I find the story that inspires me most is that of the everyday hero. What we like to call ordinary people living quietly extraordinary lives. I would love to spread hope and positivity to people that are just trying to get by, to express that at the end of the day we are all experiencing the same hardships and can come together over that. A great example of a career well spent in this venture is one of my own heroes Robin Williams. The bulk of his work was hopeful, or done to make people smile or aspire to dream. I absolutely love what his career did for so many and would love to do the same one day.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tess Alexander. Tess is an up and coming actress from Portland, OR. Raised in the theatre and in a family of creatives it was a no brainer to pursue an artistic career path. As she explored on screen acting in Los Angeles through intensive studying at Warner Loughlin Studios as well as starring in an endless list of short films, a lead role in feature film Rottweiler, and several small TV roles, she developed a foundation for the larger goal of utilizing art and its platform in order to create positive change and progressive dialogue. This newfound vision for creative activism encouraged her to begin writing and directing as well and is currently in the process of creating a slice of life feature film script as well as a coming of age short film.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Before I can even remember I’ve wanted to act. Though it didn’t always come naturally. I grew up as an intuitive writer; it was basically second nature to me to create and get lost in storytelling. It was what I was known for in my family and schools. Though for whatever unspoken reason I always was insistent on the notion that I was in fact, an actor. As soon as any opportunity arose to act I would seize it. I even went as far as “directing” seasonal plays in the 4th grade with the girls in my class since we didn’t have a theatre program. I never had a firm reason aside from pure desire until I had the opportunity to play Anne Frank in a community theatre play when I was 16 called We Are Witnesses. I was incredibly fortunate to not only meet survivors and her family friends, but to perform for them as well. It really hit me throughout that experience, that the power of theatre and film, storytelling as a whole, was so incredibly powerful, and went beyond my baseline enjoyment in it just as a hobby. This was something that felt more real to me than anything I had experienced before, and I wanted to do something substantial with that.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Wow I am about to be such an actor for this question. But I would have to say it would be the first time I really sunk into a character. The first time I felt how I always imagined all the big famous actors were able to feel at the drop of a hat. Totally given in to the characters wants and needs and thoughts. This was just before I began any substantial training. I was working on a short film where I played this hippie free spirited woman. She gets locked on a rooftop with a businessman and comes to find he is trying to get to his mother’s funeral but didn't know what to say for the eulogy. At the end of the film we realize the woman was simply a ghost of his mother. But there was this beautiful moment, the male lead had a crying cue to prepare for, wherein he would be giving a monologue about how his mother used to sing him to sleep during thunderstorms. I remember as the crew was setting up, the actor was listening to music, trying to sink into the mood of the monologue. I haven’t a clue what came over me, as I hadn’t yet gone through the training that I can now utilize in order to help this process, I can only describe it as being utterly present with the other actor. It sounds nuts but I felt proud of him as if he truly was my own son. I watched him as he listened to his music and tears just started pouring out of my eyes and I couldn’t help but smile. Maybe it was the intense rooftop sunlight, but it was absolutely incredible. That feeling has fueled me to study and take classes and even meditate. Being present with another actor has been so hard for me to achieve but it is so wonderful when it happens. So I have a side of me that loves acting for how it can affect others, and then the other side loves it for how it affects myself. I guess a lot of artists are like that huh? I love both worlds.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Oh gosh there are so many. I’m sure there are several I still do and just haven’t realized yet! I think the worst one was not fully memorizing my sides and even holding them in my hands during an audition. Someone once told me it creates the illusion that you haven’t put in your all, so if it looks like you’re on book they will think it could be even better, even though you have secretly already memorized and done all of your homework. Obviously…terrible advice. Took me until I casted a couple short films myself to realize how little that made any sense! Oops…!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Funnily enough, the project I am most excited by is a feature film I am writing. I set out to write a murder mystery. Forensics and criminal psychology have always really fascinated me and I thought it could be fun to write. But as I researched, I became really emotionally moved and almost guilty. I have always loved films like Silence of the Lambs, Seven, and other crime thrillers. But I never really stopped to consider the reality of those movies. People really do go through horrible things like that. So I scratched the murder mystery idea and decided to write more of a slice of life drama of how a regular family’s lives change when they become affected by an infamous serial killer. Super dark, I know, but I found myself really wanting to share that story and garner empathy and understanding for that tragedy. I found I couldn’t think of a single film that really humanized the victim, but rather the victim is usually always just a plot point for drama. I want an audience to realize the humanity and reality of the situation. I love film for escapism but I can’t help but want to use it to show untold stories, and that happens to be the one I am focused on at the moment.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I did background for about a year when I first moved here in order to see bigger sets and how they work, so I saw a lot of big name actors and directors, albeit from afar. I get questions about that from people back home a lot and I always have to say the most down to earth actor I have ever seen on set was Don Cheadle. You’d think an actor of his caliber would reserve the right to keep his space especially with background but it was totally the opposite. He was joking with everyone and making conversation with just about anyone. Seeing that was such a joy for me being at the very beginning of my journey in this business at the time.
Another amazing character I met through my studies at Warner Loughlin is voice coach Stewart Pearce. I took a master class with him and I would highly encourage anyone to do so if he is in your area, actor or otherwise. The man has a presence that fills a room to say the least, but his guided vocal exercises/meditations have changed the way I carry myself and how others see me as well. Utilizing this on stage and on camera has been a gift.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Follow the joy of your creativity. In big cities like Los Angeles there is a huge stigma about taking breaks and/or the idea of quitting. I highly recommend the podcast called Audrey Helps Actors, the first 6 episodes touch a lot on this. There is nothing wrong with realizing you aren’t feeling it anymore or that you need a break for an undetermined amount of time. This is a business that requires deep desire in order to thrive and I think it’s really important to take care of your mental health and listen to yourself when you may need to step away for a moment. A lot of artists think they need to suffer to succeed but I really feel this is not the case. Especially as an actor, your mind is your creative tool and it needs to be healthy and engaged in order to function not only in day to day life but in your career. Self care is an absolute must. I also believe not clinging to an end goal is helpful. This is a really difficult business and to pin all of your happiness on an end goal is a lot of risk. It is important to find joy in the process and your everyday life. Not only is it healthier but I find my mind is clearer and the pressure isn’t so high which helps me focus even more.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I am all about this as pretty much the entire basis of why I pursue acting and creativity. I find the story that inspires me most is that of the everyday hero. What we like to call ordinary people living quietly extraordinary lives. I would love to spread hope and positivity to people that are just trying to get by, to express that at the end of the day we are all experiencing the same hardships and can come together over that. A great example of a career well spent in this venture is one of my own heroes Robin Williams. The bulk of his work was hopeful, or done to make people smile or aspire to dream. I absolutely love what his career did for so many and would love to do the same one day.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- The best piece of advice I have only recently received, was to seek work and representation outside of LA. I moved to Los Angeles only months after graduating high school and in the nearly 6 years I have been here I have submitted to agencies every 6 months with next to no luck. Within only one day of submitting to Atlanta agencies I was signed across the board. It was hard to not wonder how far alone I would be if I had done this immediately but you live and you learn!
- Don’t pin your joy on this one thing being a certain way. I have learned to just enjoy the moment and the journey especially when pursuing one of the hardest careers to break into. I hear a lot of actors saying “once I get a series regular/lead things will be better”. When in reality it rarely fills whatever hole those people are feeling inside. It’s the concept of the grass is always greener. When you do book that role then you will yearn for more. It is less about success and more about your mindset of gratitude. It’s amazing that at 23 I am able to support myself in a city like Los Angeles, I am healthy, I can afford to travel, I am able to create art and study. I have a lot to be grateful for but I wasn’t always so aware of that. I find since I have adjusted that attitude problem my work is able to flourish even more so.
- It isn’t about finding a day job that “allows” you to also do what you love. It’s a matter of using your free time to do it, regardless of when. One of the hardest things I have admitted to myself only just about a year ago, was that I wasn’t truly utilizing my time to the fullest. I had to give myself a wake up call. So many people wake up and spend all their free time being creative and still work a “day job”. In a job that is so hard to find success in, I really needed to step up my game. I had to realize how much work really goes into art and performing to my fullest.
- On the flip side of that coin, there is no shame in taking a break. There is a lot of pressure here to constantly be working or working towards success. People that can’t accept that it is ok to slow down sometimes often struggle because of it which is a horrible irony. I myself have been there, and since realizing it’s ok to take my own time I have found I am actually way more productive and in love with the work I do than ever.
- Get a hobby! Especially with acting, life experience is so great to have. I find that if I keep my body healthy and my mind free and less obsessive about just acting, acting, acting, I am able to breathe deeper when I am running a scene. Seek things that inspire you, hiking, dancing, reading, just keep your brain active and full of life! Takes the pressure off of doing things perfectly when you have a chance to act, and really what is more genuine in life than imperfection?
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s one my dad always brings up when I am having a rough patch. “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway”, spoken by John Wayne of course. Especially for the path of an artist there is an endless world of unknown. There is no guarantee that you will succeed. In fact it is more likely that you won’t ever make a traditional living doing what you love if that thing is acting or other art forms. But I think it is important, so long as you still love the thing and it brings you true joy, that you don’t let that uncertainty stop you from doing it anyways. There is so much criticism when it comes to art, you will always compare yourself and wonder if you could do better, but to keep working at your craft and giving it your love despite that insecurity is such an empowering feeling especially when you have finally accomplished even just a minor goal.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
As cliche as it sounds, first and foremost are my parents. Not a lot of parents would let their kid skip college and dive straight in to an acting career and still support them as they got their feet on the ground. Believe it or not it was actually them that suggested I move to Los Angeles instead of going to a university in Oregon where we lived. They could see how much it was killing me to just tour campuses; I didn’t ever say I felt I couldn’t bear putting off my acting endeavors for another 4 years but somehow they knew and said it for me. My parents aren’t rich, but I was lucky enough that they still somehow found a way to pretty much entirely support me in my first couple years in LA despite not being in school or knowing what direction I was headed. I have only recently been able to be independent and the first thing I would want to do in the next stage of my life is pay them back for all they did for me so I could chase after such a wild dream. I really don’t know where I would be without them and I am forever grateful for their unconditional love. Not all artists are so lucky.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
My first response was a cluster of names! It’s the same feeling when someone asks you what your favorite song is and a flood of songs come in and all of a sudden you can’t remember any of them at all!
I think I would have to say either Charlize Theron or Jeff Goldblum. Charlize because of her work not only as an actor but a producer. I find that her work is really aligned with the kind of work I would like to make. And as for Jeff Goldblum…I mean, who wouldn’t want to hang out with him? But again, there are so many people I would love to know and talk to!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Of course. The best place to follow me is either my website alexandrazagorski.com or @alexandrazagorski on Instagram.