“Be of service to other people without expecting anything in return”, with Richie Stephens
I had the pleasure of interviewing Irish tough guy Richie Stephens, who is a film and TV actor known for shows like Criminal Minds, Major Crimes and Blue Bloods. Often playing villains or dominating characters, Richie has gained a reputation with directors as an expert with accents and dialects.
Thank you so much for joining us! Let’s show everyone you’re a normal human being. What are your hobbies, favorite places to visit, pet peeves? Tell us about YOU when you’re not at the office.
“Thanks for having me. I enjoy cooking, working out, reading and writing, hanging out with friends, volunteering, watching film and TV and following British soccer.
“California has it all in terms of places to visit but my favorite is San Francisco, because I lived there for my first seven years in America. It’s my home away from L.A. I love to go back to Ireland where I grew up to see my family and catch up with old friends.
“My pet peeves are airport security (because they always seem to stop me for ‘random searches’) and bad manners.
Can you tell us something about you that few people know?
“In 2011, when I was 29, I broke my back in a construction site accident and this forced me to rethink my whole life.
“I had just passed the test for my contractor license a few months before this happened. My plan was to be a general contractor. At the time I had no ambition whatsoever to work in entertainment. But during my recovery from my injury I found the new path that I’m on now. This ended my construction career and started my new life as an actor.
“I hadn’t acted since I was 12 years old.”
Do you have any exciting projects going on right now?
“Earlier in the year I played an intelligence officer in a World War II film about British heroine Vera Atkins directed by the wonderful Lydia Dean Pilcher. We shot in Pennsylvania with Stana Katic from ‘Castle’ in the lead. Can’t wait to see it. It has an amazing cast. Some of my favorite actors.
“I just shot an episode of MacGyver in Atlanta. I’m playing a Russian villain in the first episode of the new season and that should be airing on CBS at the end of September.
“There’s other things but unfortunately I can’t talk about them yet!”
Many people say success correlates with the people you meet in your life. Can you describe two that most impacted your success and why.
“I’m very fortunate to have met many good people along my path in life and still have treasured friends and colleagues with me.
“As an actor you need opportunities for work. These are made possible by your reps and by casting directors.
“A good agent or manager who believes in your ability will stick their neck out for you and get you auditions for roles you are right for. When I was new in the Los Angeles acting scene, I was fortunate enough to work with a manager called Vanessa Henderson. She sensed my potential and worked really hard to get me on my first major projects. I owe her a lot of credit for helping me get into those audition rooms in the early days. Her belief in me and her hard work pitching me paid off, and she has been a key person in my life as an actor.
“In terms of casting directors, I’ve been fortunate to meet some lovely people who are great at finding talent. Hiring someone who is unproven comes with a risk and I’m really grateful to those people who took a shot with me. Toni Staniewicz gave me my first TV roles, Heidi Levitt gave me my first major movie role, and Scott David gave me my first major network TV role.
“Too many others to mention. I’m grateful to all of the casting directors and others who have given me a chance to prove myself and work on their projects.”
Can you discuss one of the lowest points in your life personally or professionally and how you dealt with it.
“Life is definitely a series of ups and downs. Breaking my back in 2011 was a very low point in my life which caused me to take a long look at myself. At that time, I had a successful career as a carpenter and a good social life.
“I was working on a remodel of a house in San Francisco. Suddenly a beam fell down and hit me, knocking me off the scaffold. That big wooden beam crashing down on top of me changed the trajectory of my life into another direction.
“At that time, I thought my path would be to continue in construction for the next 40 years. That was my plan. I lost everything: my career, my savings, my health. I didn’t get worker’s comp because my employer wasn’t insured. I was lucky I wasn’t paralyzed by the accident. But, I would never be able to do construction again and I was thousands of miles from home.
“So, I had to try to recover physically and come up with a new plan for my future. There was a period of self-pity and despair. I had no idea what to do with myself. Then eventually I realized that this was the hand I was dealt, and I had no choice but to figure it out.
“A friend suggested I try modeling. Without much thought or hope for success I sent off some pictures to a modeling agency and got signed straight away. I couldn’t believe it. A director (Weston Simpson) saw my picture on a modeling website and asked me to act in his film. That was my first acting role. That was the little bit of encouragement I needed. I loved it and decided that’s what I was going to pursue as a new career. So, I took it seriously, enrolled in classes and gave it everything I’ve got. One role led to another. Small productions led to big productions. Calamity became opportunity.”
Leaders always seem to find ways to overcome their weaknesses. Can you share one or two examples of how you work outside of your comfort zone to achieve success?
“I come from Ireland, so I naturally speak with an Irish accent. Being an actor in America, there’s rarely a demand for an Irish character. For most auditions I’m playing American characters or often other nationalities. Most actors I’m competing against are American.
“So, when they go in they are usually just acting in their real accent. When I go in, I have to hide my real accent and act, too. It’s like riding a bike and juggling all at the same time! Multi-tasking. I’m fortunate that I’m comfortable doing this, but it’s still a challenge.
“One of my ways around this is I’ll start using the accent when I leave the house. So, I’ll be speaking as an American or whatever the role is before I get to the audition or job. I’ll order coffee as the character. I’ll be in character long before I get there. When I’m working with an accent I’m trying to perfect, I won’t just learn the lines. If I do that it becomes rigid and mechanical. The accent needs to be flexible to become real for me.
“One other trick I do is listen to my music and sing along in the accent. Doing this helps me to hear how I would say these new lines as the character and whether it sounds right or not to me. I have an ear for accents similar to how some people can tune a musical instrument by ear. I can do over 50 different ones that are all categorized in my head. Irish ones alone I can do 15. I have videos on YouTube that showcase some of my many accents. If you look at the body of film and TV I’ve done so far, you’ll see American, Russian, British, German, Irish and so on.
The concept of mind over matter has been around for years. A contemporary description of this is having mental toughness. Can you give us an example (or two) of obstacles you’ve overcome by getting your mind in the right place (some might call this reframing the situation)?
“When I started acting in 2012 I was 30 years old. I realized that most professional actors start when they’re teenagers and attend fancy conservatories right out of high school and then move to L.A. in their early twenties. Many of them are plucked for the big talent agencies right from their college class. The people in my age group would have 10 years of credits and big-name schools on their resumes that I didn’t have. Many of them would have family members in the business or connections in Hollywood from their colleges or fraternities that I didn’t have. I didn’t know a soul in L.A. when I moved there. I wasn’t even American.
When you look at those odds it seems like an impossible task. But I refused to believe that it was impossible for me. I told myself that even though I had been on the construction sites of S.F. for the last few years I could catch up to them. I could learn the craft, work hard and make up the lost time.
“One day at a time… that’s what I did. I refused to listen to the negativity. I believed in myself. I trusted myself. I knew that my own life experiences were different from most people in the business and could use that to my advantage. I was different. My work ethic would serve me well. It’s all well and good having big schools and credits on your resume, but on the day, in the audition room, in theory at least, the best actor can win the part. That’s what I believed and that’s what I worked for.
“Within a short time, I caught up to the others in my age group.”
What are your “3 Lessons I Learned from My Most Memorable Failure”
1. “Sometimes you do everything in your power to be successful and it’s still not going to be enough.
2. “Sometimes it’s just “not meant to be”.
3. “If something you were focused on isn’t meant to be, don’t let it get you down. Something better is in store. God’s rejection can be God’s protection.”
What unfiltered advice can you give aspiring stars regarding how to avoid common mis-fires in starting their career?
“The most important thing to start with is learn the craft. To get some training. It doesn’t matter what you look like or who you know, you still need to be able to act in order to progress as an actor.
“Everyone is born with a varying degree of natural talent. Some are luckier than others in this respect, but you still need to study your craft to develop that talent. Just like athletes, you need to train. It’s one of the most competitive industries in the world, so you need to be prepared for that. If you haven’t practiced your craft your chances are practically zero.
“Once you have some training under your belt, it’s important to learn the business side of things. How to market yourself, what kind of headshots to take, how to get an agent etc. There’s so many ins and outs to the business and you need to learn how things work in order to advance.
“It’s important to be positive and easy to work with. Persistence is so important too. You need to be determined and believe in yourself, no matter how many no’s you hear. Be prepared to spend time. It’s a career that takes time. Years and years. Some people are lucky and hit it big early, but most don’t. You need to be prepared to put the time in, the same as any other career.”
What is the best lesson you learned from your worst boss?
“Some people can be difficult to work with. That’s just how some personalities are. If the boss doesn’t like you, work hard with integrity and you’ll earn respect. Even if they don’t like you they’ll keep you around because you’re hard to replace.”
What is one “efficiency hack” you use consistently in your life to keep your time and mind free to focus on your strengths and passions?
“For me it’s important to be of service to other people from time to time without expecting anything in return; for fun and for free. Whether it’s volunteering or just helping someone out.
“It seems counterintuitive that spending time helping others would help you be more productive in your own life, because mathematically you’re taking time away from yourself to give to another person. But it really works for me. Unselfish acts give you a sense of well-being and comfort that makes you feel better about yourself and in turn makes you happier and more productive.”
What’s on the drawing board for your next venture?
“I have a couple of circles in my diary for movies and TV here in L.A. Also hoping to work on something back in Ireland. I’m working on a few writing projects of my own as well.”
What did we miss? Feel free to share any other thoughts or advice on overcoming failure, initiatives you’re currently supporting, any other relevant information you would like to share with the readers.
“I like to work with the homeless in L.A. when I can; especially The Center for The Blessed Sacrament in Hollywood and The Midnight Mission on Skid Row. They do a lot of good for people and always appreciate help or donations. L.A. has the worst homeless problem in the country, so if anyone is interested in volunteering or donating, these two centers do so much in helping homeless people get back on their feet.”
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
“I’m on Instagram and Twitter under @richieactor. Really appreciate the support.”
This was really awesome! Thank you so much for joining us!
“Thank you. It was a pleasure chatting with you.”