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Jessica Runck, Published May 09 2013

Homegrown Hollywood: Lifelong dream of going from ND to TV realized

Exactly four years, nine months and 13 days after moving to Los Angeles, I finally made it on TV.

It was a small role, on the show “Southland,” but I was excited and so were my parents – especially after my North Dakota father found out I would be “keeping my clothes on.”

On the day of the audition, I hadn’t even been nervous. I walked through yet another studio, quietly reciting yet another set of lines, and the only feeling I had was that of exhaustion.

I was so tired.

After deciding to move to Hollywood to pursue a writing and acting career, I packed up my car, grabbed one of my close friends and drove cross country to the city of angels. I’d expected the road trip to be breezy and fun – like a “Sweet Valley High” novel.

Instead, my little Grand Am overheated in the middle of the desert, and I experienced my first major panic attack in which I kept pointing out the window and repeating to my poor friend, “No one is ever going to come visit me if they have to cross THIS.”

I was off to a rocky start.

I fostered high hopes for my first L.A. roommate, but she turned out to be a non-functioning pothead who threw her dog’s feces in our kitchen trashcan.

As a final disappointment, it took me only a month to burn through the money I earned doing a medical study.

I realized Steven Spielberg needed a little more time to discover me. I had to get a job.

To fund the pursuit of my dream, I worked every job possible – server, nanny, tutor, marketing assistant, personal assistant, sales person, background extra, theater camp counselor, caterer, professional tweeter and house-sitter.

Now, almost five years later, I was starting to feel that maybe I’d made a mistake.

So I was stunned when somebody finally wanted to pay me to act in their TV show. I wasn’t used to success. I was used to crying over a bottle of wine and reruns of “Law & Order.”

Instead of feeling proud of my accomplishment, I started to feel a bit silly. After all the hard work and pain of moving away from home, having two lines on a TV show wasn’t big enough to celebrate, was it?

On the day of the shoot, my friend Katey, who was working as the second assistant director, greeted me with a hug. She had pulled some strings and instead of the small waiting room usually assigned to actors with two lines, she led me to a giant trailer.

When she opened the door, I had to stifle a gasp. It was nicer than my apartment. There was even a shower – you know, in case I had forgotten to bathe that morning. I looked around my very own dressing room, and I felt the embarrassment creep back in. For two lines, I didn’t deserve this.

After going through hair and makeup I walked back to my trailer and sat down to fill out my contract. But I couldn’t focus. I caught a glimpse of myself in the dressing room mirror and suddenly a voice from deep inside my heart roared into my ears.

“You are sitting in a trailer waiting to shoot A TV SHOW!”

And suddenly the wall of embarrassment I’d built up since I’d booked this role came crashing down in a mad, relieved tumble of joy.

I needed to grab hold of this moment and appreciate it for what it was. The same little girl who grew up on a farm in the middle of North Dakota and made her mom sit through a one-woman show about Wynona Judd was also sitting here, in this trailer with the giant shower and TV contract.

And then it didn’t matter that it was only two lines.

It only mattered that I had promised myself I would do this and I had done it. I was going to be on TV. My family would be able to turn on the television and see me standing there and maybe understand, just for a moment, why I had decided to break their hearts and move so far away from home. And all those struggles now seemed worth it – even if it was for just one day.

I signed the bottom of the contract with the signature I’d practiced in my junior high journal and stepped out into the L.A. sun.

I had two whole lines to film.

And I knew some people back home who’d been waiting a long time to hear them.

This column was written exclusively for The Forum

Runck, who grew up in Wimbledon, N.D., and graduated from Concordia College, is a writer and actor living in Los Angeles