of quality of acting that they want, I’m not going to get where I want to be.

MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD: I definitely put a lot of emphasis on auditioning. I work tirelessly to get auditions down exactly how I think they should be. I make sure when I go in that it’s not a waste of their time or mine. I always read the script thoroughly. I go back and take notes on everything and really try to understand the character, even if I’m only reading one scene for them. I do that because I think that’s really important. I don’t take my [script] outside and practice though. I feel so bad for those people. You don’t have to do that. Just think about it in your head. You’ll be fine.

LAURA RAMSEY: The most important thing to me is that I don’t embarrass myself. I’ll be sitting there before a casting session, going over the lines in my head, and I’ll see other people reading their lines out loud to the wall. I just don’t want to be that person. Everyone has their own things that they do to calm themselves down. You’re putting yourself out there, wearing your emotions on your sleeve. You’re sobbing and balling, and everyone’s watching you.

HAYLIE DUFF: Acting is a weird job to choose, period. You learn so many lessons every time you don’t get stuff. Not when you get stuff, when you don’t get stuff. The biggest lesson I learned came when I was 11 or 12 years old. It helped me the rest of my life. Most of my friends are not actors. When guys break up with them or they have any kind of rejection, it’s this huge ordeal and they want to cry for days about it. For me, I learned rejection at 11 or 12. It’s that first audition you go on, you don’t get. That’s when you learn that. You learn how to deal with rejection.

NORA ZEHETNER: It’s interesting how little time we actually get to spend acting. I wish there were more of that and less time with meetings and auditions, but you have to do all that if you want to get to the position where you can act.

LAURA RAMSEY: I’m a hard worker. So when you come out here and you audition, that really is your job! It’s going out on all these auditions and preparing for them. Sometimes I feel like I should be doing something else, like I’m not working hard enough [at life]. It’s weird, but sometimes I feel like I need to go teach or help kids. But the auditioning is really an important step in the process, because that’s what gets you the job. If you don’t audition, you don’t get a movie.

NORA ZEHETNER: I’ve been on a lot of auditions. Thousands probably. I don’t go on as many as I used to. I’m trying to be picky. When I do have one now, I think I put too much importance on it. I haven’t auditioned in a while so I feel rusty. It becomes this thing where you just walk in and the producers look at you and they decide whether you look the way they want you to look. I think [the way I look] means a lot more to them than my actual acting. Then you read and they’re like, “Thank you, good bye.” It’s not a creative process where they give you direction or want to work with you.

JENNIFER HALL: Say you want to be a musician. You can sit at home, learn to play an instrument, and then you’re a musician. To be an actor, I mean, what am I going to do? Walk down the street and recite lines? It takes a whole team of people in order for you to attempt your craft. And then even after that, it takes money. You have to have another person involved in order to act and then you have to find a camera crew and a location and someone to pay for all that. That’s the most mind-boggling part.

TIFFANY DUPONT: I feel like I’m the kind of person who knows I’m doing exactly what I should be. I know that acting is the right job for me. I’m in the place I’m supposed to be. I think it’s one of those things where you have to feel at peace about it. I’m not waking up in the morning conflicted or distracted by other things. I wake up everyday and I’m completely focused on what I want to do. I even have a schedule for myself in which I spend X number of hours studying material, or a script I’m working on, or something I’m doing with my [acting] coach.

MEAGAN GOOD: A lot of people talk about actresses who came out here from a small town, then waitress, and then instantly hit it big. I think it only appears as if it happened overnight. In actuality, that person was probably waitressing and auditioning for years and had several smaller parts here and there before they got on something where they were discovered and things took off. The appearance that it happens over night is not realistic for anybody, except maybe for Edward Furlong when he got put in Terminator 2… and that happened 15 years ago.

LAURA RAMSEY: My story is as close to that typical story about a small town waitress [making it as an actress] as you can get. It’s so weird when I really think about it. My best friend in high school understood my passion for acting and wrote me her last check for $100. So I moved to California with $100. When I first got here, I stayed with a friend of a friend. I stayed on their floor, because there was another person living there too. It’s weird, I mean, I met my manager while I was waiting on her table one day. She asked me if I had headshots and I had literally no idea what she was talking about.

HAYLIE DUFF: I’ve never really been that good at the schmoozing involved in the business. I go to different events and stuff, but I’m a person who goes in and, twenty minutes later, finds a way to sneak out the back door. I’ve just never found that it’s really helped me. The people that I meet at all those parties are never the ones that I’m in front of or am reading for or who are producing things that I want to go after. I just need to be a little more outgoing or something. I’m not the person who can walk up to someone and say, “Hi, I heard you’re doing this movie and I want to be in it.” I can’t do that. That’s not my style.

MEAGAN GOOD: A lot of actors get work because of the relationships that they have or the people that they know. Even if you are good at schmoozing people and creating those relationships, I don’t believe that you’ll have longevity if you don’t have the acting chops to back it up. The two do go hand-in-hand. On the other side, you have the actors who have the chops, but they’re not very social. It’s the best combination when they’re hand-in-hand.

JENNIFER HALL: You have to spend your time figuring out who’s going to be where, and of course, I’m not really good at that. When I get to a party, I look for the food, then I end up talking to as many people as I can, usually to people I’ve never heard of. I’m not a very good socialite. I’m not good at trying to manipulate my way through the socialite game in order to get so-and-so to see me in this new BCBG dress.

NORA ZEHETNER: I don’t really do that much of the partying. Maybe I’d be better off if I did. I’m kind of a mess half the time if I go to an event. I don’t have the hair and makeup person. My friends will come meet me at my house and I’ll be in jeans and a T-shirt and no makeup. I stay in more than anything. I don’t really like to go out–occasionally it’s fun but… I’m sure in the future I’ll have to do it more, but right now, I blissfully don’t have to. I’m not going to say, “It’s so awful.” So many people would be thrilled to go to these parties and things, but I don’t want that to consume my life. I think you make choices. Some people go to things or do things just for their movies; press for their movies. It’s all very proper. There are other people who just like to be in the limelight, so they go out all the time. That’s not me.

MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD: I haven’t gotten into that yet. I haven’t done the party thing. That’s exhausting for me. You’re taking meetings all day as it is, auditioning and meeting with people and offices… Going out to parties is just more work and it’s exhausting. Not only do you have [keep talking about] work, but then you have to talk over the loud music and there are bodies everywhere.

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