The stereotypes of LA are real. Everyone is skinnier, blonder, and richer than you. You drive everywhere and the traffic sucks. But there's no better stereotype than walking into a commercial callback for a beer spot and being told to strip down to a bikini. I remember it like it was yesterday. I just signed with my commercial agent and I wasn't booking anything. I was walking dogs to make a living and I was desperate to get any sort of acting work to validate my move to America. I wore a bathing suit instead of a bikini as some sort of passive-aggressive protest against this humiliating romp. My classical theater training was being disgraced and yet, I still showed up.
My heart was racing. I knew going into the audition I was going to have to strip down, but something about being there made it so much worse. Maybe it was the fact that I had no lines of dialogue in this commercial? Maybe it was the fact that we waited outside for an hour like a herd of cattle? Maybe it was the fact that I knew if I got the job, it was because my body was "hot enough" for the brand and if I didn't, I wasn't? My self-worth was riding on this job, I knew it, and it felt terrible.
Either way, I took off my clothes and a wave of shame washed over me. The beer dudes stared through me and I felt my knees buckling. I was throwing myself under the bus and I knew it. I'm better than this, I thought. But I was there openly being critiqued, voluntarily.
I remember running to my car and crying. I felt so ashamed for degrading myself to allowing my literal body to be judged like this. And yet, acting is a visual medium. It comes with the territory. I thought if this is the type of acting work I came to LA for, maybe I made a huge mistake.
I moved to Los Angeles from Toronto, Canada, about six years ago. I still say Toronto, Canada, assuming people still don't know where Toronto is but since I've left, Rob Ford became America's sweetheart and Drake made Toronto "The 6ix." I left when it was still just T Dot. You've now likely seen me on one screen or another. Canadian casting directors who wouldn't see me when I lived in Toronto now offer me roles without me even having to audition. It's very cliche, but once you get noticed in the States, Canada follows suit. So I would say, all in all: I made a positive life choice. (Albeit, I have to live in America, which is... for another article.)
I left when I was in my early 20s. And I mention that because I still think of them as my golden years. The years when I thought I knew everything and didn't know enough to be afraid or insecure about anything. I was confident enough to pick up my entire life (which honestly wasn't very much at the time) to make a name for myself in Hollywood. To give you some context, I knew a grand total of three people in LA. I had no talent representation. I was being actively discouraged by every entertainment professional from whom I sought advice. Everyone said you need to make it in Canada and get "invited" to the States. And I said, "fuck that."
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I wasn't entirely interested in any of the television shows I was auditioning for in Canada. Everything felt too safe and frankly, too government-funded. I wanted to follow the people whose careers I admired; Meryl Streep, Katharine Hepburn... Paul Rudd. I wanted to be in a town where my favorite movies and TV shows were being made. I wanted to be in the center of the storm. I made a decent living off of commercials in Canada at the time, but I heard you could buy a house making commercials in the States. (I've since done the math and it is true, provided you book exactly 18 commercials a year, save every penny, and eat dog food for dinner.) That was alluring at the time.
As luck would have it, I booked my first studio movie right before I was set to move, a small part in a big action film. I was on set for 25 days, always hair- and makeup-ready, but they never wanted me on camera. I made about $20,000 and I was in the movie for 0.3 seconds. After that experience I realized I was hired as a Toronto local hire, a rule the studios make with the Canadian film industry because they hire the lead talent from LA or NYC. And I knew I wasn't interested in waiting to be invited. Especially not if this was how it was going. And that's how it was going.
Despite my incessant loneliness, my binge eating, my desperate nights out trying to make conversation with bartenders who didn't have time for me, I stayed in LA.
So I moved. I moved just after the housing market crashed. I moved when they reversed Prop 8. I moved and Griffith Park (a hiking refuge for unemployed actors) was on fire for two weeks. I woke up every morning and there was a veil of soot covering the entire street. There was smoke in the air every day on top of the smog. I was very close to suffocating to death and even that wasn't enough to send me packing back to clean Canada. No. I came with a dream and going back with my tail between my legs was a non-starter. Especially because I had a "See You Fuckers Later" party, which was a big farewell bash that implied I'm not coming back until my rider only lets me fly private. So returning at any point would be the ego injury of the century. Despite my incessant loneliness, my binge eating, my desperate nights out trying to make conversation with bartenders who didn't have time for me, I stayed in LA. I stayed because I was beautifully delusional and naive and my hope to "make it in this town" was, just like everyone else's, extraordinarily powerful. Self-will is a majestic creature.
I bought my first car in LA a few weeks in. It was a white Honda civic coupe and it reminded me of my late grandmother's white Buick. It felt like a poetic purchase. What I didn't know and what no one told me was that it was lowered to the ground and had very expensive shiny rims. It was four years old and was potentially an extra in one of the Fast & Furious movies. Without friends or a career, most of my first few months were spent driving around trying to understand my now-terrifying decision to live here. I remember driving and looking at all these new streets and buildings and thinking to myself, I have no associations with ANYTHING here.
One night I found myself driving along Western Boulevard, which is a street that runs north-south through Hollywood all the way down to Inglewood. There isn't one point along this massive strip that feels hopeful. Western is a street with dead vibes. It's littered with liquor and mattress stores and deep potholes. And driving in my particular car added a special kind of fear factor to the natural bumps of the road. As I drove, I remember cruising by a nice Korean boy and hearing him call out, "Sweet ride!" Somehow the compliment didn't resonate positively and I felt paralyzed. I looked around and I thought to myself, Everyone has guns here and anyone could kill me. That was the only thought that went through my (Canadian) brain.
There was no reason to think this other than the basic fact that guns are a popular thing in the US and they aren't where I come from. He didn't look violent but I was completely panic stricken. I thought, I could die and no one here knows me and then I'll be the girl in the Fast & Furious car dead on the worst street in the world. So I did the only thing I knew how to do: I drove home and started to hatch some sort of plan to make something of myself in this city.
Sometimes when I think about that Korean boy who liked my car I remember him with a combination of shame and gratitude. His kindness terrified me. Him seeing me made me feel like I existed in a place where I felt completely invisible. I couldn't conceal myself in my car or my apartment. I couldn't pretend I was doing better than I was. People saw me, even when I was trying to hide. I was there. I was living in Los Angeles. I did what I always dreamed about doing. I bought a ticket and a car and went to Hollywood. Just like they do in the movies.
That moment of being seen was in strict opposition to when the beer commercial bros were intently checking me over. But sitting in that car, I figured, I'm still here and I have a roof and a car and a dream.
Julia Mistflower is a writer, performer, and Torontonian living in Los Angeles. This is a fake name so that she can be as real as possible with you, cuties. She likes vintage cars, dope shoes, and smart human brains. She'll be writing for VICE Canada about acting and living in Hollywood and will remember to use her u's.