BGB Studio client Ahna O’Reilly, star of Fruitvale Station, Jobs, The Help, etc., talks passion, nerves and her audition secret.
BGB client Ahna O’Reilly is on fire. She’s really talented, works harder than most people and truly is of the work. She’s starred in 9 movies in the last year and a half including Jobs, Frutivale station and CBGB.
BGB: Hey Ahna! How do you feel?
AO: I feel happy. I’m in New York City, it’s a beautiful summer day! Last night I saw Shakespeare in the Park (Love’s Labour’s Lost, directed by the insanely brilliant and wonderful Alex Timbers)–one of my favorite summer activities.
BGB: Are you passionate about acting? If yes, why?
AO: If there were no passion, there would be no point. I have been crazy about acting since the moment I stepped on stage as an eight year old in a regional theater production of The Sound of Music. I love storytelling, collaboration, community, art, fun. And as actors, we sometimes get to experience all of those things at once when we work–I can’t imagine a better job.
BGB: You’ve done 9 movies in the last year and a half. Not too shabby! What’s your secret? Describe your process.
AO: I feel very, very lucky to have been so busy this year! The only secrets I know are hard work and surrounding myself with loving, supportive people. My process for auditioning is to work on it, and then if it’s something I really want, trying to find the balance between being 110% focused on the role and also maintaining a healthy distance from what can be an unhealthy attachment to getting the role–that is one of the hardest things to accomplish for me. When I don’t get a job I want, I let myself feel the heartbreak of it, because it reassures me that I put my heart into it, and then I try to put faith in that it is all meant to be. If the stars align and I get the job, my process is to read it, re-read, re-read, do whatever research I feel drawn to do, let my imagination run wild, let myself be obsessed by it so that when I get there to shoot I hope to feel confident enough to let it go. And then my process for dealing with downtime goes back to surrounding myself with a loving community–family and friends who are positive. And doing whatever activities I can to stay creative. It’s all a work in progress.
BGB: What do you do outside of your work on set, auditions, press, etc. that makes you feel whole and connected.
AO: To be honest, there is a lot of time spent (one might say wasted) trying to keep the anxiety at bay of not knowing when the next job is coming. With that said, I always read a lot, I go to class, I watch movies, I bake, I volunteer, I see friends, I go to plays, I travel, I see my family. When I’m not working, I check in with myself daily to see how I can best focus my energy. I am someone who thrives on having structure and when I don’t have that, I have to create it. I am most fulfilled when I’m being productive.
BGB: Describe the feelings you had about your career before you were working consistently. What kept you going through the inevitable rejection?
AO: Going through a lot of rejection can do a real number on you. I’ve heard that job interviews are one of the top five most stressful situations a person can experience. And actors are going on one, and sometimes more, job interviews a day. You need to deal with insecurities, passions that can’t quite find a home, and huge unknowns on a daily basis. Before I was working regularly, I was constantly trying to manage these feelings and situations. How to love, respect, and believe in myself in the face of “no.” How can you develop confidence as an actor and human being in the face of frequent rejection?
It’s a challenging process… I felt everything! I felt scared, insecure, excited for what could happen, afraid it would never happen, I tried to embrace the unknown, I was (still am) driven mad by the unknown. But you have to find constants in your life that, no matter what, you can draw strength from. I have a wonderful and supportive family and a great group of friends. There is nothing more important than finding your tribe. During those inevitable times when you don’t believe in yourself, having a whole community of people that does makes an incredible difference.
BGB: How do you deal with nerves before and/or during an audition?
AO: I try the best I can to stay in the moment. Most of my training has been with the Meisner technique. So, to get out of my head, sometimes I’ll look at the casting director and think “blue shirt.” I make myself notice the most basic things that are happening around me. I check in with how I’m feeling and remember what it is I am there to accomplish. And above all, I remind myself to be me, bring in me, as basic as that might sound. During an audition, I honestly don’t know how I control my nerves…I don’t think I actually do it successfully, at least not all the time. If during an audition I am still actively nervous, I try to focus and stay engaged in the present, no matter what my crazy nervous brain is doing.
BGB: What’s your favorite movie?
AO: Impossible question! Some of my favorites include Coal Miner’s Daughter, Boogie Nights, Casino, Network, Annie Hall, A Woman Under the Influence. I love Jacques Audiard and the Dardenne brothers. Most recently I was blown away by Blue Jasmine. Cate Blanchett can do no wrong in my book, and she and Woody Allen together?! Heaven.