Take classes that challenge you. When I first moved to LA, I had just graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree. I had basically spent my entire life up until that point as a student, so I told myself that for my first year I wasn’t going to take any classes. Well, one year turned to three, and I felt like my career had plateaued, and I was frustrated. Finally, I enrolled in an improv class, and I quickly realized what I had been missing. Classes are basically workout sessions — they help you build and maintain the muscles you need to do the job well. They can shake up your way of thinking, and they can be an opportunity to network with other actors.
As a part of my interview series with popular culture stars, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lora Dailey. Lora is an actor based in Los Angeles. She is known for starring the music video “The Arrow of Our Youth” with Danny Trejo, and is a player on the new Dungeons & Dragons show, “Fables of Refuge.” She is an up-and-coming talent in the commercial and new media spheres, and is working to expand to more film and television.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was a kid, my career aspirations changed with the direction of the wind. For example, when I was 5 or so I wanted to be an archaeologist, but when I realized that didn’t mean running through dungeons and dodging booby traps to save historical treasures like Indiana Jones, I looked for adventure elsewhere. Eventually I realized that what I was really drawn to was connecting with people, telling stories. The catalyst for my professional career in acting was a summer program I attended in high school called Missouri Fine Arts Academy; it was then that I started thinking of myself as an artist and saw acting as a profession that was attainable. I was a huge nerd growing up, but it paid off when I got a merit-based full ride scholarship to college, which allowed me to pursue a BFA in Acting. After graduating, I moved to Los Angeles, and have been building my experience and honing my craft ever since.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
For a while I had a part-time job as a Standardized Patient- it’s what I’d call a “practical acting job” where I’d act as a patient for nursing students, EMTs, firefighters, and the like, so that they could practice their patient interactions during different medical scenarios.
One summer, I was tasked with a birthing scenario, where I was supposed to play a family member of a high-fidelity mannequin (a plastic person that sweats and breathes and has a pulse and talks through a speaker). So this plastic woman had a plastic baby inside, so that nursing students could practice the delivery process. For the entire simulation I had to be in character as the concerned, overbearing sister, but when it was time for the mom to “push,” my job was to unbutton the silicone stomach, slip my hand inside, and push the baby out. And since they make the experience as realistic as possible, the baby was lubricated and slippery, and VERY difficult to push out. It is by far the weirdest job I’ve ever had as an actor.
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?
One time there was a commercial shooting at the YMCA where I was working as a lifeguard. I tried to slip the director my actor-business-card at the end of the day, and he basically rolled his eyes at me and was like “Yeah, sure kid.” I’d like to think I’ve gotten better at networking since then, or at least better at judging when to engage and when not to.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Some friends and I started a new online Dungeons & Dragons show called Fables of Refuge. DnD is basically structured fantasy improv, so as a performer it’s a wonderful outlet to develop a thoughtful, fleshed-out character and play in a fantastical setting. The best part is that the online community seems to be responding very positively toward our content — we’ve already surpassed 50,000 subscribers on YouTube and reached our first goal on Patreon. It’s very satisfying to know that what you’re creating resonates with people and fills a creative gap that they’re lacking from other media outlets. Like any other TV show, the audience doesn’t know where the story is going — but with DnD, neither do the performers. I think it’s that connection between the actors and the audience, the joint venture into the unknown, that sets these shows apart.
I also recently shot my first national commercial in Tel Aviv, Israel. That was a whirlwind, I got the call basically asking me, “Can you be on a plane tomorrow?” and I said yes. The commercial itself hasn’t come out just yet so I can’t say too much about it, but you will probably see my face on TV soon — it’s a fun little spot. Plus, I just booked another commercial that’s shooting in Riga, Latvia next month. I feel so lucky to have these opportunities. Traveling is one of my favorite things in life, so to be able to travel and act in the same trip really keeps me motivated and inspired.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
When I was shooting a featured role in Home Again, I got to spend my scene interacting with Lake Bell. She was a truly genuine and warm person — she asked me what my name was and where I was from, and she was so easy to improvise with. Beyond our interaction, she was always composed, focused, and inspired every time the camera was rolling. That was my first feature film I shot in Los Angeles, and she was definitely a role model for me to look towards.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It’s important to remember that an acting career is a marathon, not a sprint. You really do have to think of it as a long game, and break up your goals into smaller sub-goals that you can work on in the short-term. Take classes that challenge you. Write a script. Build your mailing list. Read a play. My mentors told me that if you can do just one thing for your acting career every day, those small efforts will add up and get you ahead. It can be difficult to see the big picture because the path is non-linear. But if you continue to sharpen your skills and grow your network, you’ll get there in your own time. And if you’re starting to feel worn thin or uninspired, take a step back and do something you enjoy that has nothing to do with acting at all. That’s the beautiful thing about acting; the more you experience in life, the richer your work becomes.
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. :-)
If I could ever be a champion for a non-profit, I would want to be an advocate for literacy and equal opportunity for education. Reading has been so important to me in my life, and there are so many children in this country and abroad that just don’t have access to a quality education and resources for learning. Reading is an opportunity to practice compassion, to see a story from someone else’s perspective. If I could help make the world a little more informed and a little kinder, that would be so fulfilling.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Take classes that challenge you. When I first moved to LA, I had just graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree. I had basically spent my entire life up until that point as a student, so I told myself that for my first year I wasn’t going to take any classes. Well, one year turned to three, and I felt like my career had plateaued, and I was frustrated. Finally, I enrolled in an improv class, and I quickly realized what I had been missing. Classes are basically workout sessions — they help you build and maintain the muscles you need to do the job well. They can shake up your way of thinking, and they can be an opportunity to network with other actors.
- Find a survival job that allows you to pursue your career. And if you’re at a job that’s holding you back, don’t be afraid to quit. Most auditions tend to be on weekdays, between 10 am and 6 pm. (There are plenty of exceptions to this rule, but the majority of the auditions I’ve been to so far have been in that time frame.) Because of this, if you work a traditional 9-to-5, it can be very difficult to pursue acting opportunities. If you can find a job that lets you work non-traditional hours (such as bartending at night or being a personal trainer early in the morning), or make your own hours (such as driving for Uber), or work remotely (such as web design), you put yourself in a position to seize opportunities that come your way. For the first couple of years, I was working a job that had me at work during the day, had a small staff that made it difficult to take time off, and I had no room for upward mobility. All my time and energy was being put into a dead-end day job for which I was horribly overqualified and underpaid, and I was miserable. I made the switch to the restaurant industry, something I had no experience in, and found that I was much happier and more free to pursue my actual career. It can be scary to walk away from security, but it’s worth the risk in exchange for freedom and opportunity.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. Okay, so I’ve definitely been told this, but it’s something that I constantly have to remind myself. It’s very easy to look at your peers or the media and think, “So-and-so has done this cool thing and I haven’t, so I must be doing this wrong.” This mindset is so draining and unhelpful. Again, the path to success in this industry is non-linear, so there’s no one “right” way to do it, and there’s no time limit either. What’s more helpful is to ask yourself, “Am I closer to my goals now than I was last year? Than last month? What did I do today for my career? What have I been avoiding? What can I do next?”
- Stand up for yourself when you know something isn’t right. When you’re first starting out as an actor, you have to be your own best advocate. If you don’t have an agent or manager and you’re non-union, there is no mediator between you and production, so you have to be tactfully but firmly vocal when issues arise. Some examples include being underpaid for work, signing commercial contracts, being asked to do a stunt or intimacy that you’re not comfortable with and not providing a coordinator, and so much more. Have confidence in your worth.
- Invest in yourself. I’ve been very frugal my whole life, and spending money kind of stresses me out, especially when it’s on myself. But the thing you have to realize when you’re a performer is that you’re both the boss AND the product. Invest in your product! Buy clothes that fit you so well you’ll be confident every time you enter the room. If you’re a person that wears makeup, watch makeup tutorials and experiment with different techniques. Take care of your hair and your skin. Get enough sleep. Join a gym. I used to think of all these things as being auxiliary to my career, but I’ve come to realize that walking into an audition room looking and feeling like the best version of yourself is necessary to performing your best. You’re worth the investment.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There’s this Albert Einstein quote that has really stuck with me through the years: “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” I think it’s because I feel like I can relate to the intent and heart behind it. In school I was always smart, but not gifted. In college I was never a “big fish,” but lucky just to land a supporting role. But ultimately, these things don’t matter much, because what’s important is having a genuine interest, passion, and drive to learn and improve. To be “passionately curious” is to have a mind that’s ready to learn and a heart that’s ready to lead. That’s not to say talent isn’t important — just that it’s not only some magical, innate ability that you either have or don’t have. Rather, developing talent is about the enthusiastic pursuit of knowledge and experience.
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?
First of all, I’m very grateful to my parents to be so supportive of me on this journey. I don’t come from an artistic background, and I’m actually the first person in my family to have the opportunity to go to college. So, naturally, I was really nervous when I made that phone call home freshman year to say I wanted to be an actor for a living. Nevertheless, they were supportive of me then, and are still my biggest fans today. They encouraged me to do what I wanted most, rather than playing it safe, and for that I’m forever grateful.
I’ve also received a great deal of support from my boyfriend, Alex. He’s the one who encouraged me to get back into classes, and to really invest in myself. He challenges me to face my fears head on, and to continue on in spite of failures. I love having someone so driven by my side.
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. :-)
I would love to meet Laura Dern over lunch someday. She is a fantastic actor, with incredible range, sincerity, and the sort of career longevity I dream of. I get compared to her often, and I’m always delighted whenever someone makes the comparison. I would want to pick her brain over what career decisions she thinks has helped her most, and how she continues to stay inspired.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m on Instagram as @loradailey
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!