Imagine: you’re spinning around in your rolling chair in the middle of your precalculus lecture, knowing you should be paying attention. Instead, you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed, and you notice that a theater you’ve worked closely with in the past is hosting a seminar with the one and only J.K. Simmons.
As a young actor living in Arizona, it can be quite difficult to find opportunities to communicate with big-names like Simmons, especially if they’ve inspired you in the first place. When I saw Simmons’ Facebook event in the middle of math class, I took it as a sign from the universe: I wasn’t pursuing a far-fetched career for nothing.
I called my mom, and we bought two tickets. For the weeks leading up to the event, the seminar was the only thing I could talk about. I finally had the chance to meet an Oscar-winning actor. Maybe I could even learn a few tips. These types of opportunities don’t just come out of thin air.
The day of the seminar, I spent a great deal of time brainstorming some questions I could ask J.K. Simmons. However, nothing seemed good enough. I wanted to be taken seriously, to be seen as a real actor, not just some kid who does theater as a hobby every summer.
I settled for the question: “What was the most challenging role you faced, why was it so challenging, and how did you overcome it?” I rehearsed the question during the entire car ride to the seminar, clasping my sweaty palms together, trying to maintain a normal breathing pattern. I tried to hide the fact that I was literally shaking in my boots.
I realized that a man who achieved all I’ve ever dreamed of was about to tell stories of his own life
When my mom and I arrived at the theater, we were lucky enough to be second and third in line. As we chatted in line, I spotted something from the corner of my eye. It was J.K. Simmons, wearing a t-shirt and jeans, casual as ever. He walked past me and into the theater office to change into a button-down. My jaw dropped, and his manager laughed at me as I turned to my mom and exclaimed, “That was AWESOME!”
The doors opened, and I picked two seats in the front row. I anxiously awaited Simmons’ entrance. Soon enough, he came right in, and the audience roared with applause. I stared in awe as I realized that a man who achieved all I’ve ever dreamed of was about to tell stories of his own life, of his own success. I anticipated walking out starry-eyed, with a new inspiration to follow my dreams. And that is exactly what happened. But wait – I’m getting ahead of myself.
I would consider all of Simmons’ advice to be ‘words of wisdom.’ I did everything I could to retain every word he said during the hour-long program. Of course, I cannot turn this article into a PhD dissertation. However, I can recount a few things he did say that stuck out.
1. Be nice.
Don’t be a pain in the butt to work with. As an actor, it is important to be on time, to follow direction, and to be nice to everyone on set. If you are a pain, then you will never get hired again. Directors talk. It’s a tight community.
2. Do this for you.
Do not choose this career path unless you cannot imagine your life without it. If you want to be an actor for fame, money, or success, you will never be happy. Perform because you have something to say to the world, because you have to let it out, because you might explode if you don’t. Performing is an art, not a means to achieve fame or money.
3. Be okay with the “in-between engagements” periods.
There might be times where you’re living on a waiter’s paycheck, struggling to pay rent in your dumpy Midtown apartment (if you can call a 500 square foot room with a window and a shelf an apartment), doubting that you will ever find work. This career is all about the journey. Waiting tables is part of the deal, and there might be times where you’re waiting tables in Hell’s Kitchen and you’re not performing. That’s okay. Embrace it.
I smiled politely as I continued to raise my hand without getting called on. I swear I saw J.K. giving me a sympathetic smile at one point when the microphone was given to someone just to my right. I assured myself that I must have been imagining it.
As the program came to an end, they announced that anyone who wanted a photo with Simmons needed to line up at the first exit. My eyes widened, and I went into full mosh pit-Bella mode as I pushed my way through, somehow scoring the third spot in line to meet him. I tried to spend the next few minutes in line to gather my thoughts, to actually process what was about to happen.
Then, I heard the word: Next.
As I walked up to J.K. Simmons, he gave me a massive smile.
“Hi!,” he exclaimed.
“Uhhh- Hi!” I managed.
“I saw you… you never got your question answered. I saw you with your hand raised the entire time!”
I couldn’t believe what he was saying. The moment was surreal.
“Yeah… but it’s okay. I still had a great time.” I forced out, immediately asking myself if my response actually even made sense in reaction to his initial statement.
We took a photo together, and as I thanked him and walked away, he grabbed my arm, smiled, and said, “The answer is yes.” We both laughed, I thanked him again, and then I left.
In hindsight, it was silly of me to be so dazed by Simmons. Yes, it was cool to meet the best of the best. However, in reality, he is just a man. A husband. A father. An artist. He does exactly what I do for a living. The only difference is, he’s been doing it a little longer, thus finding success in his own way. Meeting an Oscar-winner normalized my dreams. It made me realize that my dreams are not impossible.
Cover image via Time