I wish someone had told me that I don’t need to please everyone in order to succeed. This has been an ongoing life lesson for me…and it’s an easy trap for an actor. It has caused me on many occasions to take on projects that proved detrimental to my time, to my income, to my self respect and to my career momentum. Even if you’re hungry, it’s still ok to be selective.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Plotzke. Jennifer is an award winning actress and producer with a career that includes both stage and screen. She appeared in eight independent films this year, including one that earned her a Best Actress Award. She has worked on eleven independent films and two pilots as a producer and recently directed her first comedy. She has four films on the festival circuit, two premiering in late fall and two beginning principal photography in the spring.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
This has been my career path since I was in second grade when I was cast in my school production of The Wizard of Oz. I was cast as a Munchkin and I knew right then and there that this was my calling. I grew up in a family that cultivated a love for the arts and am the descendant of writers, artists and theatre artists. It’s in my blood!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
While waiting tables in New York, I worked with someone that was, at the time, working and hustling through the actor grind just like me. However, through her talent, determination and generosity of spirit, she rose up through the ranks to eventually star in the title role of a network show. She is now at the top of her game in Hollywood with multiple television seasons, awards and studio films under her belt. What has made this so interesting for me is that growing up, that level of success seemed like it was reserved for other people far removed from where I was or where I came from. But knowing someone before they reach that level and watching their journey to get there was and is inspiring. It made me realize that it is possible and also provided (and continues to provide) a blueprint for exactly what it takes to get there.
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?
The first film I was cast in was a feature film directed by a well known director. The scene took place in a supermarket and my character was at the deli counter sampling cheese. The action and the lines were simple, but I was so nervous that I became fixated on the action and each time the camera rolled, I would feverishly devour all the samples from this cute little cheese tray. The art department was on their game and after each take, fresh cheese would appear. Needless to say after four takes, I was extremely ill and the crew was stifling laughter. The director came up and looked me right in the eye and asked if I was ok. I quickly realized how ridiculous I must have looked onscreen devouring the cheese and just burst out laughing. Soon we were all laughing about it and suddenly my nerves subsided. What I learned is that it’s ok to be nervous, but learn how to acknowledge and combat it. Breathe, be present and relax!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I currently have three films and a TV pilot in development and what makes it so exciting is that they are all so vastly different. One is a mystery set in 1968, one is a gritty comedy, one is an intense family drama and one is a rollicking ride into the world of puppetry!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
The great thing about this business is that each time you’re on a new project, it’s a new group of people that become your family for the time you’re together. And from that, your network grows. The fun part is that in the world of theatre and film, it’s a really interesting, eclectic mix of people. Artists come with big personalities and that can make for some high drama and extreme fun. I’ve also created friendships and partnerships that I know will last for years to come!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It’s easy to burn out in this business because it requires a lot of hustle and can be a 24/7 grind. I think the key is finding balance between your career and your life and drawing boundaries. Because this business is highly competitive, I think we are conditioned to say yes to as many things as possible and to jump on every opportunity that comes our way. But I’ve come to learn that it’s ok to say no sometimes. That taking time for yourself and your life won’t ruin your career. If anything it will give you greater longevity in the business and keep you in the game.
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 don’t know if it’s a movement so much as a way of thinking, but I wish I could inspire people to help each other more. I think if every single person made it their priority to help others in some capacity, we could eliminate suffering and want. I think it’s our purpose as human beings.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- I wish someone had told me that I don’t need to please everyone in order to succeed. This has been an ongoing life lesson for me…and it’s an easy trap for an actor. It has caused me on many occasions to take on projects that proved detrimental to my time, to my income, to my self respect and to my career momentum. Even if you’re hungry, it’s still ok to be selective.
- I wish someone had told me that above all, you should listen to yourself. We’re all trying to get ahead and we’re often relying on others to help us get there. But different people have different opinions and advice. It’s easy to get caught up in what others tell you to do, especially when they’re an authority and seemingly trying to help you. However, what’s right for one person may not be right for another and I have found myself so far off the path sometimes after following someone else’s advice. Always listen to yourself first and trust your gut.
- I wish someone had told me to just be myself. I spent a lot of time early on trying to be exactly what I thought people wanted me to be. Especially with roles…I thought I needed to transform myself into exactly what I thought they wanted in order to get the role. What I didn’t realize was that transforming myself into something else created something completely unbelievable and false. I needed to let myself come through the role…that if I’m to play a role believably, I need to bring my own essence into play in some capacity.
- I wish someone had told me that my greatest obstacle can be my greatest power. I have been tall my whole life. Taller than most. And it’s often very difficult to cast someone my height. Because of that (and throughout my life) I have always viewed my height as something to overcome. Or something to mask as much as possible. However, as I get older, I realize that my height IS my power and the more I embrace it, the more powerful I become. Because of it, I get to play strong, powerful women because I naturally read that way on stage and screen. And who wouldn’t want to play those roles?
- I wish someone had told me that the journey is more important than the goal. Starting out in this business, I had my eye on the ultimate prize and I was in a race to get to it. And while keeping your goals in sight and in check is important to succeed, if that’s the only thing you allow yourself to focus on, you will miss so many important things along the way. Sometimes, even, what you find on the journey causes the goal to shift and if you’re too focused on the result, you’ll miss the fork in the road and keep going in the wrong direction.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite quote is from Basil King: “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid.” It has given me strength and courage when I have had none. When I’m feeling doubtful, I think of that quote and it gives me instantaneous courage and empowers me to do what I feel like I can’t.
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?
There are too many to count. :) I have been so fortunate in my life to have had so many people go to bat for me. This business is largely built on connections and relationships and your foundation is both your talent and your network. Professionally I have been lucky that so many people have helped nurture and promote my career and my abilities. I am standing on all of their shoulders. In addition, my family has always been behind me. They have never doubted my decision to be an actor and have never insisted or suggested that I have a “Plan B.” They have been my biggest cheerleaders throughout my career. I am also so lucky to have a husband that supports me unconditionally. An artist’s life, work, schedule and income are irregular and can be subject to extreme highs and lows. My husband is an artist at heart but not by trade, but he navigates this career with me and supports me through all the ups and downs. He understands and loves what I do and I would not be succeeding without him.
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. :-)
If I could sit down with anyone in my industry, it would be Tom Hanks. I have watched his career since I was a child when he was doing sitcoms. It has been arguably one of the greatest career evolutions in this business and it has inspired me time and again. His work is impeccable at every turn, he’s someone everyone loves and loves to work with and he balances family life with working consistently. And we love him in every role…he brings so much humanity to his work. He is a prime example of talent and integrity being the foundation for career longevity and I admire everything he does. I’d love to pick his brain.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I am on Instagram and Twitter at @jennplotzke and would love to connect!