Comparison is the Death of Happiness. I’ve always been guilty of unhealthy comparison. Back in middle school I’d keep tally of how many boyfriends my cousin had while I was still at lucky number 0. When it came to my career, the comparison got worse. I’d see which agencies my peers were signed with and huff and puff about my less-than-desirable agent at the time. I’d see who was getting auditions at which casting offices, and grumble about the fact that I’d been trying to read for that Casting Director for YEARS. Here’s the thing. Everyone has a different path. And everyone is going at different speeds. Maybe they’re flourishing today, but won’t be tomorrow. Maybe you’re not flourishing today, but you will be tomorrow. There’s not a cookie cutter path to success. Focus on yourself. And maybe stay off of social media from time to time.
As a part of my interview series with popular culture stars, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ali McGarel. Ali is an actress in Los Angeles, hailing from Chicago. Her work has been featured at Ciremira Film Festival, the Hollywood Art and Movie Awards, and the Chicago International Television Festival. She is represented by Pacific Talent & Models.
Thank you so much for joining us Ali! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It’s super cheesy but I’ve wanted to perform ever since I was born. As a toddler, I’d get up on playground structures and pretend it was a stage. I can’t imagine doing anything else. Since this career path is so difficult, I believe most artists don’t “choose” acting, it sort of chooses them. You have to be all in.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I’m going to take this question back to college when I was pursuing my BA in Theatre. I transferred to a four year school my junior year after attending community college. And it was rough. Cliques had already been formed. And the theatre director already had her favorites. Fall auditions rolled around and there were 3 different productions. Surely, I would be cast in one of them. The audition process came and went, and the cast lists were posted. I looked at the list…and my name was nowhere to be found. This had never happened to me before. I’d been a staple in my productions in high school, and a quick favorite at my community college. Had I been kidding myself all along? Do I suck compared to these fancy BA students? No. I knew that I was talented. I just knew it. They just didn’t see it yet. So I made it my mission to show them. I signed up for Acting on Camera with the theatre director, and I felt that this was my time to shine. I’d taken classes in Chicago for on camera technique, while most of my classmates had only trained in theatre up to this point. I was getting positive feedback in class, but I still wasn’t sure where my professor stood with me. Then Senior Showcase auditions were coming up, and I was terrified. I NEEDED to be in the showcase, and she was only taking a certain amount of students. This is the showcase where a bunch of different agents come and watch students perform one after the other. There’s a huge potential to be signed. And I needed to get signed. Then one day the theatre director called me into her office. She says “my agent needs more of your type, so I recommended you. And they’d like to set up an appointment”. EXCUSE ME? This woman who I thought wanted nothing to do with me not only likes me, but thinks I’m talented enough to recommend to her agent??? I was blown away. “I want to help you work on your monologue. Oh, and don’t worry about Senior Showcase. Obviously if I’m recommending you to my agent, you have a spot.” I walked out of her office taking away a few things. 1. You NEVER know what people are really thinking. 2. Don’t base your opinion of yourself on what other people think (if I’d truly believed that my theatre director thought I sucked, I never would have pushed through) 3. Which brings me to the last point that you HAVE to believe in yourself more than anyone else. Since I fought so hard for her to see my talent, she did. (And I was cast in multiple theatre productions after that initial audition! ☺)
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?
I did not understand the concept of my “brand” during my first headshot session. I was a junior in high school, and if you know me at all, you know that I look a lot younger than my age. So this was ESPECIALLY true in high school. I looked like a baby child. But, not understanding what roles I would likely go out for, I saw a headshot session as a chance to get dolled up and look GLAMOROUS! I was going to be a movie star, after all. So there I was, braces still attached to my teeth, getting caked with makeup. In my defense, the photographer didn’t help things when he gave the direction to tilt my head down and give a smoldering look up to the camera. Or when he had me strut down the alley way. NONE of these pictures screamed “I play cute, innocent teenagers!” It’s hilarious because I actually look younger in my headshots now than in the pictures I took back then. KNOW YOUR BRAND. I highly recommend Bella Saville Photography.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’ve currently been busy auditioning for some really cool projects. I’m excited to see what I’ll get to work on next. I recently booked a role on a BRAT series, one which I can’t disclose yet. Their channel currently has 3.4 million subs. A short film I have a lead role in, “Girls N’ Boyze”, was acquired by PBS and is also now on Youtube with 6.4K views and counting!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Some of my favorite interactions have been with actors that have found success in the industry, and because of that you’d expect them to act with a certain sense of grandiouse, but they end up being totally normal. I don’t want to mention specific names, but I recently worked on a film with a couple of young actresses whose careers are quickly skyrocketing, and they were the most kind, well-behaved kids. I also met an older actor on that same film who’s been in the industry for decades, has several credits under his belt, but he introduced himself to every person on set. He was so grateful to be there. No one was below him. These interactions remind me of a couple of things. 1. It’s just a job. And 2. Successful actors are just normal people, and HEY! I’m a normal person!! So success can find me as well!!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I think it’s important to have other passions outside of the industry that fulfill you. Which is definitely something that I struggle with. If all that you’re focused on is booking the next role, when that doesn’t happen as quick as you’d like, it’s so easy to feel down. Having other parts of your life to cultivate puts less pressure on your carrer. I’ve recently started taking dance classes at The Studio in Encino and it’s a great way to let off steam.
I think it’s also great to create your own work. When you’re focused on something that’s in your control and gives you creative enjoyment, you’re not as worried about when your next job will arrive.
Another tip is to remember that this is a long game. Most people don’t find success right away. In any career path. I love that meme on Facebook about Tina Fey working at the YMCA at 23, and JK Rowling living on welfare at 28. You’re never too old and things can turn around.
Finally, I believe that if you’re really struggling, therapy is a great thing! I’m not ashamed to say that I’m currently seeing a therapist and it’s helped immensely.
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. :-)
A movement that I feel a lot of us would benefit from is to STOP TRYING TO BE PERFECT ON SOCIAL MEDIA!! None of us are perfect. And it can be hard seeing everyone “thriving” as soon as you log on. Maybe instead of showing your “highlight reel” all of the time, you can show your #notperfect moments as well. I can’t take credit for this idea. My good friend Tony Rossi, who is an actor, motivational speaker, and coach from Chicago, is the creator of the #notperfect movement and I highly recommend his podcast The Tony Rossi Show.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Comparison is the Death of Happiness.
-I’ve always been guilty of unhealthy comparison. Back in middle school I’d keep tally of how many boyfriends my cousin had while I was still at lucky number 0. When it came to my career, the comparison got worse. I’d see which agencies my peers were signed with and huff and puff about my less-than-desirable agent at the time. I’d see who was getting auditions at which casting offices, and grumble about the fact that I’d been trying to read for that Casting Director for YEARS. Here’s the thing. Everyone has a different path. And everyone is going at different speeds. Maybe they’re flourishing today, but won’t be tomorrow. Maybe you’re not flourishing today, but you will be tomorrow. There’s not a cookie cutter path to success. Focus on yourself. And maybe stay off of social media from time to time.
2. This Business Isn’t Fair
-I’ve always been a big proponent of “fairness”. I was a good student in school and I learned that if you put forth a certain amount of effort, you would get an A. There was a direct correlation. This business? Not so much. Yes, actors that put in the work tend to meet their goals faster than those that don’t. But there’s a lot of people that just get “lucky”. Maybe they’re good looking. Or they know someone. Or whatever. But bottom line is that you don’t “deserve” anything. No matter how hard you work for it. And that can be maddening. So my suggestion is to just focus on your craft, and remind yourself why you love acting in the first place.
3. Don’t Have Expectations
-I recently had coffee with an acting peer who landed a role in a MAJOR film, and she thought that this would be the role to catapult her career. Heck, I would’ve thought the same thing. But it turns out, she actually had a dry spell following that credit. And she’s still working her way up just like the rest of us. I try to go into situations not expecting anything. Yeah, I had a kickass read at that recent Casting Director workshop. Cool! Maybe nothing with come of it, maybe something will. But I’m not expecting anything. Same thing with auditions. I recently had the best self tape audition I’ve probably ever had. The tears were flowing. I was connected as Hell. It was a SLAM DUNK! Will I get a callback? Eh, I don’t know. I’m not waiting for a call. But performing that scene felt amazing, and I’m proud of my work. And that’s enough for me.
4. Trust Your Instincts
-I’ve struggled with OCD & anxiety my whole iife, and I was always hesitant to trust my inner voice. Because the voice that was my ANXIETY would lie to me. But I’ve had to learn to separate my ANXIETY voice from my GUT. And my GUT never lies. There are a lot of opinions in Hollywood. Just because an agent or a Casting Director or a coach or whoever tells you that this is what you SHOULD do, if it doesn’t feel right to YOU, don’t do it. Just trust me. I’ve honestly come to regret some career decisions thus far because I listened to other people instead of myself. This is YOUR career. Do what’s best for YOU.
5. It’s a Long Game
-One of my biggest assets, right now, is that I play young. And one of my biggest insecurities is that one day I WILL look 30 in the face, and the “18 to play younger” thing won’t work anymore. And then I’ll never book another role because my shortness won’t match my face. And then my career will be over and yada yada yada. When I was first toying with the idea of moving to LA, I explained this idea to my acting coach. I said IF I were to move, I would NEED to get to LA IMMEDIATELY and hit the ground running because I’d only be able to “work” for a few years (before I’d look “old”). My coach stopped me right there and told me that if she thought I only had 5 years worth of my career left, then there’d be no point in moving. These things take time. EVEN when you’re doing anything and everything to move your career forward. I think it’s also hard for actors because friends or family who don’t understand the business probably expect things to move faster. I’ve heard the scenario of parents telling their kids that if “the acting thing doesn’t work in 2 years, move back home”. 2 years?? That’s NOTHING. You need to build relationships. And that takes time. Even people who are an “overnight success” have been working for a LONG TIME before they made it big. You just didn’t see all of those years of struggling. So I’ve had to learn to be patient. And trust in the timing of my career.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“What’s meant for you will not pass you by”.
Life freaks me out. It freaks me out in the sense that one decision can lead you on an entirely different path. I heard a story about Lucas Grabeel from High School Musical being discovered in line at an ice cream shop. (I could be totally wrong but I’m pretty sure it’s true). Like…just think. If he hadn’t had a taste for ice cream that day, and wasn’t in line in that exact moment standing next to the exact right person, he wouldn’t have been discovered and never would’ve danced next to Sharpay in a fedora!!! OOOORRRR maybe the Universe would’ve made it so that he’d find his way to High School Musical anyway. Because it was meant for him. Honestly? I’m not exactly sure what I believe in this moment. But it definitely gives me more relief to believe that what’s meant for my career will not pass me by. So that’s the more empowering mantra to live by.
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?
I’d really like to thank my former acting coach, Lisa Schmela. She always believed in me and gave me the permission I needed to move to LA, when the nay sayers were loud. “You don’t have enough credits yet” “You shouldn’t go until you’re SAG Eligible” “You’ll get eaten alive”, they said. But she said fuck it. “You’ve tried your hand in Chicago. It’s not clicking. You’d be much HAPPIER in LA”. And she was right.
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. :-)
Oh man…if by some chance Sarah Jessica Parker reads this…my inner Charlotte would love to have brunch with Carrie Bradshaw.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My instagram is @that.lil.redhead ! Prepare to watch a lot of cat videos on my story!
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!