The Year I Almost Quit Acting by Robin Riker
Film Courage: Robin, can you share with us one of your toughest days here in Los Angeles? Maybe an audition gone bad or whatever, and then how you turned it around?
Robin Riker: Oh, yes! I remember this very, very well. I had just come off of my first television series, it was the very first television series ever on cable. It was called BROTHERS. It was on Showtime. It ran for 5 years. I had come off of that show and now I had one year, so this day that you’re asking about occurred, I had gone through one calendar year of having deals made for 12 new shows, okay. So I went out on my auditions, it was me and a couple of other people (you know), I signed my contracts and everything was ready and I didn’t get one of the shows. Not one of them! So this isn’t auditions that I didn’t get. These were deals that were made for me that if I had walked out of the room with the job, I would have had another television series. And I went one calendar year, 12 of those events and didn’t get one. It was down to me and two other women and most discouragingly, one of the episodes (one of the pilots) was down to me and nobody else! And I still didn’t get it because the producer/writer decided that she wanted to play the role.
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Now none of those shows ever went on to become series but that didn’t mitigate my feelings on this particular day and I was crushed. I mean it was the hardest…I couldn’t believe that this was what happened again in this year. And I literally went on my face on the rug and just wept and wept and wept and then I said “God, I just want peace. I want to be happy. If you think that I’m supposed to move to Kansas, raise chickens and have babies, I’ll do it! I just want a sign. I have to know. I have to know something. I can’t take this any longer, this amount of continual rejection after getting so close to so many things.” And I stopped crying because I really liked the rug and I was getting schmutz on it, so I had to quit.
So right after I said the thing “I need a sign! I have to have something that is unequivocal”…the phone rang. It was my agent. I had an audition for a movie with the then very old and very ailing Robert Mitchum, but it was still Robert Mitchum! And it was an old movie star and I’d watched him when I was a little girl. I was really excited about the audition. And then I had this feeling…I will often open a book with a metaphysical or spiritual [theme] or just anything and just see what I see. And I opened up…and it was something about returning home a desert zephyr, returning you home. So I need a sign, the phone rings, I have this audition, then I do the thing, I get the reading about the zephyr, that feeling to go home…I got this overwhelming desire to return to Aspen, Colorado, which is where my parents owned their own legitimate theater when I was a child.
So I said “I’m going to do it.” And I made reservations and the name of the train that went there was The Zephyr. I went on the audition, I didn’t get it but I had my sign. You know it was…I said “If this is just my vanity, let me know because I don’t want to do this any longer.” And if it’s not…I felt like this was what I was supposed to do, all the signs when I came here, I got work right away, I got my SAG card right away, I got an agent right away and then I didn’t work for awhile and then I got jobs here and got jobs there and waited cocktails at The Improv and The Comedy store and all that in-between gigs.
I had gotten all of these signs so I really believed and I grew up on stage and this is what I love. I thought “Well?” I’ve had all these other signs that things were right. That’s what I thought I was supposed to be doing, but you let me know if I’m not. So when that call came, I felt well that is definitely a sign, you know?
And then I went away on the trip and I came back home and on my deck outside my door was a script for the TV show Murder She Wrote and an offer to come and do it, no audition. Just on the basis of the work of mine that they’d seen before, they offered me the job and I thought “Well, that’s my exclamation point on the sign that I asked for.”
But that day, Karen. That day…whoah! That wrung me out.
Film Courage: And I think a lot of people will have those on-the-rug-moments and I think that they think they’re alone in this, but isn’t the evolution of being in a town where it’s competitive and you just have to realize that it will come and then you’ll get back up again?
Robin Riker: Right. But the other thing that is critically important to take away from this is, if you get the feeling that this isn’t for you, that you would rather have a more stable sort of life, there is no failure in that. The failure is not trying. The regret comes from not trying. And believe me, if you come to Hollywood and you live here for a few years and you get a few jobs here and there and then you decide it’s not what you want to do, you are still going to have a lot more interesting stories to tell around the old water cooler at your job at Hewlett-Packard or wherever it is that you end up working because you had an adventure out here in Hollyweird, you know? All the characters and strange things that happen to you and the experiences and the celebrities that you brush shoulders with or actually broke bread with or knew. You’ll have a great story and a great chapter of your life.
So going back to another question you asked about what aspects of the book [A Survivor’s Guide to Hollywood: How to Play the Game Without Losing Your Soul by Robin Riker] people responded to…having been given permission (as it were) to change your mind is incredibly empowering. It’s incredibly empowering. You didn’t fail! If you chose to go because you didn’t like how you felt here, you win. You came, you tried, you had some experiences and you said “No! Not for me, I’d rather do this…” Because you have to make a lot of compromises in this business. There are a lot of family events that you don’t get to go to even if it’s your child. If you’ve been in the business a long time and you know…you don’t get to go to all of the little league games, you don’t get to go to all of the family celebrations sometimes because a job comes up.
The women in my family, who are some pretty stupendous women, many of whom have passed away in the last 5 or 6 years, they used to go on a trip every spring to Rome or Greece or to Paris or to somewhere and it was just the ladies and they were a great bunch of broads and that was a wonderful trip and I’d buy a ticket every time. And every time I would have a pilot [to audition for] that I would have to…that they made my contract for that I would either get or not get and I had to cancel my trips, me living my real life with my family and I didn’t get them. I didn’t get those pilots, but you know that hope of that big fish of going away in the springtime (especially at that time) 10, 15 years ago. The pilot season, fishing season, you catch your big fish and you might be able to live for years on the new show that you just booked.
But I had to cancel two trips with some of the most interesting, wonderful people for the possibility of getting a job, neither of which I landed. So you sacrifice for this business. So make sure that for the time that you are sticking it out that you don’t sacrifice your daily life, too. Go to the beach, have a picnic, celebrate.