Inspirational Actors with ADHD

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There is a common misconception that people with ADHD are unable to focus well enough to complete tasks. But many highly successful actors and performers with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder prove that, despite the challenges associated with their symptoms, their dedication to focus on what they’re passionate about can lead to remarkable success.

ADHD is defined as a mental disorder of the neurodevelopmental type. Symptoms of can include being easily distracted, missing details, being forgetful, having trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, fidgeting, and having difficulty sitting still. About 30-50-percent of people diagnosed in childhood continue to have symptoms into their adult years.

Channing Tatum is among the actors who have publicly shared personal experiences with ADHD. In an interview with T, The New York Times Style Magazine, the Magic Mike star revealed he struggled with ADHD as well as dyslexia growing up. “I have never considered myself a very smart person, for a lot of reasons,” he stated. He described his persistent troubles with learning and fitting in during his school years saying, “You get lumped in classes with kids with autism and Down syndrome, and you look around and say, ‘Okay, so this is where I’m at.’ Or you get put in the typical classes and you say, ‘All right, I’m obviously not like these kids either,’ So you’re kind of nowhere. You’re just different.”

Now one of Hollywood’s top-earning actors as well as a producer, Tatum expresses his belief that the education system is broken. “If we can streamline a multibillion-dollar company, we should be able to help kids who struggle the way I did,” he insists.

As he matured, he describes being drawn “to people who knew about movies, art, even fashion.” When he moved to New York and was working as a model, he explains, “I just learned everything I could from anybody who knew something I didn’t.” He credits himself for being able to choose good mentors. “I can look at a person and say, ‘They’ve got something that I want up there in the head. I’m going to do my best to get in there and absorb it.’ My mom said, ‘Be a sponge.’ And so I’ve learned more from people than I have from school or from books.”

If left untreated ADHD can lead to bad credit, low grades, problems in relationships, and can chip away at self-esteem. In response, behavioral therapies, medication, and sometimes dietary changes are utilized. Channing has been open about his personal experience with prescription medications, saying they did not work for him. “For a time, it would work well, then it worked less and my pain was more. I would go through wild bouts of depression, horrible comedowns. I understand why kids kill themselves. I absolutely do. You feel terrible. You feel soul-less. I’d never do it to my child.” This perspective on ADHD medication is controversial as many individuals insist on the benefits they’ve experienced due to prescriptions.

Other actors who’ve shared having ADHD include the following.

Ryan Gosling said referring to his school years, “I didn’t feel very smart. They kept passing me in school even though I didn’t know how to do things I should have known how to do. Like, I couldn’t read…I couldn’t absorb any of the information, so I caused trouble.” It was only when he finally was diagnosed with ADHD and was given medication that he gained control over his behavior.

Although boys tend to be diagnosed with ADHD more frequently, girls are increasingly being recognized as exhibiting ADHD symptoms. Females may have less hyperactivity, but research indicates that their ADHD often continues into their adult years–as is the case with Michelle Rodriguez. The Fast & Furious actress told Cosmopolitan magazine, “I want to write and direct, but it’s not easy with ADD. I have a hard time focussing when I’m alone. I’m a scatterbrain, but I’m nervous of taking medication. I don’t really want to depend on anything to control my brain.” ADD is term that some use to describe a subtype of ADHD that excludes the hyperactive symptom. 

Also, singer, actor Justin Timberlake revealed to, “I have OCD [Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder] mixed with ADD, you try living with that.” Clearly, The Social Network actor’s conditions haven’t prevented him from excelling as a performer and as a businessman.

Comedian, actor, and TV host Howie Mandel revealed he lives with ADHD. He recounts having a tough childhood and the fact that he didn’t earn his high school diploma. “I’ve always had problems sitting still and listening for long periods of time,” he says. The funny man was only diagnosed once he was an adult. Along with his ADHD, Mandel also has OCD. “Doing a scripted television series is tough, because my disorders make it difficult to write or read a script. I can do it–I was in ‘St. Elsewhere’ back when–but it’s challenging,” he told Psychology Today. “Thankfully, my parents accepted all of my quirks and differences. I have the best family–everyone shows me nothing but love, support, and strength. Even with all that, it can be hard–sometimes terrifying and dark–to manage the symptoms of my disorders.” He is a spokesperson for the Adult ADHD Is Real campaign.

After watching comedian and actor Jim Carrey perform in highly energized and creative roles, it’s not too hard to imagine he has ADHD. When he was a school boy, he coped by being the class clown. He told that growing up he would complete his school assignments quickly and then start disrupting other kids. He’s involved with bringing awareness to the cause and insists treatments for ADHD help control symptoms.

Other actors who have hinted at having the disorder include Zooey Deschanel who once said while promoting a crafting project, “Are you an unmedicated adult with Attention Deficit Disorder who also LOVES to do crafts? I AM!” And actor, producer, and rapper Will Smith once described himself as the “fun one who had trouble paying attention.”

These inspirational performers have managed to find ways to use their ADHD to their advantage. And there are plenty more ADHD success stories to be found including Walt Disney, Michael Phelps, Michael Jordan, John F. Kennedy, Solange Knowles, and of course Albert Einstein.

Adam Carolla’s Take on Luck

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After meeting Jimmy Kimmel in 1994, it would seem Adam Carolla’s career blossomed due to that lucky encounter. Indeed, the multi-talented Carolla has acquired quite a resume; he can boast being a comedian, best-selling author, radio personality, actor, television host, podcaster, and director. But Adam Carolla most certainly does not attribute his success to luck. Instead he insists he earned everything that’s good in his life. He explains:

“Jimmy did not come to my house. I went to Jimmy’s work. And I couldn’t get into it because it was a radio station and it was locked up. And I came back the next morning and I got in, and I found him and made my own luck.”

In the 1990s, Carolla had accumulated work experience as a carpet cleaner, a skilled carpenter, a traffic school instructor, and he became a boxing trainer in his free time. He also studied with the improv group The Groundlings. When Carolla heard the KROQ-FM Kevin and Bean radio program was arranging a fight between two of their regulars–one of which was Jimmy Kimmel AKA “Jimmy the Sports Guy”–Carolla saw an opportunity. The 30-year-old volunteered his services as a boxing trainer to Kimmel. Jimmy took him up on the offer, and in turn, the two would develop a strong friendship and business partnership. Right away, Carolla procured a recurring role on Kevin and Bean as the crotchety woodshop teacher, Mr. Birchum. A few years later, the two men co-produced and became co-stars of Comedy Central’s The Man Show.

Adam believes that all people are inherently unlucky. But he views this as a good thing. After all, he argues that if he really thought he was lucky, he’d probably still be sitting on his futon in his North Hollywood apartment scratching lottery tickets. So the comedian recommends another approach for people to achieve success: good old-fashioned hard work. He declares:

“Don’t count on luck; rely on hard work. Look at life as a prize fight and you’ve got to get up and do road work every morning. And you’ve got to work that heavy bag, and you got to work that speed bag, and you got to work that double-ended bag…Why? Because if you don’t train you’ll go into that ring of life and get your a** whooped. And I don’t want to see that happen to you.”

He continues saying, “If your resume is on a desk, and there’s someone else’s resume on the desk, and they’re both exactly equal. They’re going to pick the other guy’s resume every time. Look at life that way. Thus, your resume must be twice as good as the guy you’re going against.”

Twice as good is quite a lot to ask. So, he concludes, “Now that you guys are all feeling like you’re born under a dark cloud, let’s get out there and take over the world.”

How To Stand Out From A Crowd When Auditioning

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Auditioning is one of the most difficult things you can do as an actor. Memorizing lines, standing in front of strangers, and pouring your heart out is a continually stressful process. However, it is a necessary evil in order to secure your dream roles. While there is a lot of advice out there in pursuit of that goal, here are a few things you can do to ensure you make your mark:

  1. Remember your posture

Standing tall means confidence, and casting directors want to make sure their hires are sure of themselves on and off the set. Stand at your full height and keep your arms at your sides for the most part. Too much movement in general will distract your audience and make you seem nervous.

  1. Take direction well

If given notes by people in the room (casting director, director, producer etc.), take them with grace and professionalism. You are being evaluated on your degree of collaboration, and if you huff and puff you will make the room uneasy about hiring you.

  1. Make bold choices

Make a choice and stick with it. After dozens of slow moving, boring auditions, try to be a breath of fresh air for casting directors. It will make both their and your experience more enjoyable. If you’re afraid to make a choice, make sure to practice adequately with friends, loved ones, or in front of the mirror.

  1. Prepare the right amount

Both over and under preparing are a mistake when approaching an audition. Over-prepare and you can risk looking rigid. Under-prepare and you’ll be frozen in place asking for lines. However, knowing the lines but also leaving room open for some improvisation / collaboration will result in a perfect audition. Being prepared also means having your headshots and contact information ready to go. If needs be, keep extras on hand at all times.

  1. Go with the flow

If you make a mistake or are asked to do something unexpected, don’t balk at the circumstances. Instead, use this friction as an opportunity to show the audience your stuff. On a real set, you will be faced with numerous hurdles – an audition is great practice.

  1. Be polite

It might seem like an obvious suggestion, but the number of actors who forget proper manners in an audition room would shock you. Set yourself apart from the crowd by being present, polite, and thanking the individuals in the room once your audition is complete.

  1. Enjoy the moment

Regardless of how the audition turns out, this is your moment to shine, and the process by which you get closer to achieving your dreams as an actor. Relax, take a deep breath, and try to focus on the work itself –not the eventual outcome.

If you follow these tips you too can have a successful audition. Overall, the best piece of advice is that you should be true to yourself. You might be an actor, but allowing your personality to shine through the role is more important than any part you could ever play.

Three Essentials for Brilliant Acting Work

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Process. PreGame. Support Network.

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Let’s dive in.

Acting at the highest levels is a game of inches, not yards. The smallest difference in the comprehensiveness of your work can set you apart from other actors. We are not competing with each other. We are competing with ourselves, challenging ourselves to create the best art of our lives.

In order to consistently create brilliant, vibrant, specific, organic, compelling art, you need to have these three essential elements in place:


You have to have a clear process for preparing your work for an audition or performance on set; a step by step process to make sure it has been professionally prepared. An example of that can be found in my previous Backstage article series “12 Steps to Consistently Brilliant Performances.”

Many actors I meet do not have a solid process. As a result, they never feel fully prepared. If you don’t have a clear process, how do you know when you’re done? At a certain point, the meal is fully cooked.

Whatever your process is, it needs to result in you knowing exactly how you want to help tell this story through your part of it; a master of both the story and knowledge about the production. Understand the genre, tone, writing style, and adapt your craft accordingly.


You have to figure out what gets your instrument ready to present your work so that you nail it on the first take. You don’t often get a second chance in an audition.

How do you use your time before your performance on the drive to the studio, during your walk from parking to the sign-in sheet, before you sign in, after you sign in, and in the moments before you begin in the room with casting? If you don’t have a strategy and answers to those questions, know that other actors do, and it may partly be why they work more often than you do.

Continuing the cooking analogy: if you cooked the meal yesterday, how are you going to heat it up to serve today?

We’re all different, so you’ll have to experiment with what works for your instrument, but it may be a combination of things like running lines or character thoughts silently or out loud, alone or on the phone with a friend, meditation or relaxation exercises, stretching, vocal warm ups, or listening to music. Once you find a routine that makes you feel ready to present your work as intended, stick to it. It’ll become a comforting part of your work, just like athletes warming up before hitting the field or psyching themselves up before the game. A placebo effect is still an effect.

With an awesome process and pregame ritual, you will know you’re a competent artist, have the resulting confidence, and be ready to overcome any nervousness with your preparation. Your body will know what to do. All that’s left is to have an experience.


The final essential partner to process and pregame is your support network of friends, fellow artists, and loved ones who have your back. For on-camera actors, especially while you’re learning how to act professionally, you need to rehearse with someone else and put yourself on tape as part of your process at least 10, 20, or 30 times, depending on the length of the material.

Rehearsing alone is at best not optimal and at worst totally toxic to your work. Whether in an audition or on set, you will always be reading or performing with others, so it makes no sense to train your body in a vacuum of only your own stimulus. That’s why actors get stuck in a rut and can’t be organic or present. You’ve trained your body and brain to fire the same way every time. Reading with someone else makes sure you’re always getting fresh, new stimulus. Like life.

For the first time in our art form’s history, we have the technology to see our own work. Now everyone has a camera with them at all times. Finally, on-camera actors can record a take of their work, step back, see it, and learn from it to help craft their performance.

Besides beautiful, organic discoveries and behavior born of the moment, you should never be surprised by how your work and story choices are showing up on camera. Audience members of a stage show wouldn’t know that your performance tonight was different than your performance yesterday, but some on-camera scenes can take days to shoot, and your performance needs to cut together sensibly. We need our takes to land in the same general storytelling neighborhood, even with vibrant differences.

Rehearsing and putting yourself on tape alone is problematic and not analogous to the audition experience, so they go together. Build a rehearsal network. If you don’t have someone available to rehearse with you and put yourself on tape at any time, make more friends. It doesn’t always have to be in person. You can do it via Skype, using Call Recorder, a program that lets you record Skype calls. It’s almost as good as in person.

With those 3 essential elements in place, you’ll have every advantage to consistently present the best art of your life. That’s the key to being extraordinary. Be a legend.

I’m excited to announce that I will be teaching all-day on-camera acting business & craft intensives in 18 cities across the nation this year, called “How to be a Working Actor.” The first one is in Minneapolis on Saturday, March 25th at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. For more information, visit my new website at Get $50 off when you use the discount code: castingfrontier.

Remember, you can’t fail if you never quit.

ShaanSharma_photoAbout Shaan Sharma:  Shaan started acting in his home state of Minnesota where he was best known for his passion for protecting aspiring talent from scams and exploitation as producer/director of the Fresh Face Showcase (’03-’06), an annual fashion, modeling, acting, music, and dance event with the mission to spread awareness on how to safely enter the talent business.

Since relocating to Los Angeles in 2007, Shaan has quickly grown into one of the most respected and sought-after educators for on-camera acting craft, acting business knowledge, and career strategy. Very few acting coaches are also a casting professional, working actor, and consistently published writer.

Writers Guild Contract Negotiations Begin This Week

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The Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers announced they will commence contract negotiations on March 13th amid much anxiety in the industry. The entities have seven weeks before their current contract expires in early May. If the writers go on strike, outlets like Netflix and Amazon would likely reduce the production of episodes of television shows, thus impacting the number of roles available for actors.

The WGA leaders maintain that their members haven’t received an increase in their average earnings over the last decade. “The $49 billion annual operating profit accumulated by the six major companies with whom we will be negotiating is double what their profit numbers were only a decade ago,” the WGA leaders wrote to their members last month.

“Contrast that with the economic picture facing the members of our guilds, whose average incomes in both features and series TV have actually decreased over that same decade. You’ve told Guild leadership in meetings and surveys that new models of development, production, and distribution–while making the companies richer–have not worked to your individual or collective advantage,” they continued.

Television writers notice a trend toward shorter episode orders and a seemingly vanishing traditional 22-episode, September-through-May television season on which current writer compensation is based. Indeed, the expansion in original content across basic and pay cable as well as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu has made 10 to 13 seasonal episodes the new norm. In addition, a rising demand for miniseries and limited series also translates to episode orders ranging from four to 20. As a result, middle- and low-earning writers are seeing their paychecks shrink. While it’s true series production is booming, it’s the top tier that benefits the most along with writers who are lucky enough to gather up two or more shows that have schedules that don’t conflict.

Also, of desperate concern is the state of WGA’s Health Plan. The ballooning inflation in health care costs across the nation has resulted in deficits in three out of the last four years. The guild has needed to tap into reserves to cover the costs. Currently, the WGA members who earn enough to qualify for health insurance don’t pay premiums for their high-quality health coverage. Even some writers admit continuing the present arrangement is unsustainable.

The AMPTP which represents the entertainment industry’s major studios has not yet commented on the WGA’s assertions, and it’s likely the two parties will announce a news blackout on the talks.

It was 2007-08 when the writers last went on strike with a bitter 100-day walk-out. As a result, some shows–especially unscripted or reality shows–benefitted from the strike. The Amazing Race and Big Brother gained an extra season; American Idol as well as unscripted game shows like Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? thrived. On the other hand, several soap operas switched to non-union writers. Shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Saturday Night Live played reruns; however, after a couple of months, Stewart’s show resumed without writers for which time it was briefly renamed A Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Many shows were unable to complete the full season originally ordered. This includes Bones which completed only two of the remaining eight episodes ordered, and Friday Night Lights which stopped making episodes due to the strike. And some shows were simply cancelled during the strike like NBC’s Bionic Woman and ABC’s Cavemen.

Hopefully the guild and the AMPTP negotiators will agree on a new contract amidst all the tension.

Krysten Ritter and Gillian Jacobs’ Negative Acting School Experiences

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As actors dedicate themselves to studying the craft of acting, it’s important to note that not all classes are the best match for everyone. What may feel like a supportive learning environment for some aspiring actors may feel like just the opposite for others.

Krysten Ritter

In the Off Camera interview above, Netflix series Jessica Jones star, Krysten Ritter recalls some New York acting instructors whose lessons she purposefully chose to ignore. First of all, she remembers sage acting advice that her fellow Breaking Bad castmate, Bryan Cranston once told her about the audition process: “‘You’re not going in to try and get the job. You’re going in to do what you do great.’…he talks about that a lot.” The model-turned-actress continued:

“That spoke to me in a really huge way, and I’ve kind of like hung on to that like, ‘Oh yeah, you just gotta do you…I even remember when I was in acting classes in New York. I mean, I’m a spaz, and I’m super quirky, and I talk really fast. And everyone was trying to get me to stop doing all those things. And I watched that with other people too. Sometimes you come out the other end of these serious acting programs maybe without that thing that made you super cool. Without that thing that made you kind of different.””

Indeed, Ritter noticed she was landing jobs when she embraced her idiosyncrasies instead of suppressing them. For example, her “outgoing and bubbly and funny” personality was great for commercials which got her foot in the industry doors.

Gillian Jacobs

Notable alumni of the prestigious Juilliard School include talents such as Kevin Spacey, Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, Adam Driver among so many other actors who went on to have enviable careers. Clearly, the performing arts conservatory offers a quality education. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right school for everyone. Take, for example, Gillian Jacobs. Years ago, the Love actress auditioned for Juilliard on a whim and, to her surprise, she was accepted into the distinguished school. But in the Off Camera interview below, the Community actress describes her painful experiences within the school’s cut program that was in place at the time which cut one student from every sophomore class. To Jacob’s dismay, the school notified her that she was being placed on academic probation. In turn, she felt judged for her every move. She put it this way:

“So you’re in this office and you sat in a circle and each member of the faculty went around and told you how you were failing in their class. And it’s essentially like, ‘You’re terrible at voice and speech because of this; you’re bad at movement because of this; you were terrible in this play that we did; you were not good in this acting class; you were bad in your clowning class…'”

And to top it off, her credits wouldn’t transfer which made the idea of leaving a lot more complicated. She said:

“So if you’re cut from Juilliard, you had to start all over again…so it’s essentially three wasted years and starting all over again somewhere else… And it took away my love of acting for a while.”

But Jacobs managed to hang in there and she indeed graduated from Juilliard in 2004.

It’s important to find a school that you feel supported in and accepted for the person that you are. Have you ever found yourself in a class or school that you knew wasn’t supportive of you or your overall acting goals?

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Lucas Hedges’ Fruitless Audition Kicked Off His Acting Career

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Lucas Hedges admits he’s “still kind of a kid.” Indeed the rising star was shocked to hear he was nominated for best supporting actor at this year’s Academy Awards honoring his performance in Manchester by the Sea. “I was just lying in bed when I found out. I jumped out of bed screaming, ‘Mom, Dad, I was nominated!” he recalls. The 20 year old is revealing himself to be a versatile talent who loves emotionally arduous roles, and he was the youngest nominee at this year’s Oscars. Hedges held his own against the potent performance of the film’s star, Casey Affleck, as he portrayed the wry and emotional teenager Patrick Chandler. He auditioned for the role at least five times. Hedges also recently finished making his stage debut in the off-Broadway play Yen as the brooding, on-the-brink half-brother Hench.

In February, W Magazine asked the New York native about the first audition he ever went on. “The first thing I ever auditioned for was a movie called ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.’ And this is kind of a secret, but it came down between me and the other kid for it, but I didn’t get it.” In fact, the part of the young Asperger syndrome sufferer went to Thomas Horn.

Luckily, the disappointment Hedges felt for this loss subsided quickly enough as he explains, “Well, fortunately enough during the scene test of ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,’ there was a producer watching from the next room over on a monitor, and his name was Scott Rudin.” Rudin is the highly respected producer who produced Denzel Washington’s Fences.

Hedges attributes that fortunate happening with him landing the role of Redford in the 2012 coming-of-age film Moonrise Kingdom directed by Wes Anderson. “So, just like a month or two later I had another job and it was a Wes Anderson movie, so I can’t really complain,” he told the mag.

Lucas’ dad is the acclaimed screenwriter, director, and novelist Peter Hedges, and his mom, Susan Bruce is an actress. Growing up, Lucas would often visit his dad’s film sets. This generated a childhood obsession with the website IMDb as well as films and filmmaking. Although he really wanted to be an actor, Lucas said, “I never considered that it would be a possibility for me to be an actor.” But when he was about 12 years old, he appeared as an extra on a film his dad was making called Dan in Real Life; however, his talking scene ended up on the editing room floor.

Hedges feels the full support of his parents. He explains, “My dad says this thing that the only thing he wants him and my mom to be are flankers. He wants to feel like I can go into a room and feel like I’m flanked by both my parents–that they’re both by my side, but they’re not leading the way.”

This year Hedges will star in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut Lady Bird and the film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Over 50 Comics Share Their Stories in ‘Dying Laughing’

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“Comedy is purely a result of your ability to withstand self-torture,” asserts Jerry Seinfeld in the new documentary Dying Laughing. Directors Lloyd Stanton and Paul Toogood assembled some of the most celebrated stand-up comedians around, as well as career comics whose names aren’t well-known, to share their personal stories in pursuit of making audiences laugh.

The film features talents such as Chris Rock, Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart, Jerry Lewis, Jamie Foxx, Cocoa Brown, Sarah Silverman, Jim Jeffries, and Steve Coogan. They reminisce about both the good times as well as the bad, each with his or her own one-of-a-kind voice and remarkable career path. Foxx describes the best part of being a comic by saying, “When a comedian is on, and you tell that joke, and it goes to the back of the house, and it comes roaring back to your face, there’s nothing like that feeling.”

But to hear that coveted laughter, comics have to earn it the hard way. Funny man Garry Shandling, who sadly passed last year, insists, “There is literally no shortcut” when it comes to comedy. Indeed, comic after comic shares the agonizing moments of rejection they endured in their stand-up careers. Kevin Hart humorously recalls the time a club owner bluntly told him he didn’t see comedic potential in him during an audition. Seinfeld describes what it’s like to bomb saying, “I couldn’t even get through what I had planned to do which was only about five minutes of things. I was so shocked and rocked by the density of the air in the room. And you feel the mood of the room that’s just this cement block. And I just left that night and I was devastated.” Similarly, after a rough time onstage, Jefferies’ father tried to provide some life perspective during an awkward car ride home. He advised his son saying, “You’re good at a lot of different things. This is, ah, this probably isn’t a thing for you. But if you enjoy it as some type of hobby, then it can’t hurt really. It could hurt your self-esteem, sure.” 

The movie’s jokesters detail what life is like on the road with its boredom and loneliness as well as the dreaded hostile audiences. “It’s definitely not like a great way to invest in your romantic life. But I feel like if you have the capability to do this, you got to do it,” says Amy Schumer. She describes the depressing lodgings on the road where “it’s 100% certain people were murdered.” Keenen Ivory Wayans believes comedians are “damaged people, very vulnerable people.” Coogan agrees, insisting, “well-adjusted, spiritual comics are rare.”

With all its brutal, soul-crushing challenges though, for those who feel called to the craft of telling jokes onstage, “It’s beyond art, it’s a magic trick,” says Seinfeld. “All the heralding, the awarding, the trumpeting, the lauding…who cares?! That laugh is better than any trophy. And that’s what I live for.” And beyond their talent as entertainers and their determination, Rock insists that stand-ups are “the last philosophers.”


Viola Davis and Emma Stone React to Their Oscar Wins

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The 89th Academy Awards celebrated the work of numerous Hollywood talents over the weekend at the Dolby Theatre. Among those honored were the extraordinary actresses Viola Davis and Emma Stone. Both women reacted to their wins backstage, giving us a glimpse of their individual journeys which ultimately lead to winning the highest esteemed awards in the industry.

Viola Davis’ portrayal of Rose in Fences earned her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The film follows an African-American family in 1950’s Pittsburg. By winning this award, she became the first African-American to achieve the Triple Crown of Acting: winning an Emmy, Tony, and Oscar in Acting categories*. Davis was overcome with gratitude as she reflected on her first Academy win, saying, “I can’t believe my life…I grew up in poverty. You know, I grew up in apartments that were condemned and rat-infested. And I just always sort of wanted to be somebody. I just wanted to be good at something. So this is sort of like the miracle of God of dreaming big and just hoping that it sticks and it lands–and it did. Who knew? So, I’m overwhelmed.”

In her Oscar speech, Davis passionately expressed her desire to tell the stories “of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost.” Portraying Rose was a great example of telling such stories.

Delving into the theme of following aspirations, La La Land‘s subject matter centers on the importance of following your dreams despite the certainty of encountering many obstacles. The film won a whopping six Oscars over the weekend including honoring its star, Emma Stone, for Best Actress. Backstage, Stone explained how she always dreamed of winning an Oscar, calling it an “incredible honor” and “in many ways game changing.” In regards to playing aspiring actress Mia Dolan, Emma said, “To play this woman, I’ve lived here for thirteen years, I moved when I was 15 to start auditioning. And I knew what it felt like to go on audition after audition. So I mean anything like this [winning the Oscar] is pretty inconceivable in a realistic context.”

When asked, “How much does an Oscar cost in terms of sacrifice and discipline?” Emma replied, “Is that measurable?…In my life, I have been beyond lucky with the people around me, with the friends and family that I have, and the people that have lifted me up throughout my life. So in terms of sacrifice those people are all sitting back in a room right now and I get to go celebrate with them. And it’s felt like the most joyous thing. So I mean, being a creative person does not feel like I sacrificed to me. It’s the great joy of my life…I’ve been very lucky in terms of that one.”

But with all the recognition, Stone attributes her success to luck and opportunity, and insists, “I still have a lot of growing and learning and work to do,” and she’s grateful to continue on her acting journey.

Congratulations Emma and Viola!

*It should be noted, Whoopi Goldberg is one of the few people to win an Oscar, a Grammy, a Tony, and an Emmy; however, her Tony came from producing the Broadway musical Thoroughly Modern Mille rather than acting.

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Ruth Negga’s Drive to Tell Stories

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2016 proved to be quite a year for Ruth Negga. Although the Ethiopian-Irish actress has been acting for 15 years, she’s now being hailed as a rising star. Negga was praised for her breakout role as the gun-toting Tulip O’Hare on AMC’s Preacher based on the American comic book series. And she was widely celebrated for her portrayal of sweet, soft-spoken Mildred Loving in the historical drama film Loving about the landmark case Loving v. Virginia which invalidated state laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Indeed, Ruth’s Loving performance has earned her best actress nominations for several awards shows including the Academy Awards and the Golden Globes.

“I don’t think I have ever thought of myself as a movie star, I think when I was about seven, I thought it must be lovely to have an Oscar. But the more involved you are in this business, the more that pretense disappears, and you really get to see what you love about it, and what I love is working,” the 36-year-old star once said.

Negga’s love for storytelling has served her well. Although born in Ethiopia, her family moved to Ireland early on, and the traditions of her new home inspired her. “I fell in love with storytelling. Ireland has a very rich storytelling history. I wanted to be a part of that,” the actress told CNN. As a teenager, her mom would bring her to the theater which sparked Ruth’s desire to act. “That’s how I want to be part of this world. I want to tell stories with, you know, my body and my mind,” she said.

Negga feels energized with each of her roles, and she is often described as a chameleon because of her remarkable ability to transform into her characters. “There’s an element of, that delicious feeling of disappearing into something else and to a different world. It’s a bit like ‘Alice in Wonderland’ really–disappearing down the rabbit hole. And anything can happen in storytelling. And I think it’s a safe way to take risks as a human being–you know being an actor–because it’s a very closely monitored sort of situation. So I think you know maybe essentially, it’s because I’m a scaredy cat,” she revealed.

But she chooses not to play things safe in her performances. “Often, it’s easier to play someone further away from you because it’s clearer who they are. I think if you want to make a performance authentic, there are certain amount of leaps of faith into the unknown that you have to take. Otherwise, you’re not really risking anything.”

Negga’s determination to tell stories goes beyond wanting to entertain audiences. Indeed, she sets the bar high, saying, “When people don’t understand one another on a basic human level that’s the way dangerous things can start happening. When we don’t appreciate one another for our individuality and our commonality. We are all a reflection of one another, and I think that’s another part of what storytelling does: It’s a point of connection for all of us which I think is a very important part of how we’re going to become a better world.”