It’s textbook. You move to Los Angeles from your hometown or where you went to school or the last place you were pursuing an acting career, and you hate it. Heck, you may have even hated it before you got here, resenting the fact that you felt obligated to be here “cause that’s where the business is.” Hating L.A. is an art form, perfected in bright, sunny coffee shop patios by chain smoking cynics, defiantly wearing all-black in the hundred-degree heat, and interpreting everything that L.A. has to offer in the context of what they did “back east” or in Europe or wherever. And those are people who have been in L.A. 20 years! It’s so cliché that it’s become part of the very fabric of L.A.—as L.A. as the Dodgers or the palm trees.
But for actors, that level of cynicism about the place you’re hanging your hat can seep into the very fabric of your life, foster bitterness, and lead to the practice of hopelessness and paralysis. All of a sudden you’re looking for things to hate. And when you’re auditioning a couple of times a week at best, the practice of hopelessness and paralysis can sabotage your career. If all goes well, you’ll book a TV show while you’re in L.A. and there’s a decent chance that it’ll shoot here. And you should be so lucky as to get an agent in L.A. and get to audition consistently, living the life of a working actor. Either way, you’re going to have to get right with this city, and find your piece of comfort and happiness here so that you’re not a miserable human being. Here are four ways to get right with LA.
1. Los Angeles is not L.A. If you want to be happy in this city you have to step back from your intense focus on the business and start to focus on this place as your home (even if it’s your home for just a pilot season). The first thing you have to do is understand the distinction between Los Angeles and L.A. You’ve moved here because this is where the business is, and the focus of your life is your pursuit of the business. Agents, managers, auditions, casting directors, premieres, etc.This is L.A. L.A. is what people outside of the city think of when they think of us here. It’s glitzy, it’s sunny, it’s had work done. L.A. can make you a star and then put you in a fancy rehab all in the same week. L.A. creates art that profoundly influences the entire world’s perception of America, but then believes its own B.S. L.A. is Hollywood and show business, with its wonderful art and all its dangerous narcissism. When you come here for pilot season or to test for the TV show, you’re in L.A.
By contrast, Los Angeles is the city where we actually live, struggle, and thrive outside of our pursuit. Ninety-eight percent of Los Angelenos are not in our industry. Los Angeles is a city of rich cultures, unique communities, and stunning landscapes. It’s where we raise our kids; the schools, the parks, the community centers; it’s where we make friends, in and out of the industry; it’s progressive thinking and long commutes; it’s Sunday farmers’ markets and frightening droughts.
In order to find happiness in this city, you must move from L.A. to Los Angeles. You must move from a hyper-focus on the career pursuit to the engagement in your present life. You have to know when you’re in L.A. and when you’re in Los Angeles. Know that each one has its limitations and that if you’ve been in one too long, it’s time to drive to the other (just not during rush hour).
2. Do the work of being an Angeleno. …And speaking of bad traffic, this city doesn’t always make it easy for you. Driving can make you crazy, which beyond the hours of frustration in your car, can lead to isolation. No one wants to get in the car at the end of the day and drive anywhere. It could take 20 minutes but it could also take 2 hours. There’s no real center to the city like there is in New York, there’s no comprehensive transit system, and it’s tough to find a sense of community here. A person can get lost in this city, falling into the depths of obscurity, never truly seen by another human being. In a city this vast, community doesn’t present itself when you walk out your front door. It’s on you to carve out your own community in Los Angeles (and L.A.). It’s on you to step out of your comfort zone and engage in what the city has to offer…which is a lot.
Volunteering is the best place to start. There’s plenty of need in this city and you can join like-minded people working towards a worthy goal. Involvement creates community, staves off loneliness, and leads to opportunity. So sign up for that yoga retreat, join a choir, take that Mandarin class, make plans with someone you know (and keep them). Do the work required to be a resident of this great city.
3. Fountain isn’t the answer. When asked what advice she has for actors trying to make it in Hollywood, Bette Davis famously responded, “Take Fountain,” a reference to the less-traveled Hollywood avenue that’s often a quicker ride than Sunset or Santa Monica. Yes, traffic in L.A. sucks. The serenity we achieve from all the yoga, meditation, and kale-eating we do here is vigorously tested every time we press our electric car’s “on” button. If you’re going to be happy in this city, you’re just going to have to accept that traffic sucks and move on.
Download a bunch of audio books, pack snacks and a change of clothes, and accept the fact that it might take you an hour to get there. Got an important meeting at 10 a.m.? Leave your house at 7 a.m. Seriously. Just in case. Just finished an audition in North Hollywood and you have another one in Culver City in 10 minutes? Have your agent tell them you’ll be late, accept traffic for what it is, and relax. Sure, sometimes a certain street might be quicker at a certain time of day, but even the act of looking for that shortcut that lets you beat L.A. traffic suggests that you think you can beat L.A. Give in. Surrender to the vastness of the landscape and the fact that there aren’t enough lanes for the amount of drivers on the road and that the ratio of person to cars is one to one. Surrender!
4. Look at what’s in front of you. It’s all here. LACMA and MOCA, Bergamot and the Gettys, arts colonies and galleries, theater and music scenes, historic and state-of-the art cinemas, The Hollywood Bowl and countless hole-in-the wall music and comedy venues, the Dodgers and the Lakers, the Kings and the Clippers, farmers’ and flea markets, street food and food trucks, independent bookstores and public libraries, cafés and bakeries, beaches and mountains, hiking trails and dog parks, urban agriculture and gardens, baths and spas, yoga and martial arts studios, small towns connected by other small towns. Topanga to Silverlake, Pasadena to Venice, Malibu to North Hollywood, Los Feliz to San Pedro—the magic of old Hollywood is still alive in the cracked tiles of faded hotels and bleached pools, a city with so much to love…growing faster than the freeways can manage. But grown by countless dreamers still settling in the West to find gold.
Take it all in. Immerse yourself in everything Los Angeles. Make a date with the city once a week. Explore endlessly while you’re carving out your touchstone community that you come back to when you need consistency. Enjoying your life is good for your work. And there really is so much to enjoy.
This city doesn’t have it out for you. It’s just too massive to nurture each resident.
It has a lot to give but you have to take it. When you realize that this city is more than the business and then engage fully into being a member of this community of Angels (or Dodgers depending on where you’re coming from), you’ll find comfort and ease here. And finding comfort and ease helps you audition and work with comfort and ease as well.
As Randy Newman said, “ Looks like another perfect day. I love L.A. (We love it.) I love L.A. (We love it.)”
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