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Jessica Runck, Published March 13 2014

Homegrown Hollywood: Lure of ‘what if’ keeps us going

It’s pilot season in L.A.

That’s Hollywood speak for the collection of months in which every network (ABC, NBC, FOX, etc.) is casting their new shows.

This year marked the third pilot season in which I was actively auditioning. I was ready. I had a few credits under my belt, and I felt more confident than ever. I was also particularly excited because close friends of mine had written a new TV show.

The family I babysit for are incredibly successful writers and producers. They are also two of my favorite people in the world, and over the years we have become very close. More than our friendship, they also really believe in me – so much so that a few years ago they had helped me get my amazing manager.

So when I got a call from that manager telling me I had an audition for the lead in their new pilot I was ecstatic.

It was a huge opportunity – having the creators’ support – and I was perfect for the role.

I rehearsed for days, read the whole script a few times, and knew the character inside and out.

The day of the audition I was nervous. Unfortunately, my body’s reaction to nerves has always come in the form of raised, red hives.

I looked around at the other actors, calmly battling their worries with a sweaty upper lip or a slight shake of the hand. Meanwhile, my face looked like I was battling my own personal small pox epidemic.

I went to the bathroom and splashed water on my face – trying to convince myself this was just like any other audition.

Finally, my name was called. I put on my most confident smile, willed away the nervous hives, and walked into the room with the casting director and a camera.

“Are you ready?” She asked me.

I was.

“All right, go ahead.”

I knew as soon as it was over that I had nailed it.

I knew it in the way she looked at me with new respect and asked me how I was connected to the creators. I knew it in the way I lied to her and left out the fact I was their nanny and instead told her we were close friends – because we are that too.

I knew it because sometimes you just know.

I drove home confident that I would hear from my manager about a callback.

I waited for the call the whole week. And I waited and waited and waited.

Two weeks later, my friend sent me a link to a press release announcing that a celebrity had accepted the role.

This kind of thing happens all the time. It’s as common in Los Angeles as botox to offer roles to celebrities and have ‘just in case’ auditions with non-celebrities. But after reading that email I felt something snap.

I closed my computer and retired into my bedroom. I lay there for almost an hour, thinking.

I am no stranger to this kind of thing. I realized about a year after moving here that casting a TV show is rarely about finding the best person for the role and usually about which celebrity will draw viewers.

But it still hurt. More than I’d expected. Later, when I talked to the creators they told me the network had only offered them two actors – both big names in Hollywood.

It is times like this when the lure of leaving Los Angeles screams the loudest in my head.

Of course I could walk away. I could move home and be close to my family and stop moaning about Hollywood in a newspaper column. I started to think about that, lying in my bed – how good it would feel to fly away and take a breath and find a little peace.

And maybe I will someday.

But for now, at home lost in my thoughts, I suddenly remembered something about my audition. It was the look the casting director gave me after I had finished. She had really liked me. (In fact, later my friends told me she had approached them and said I was “fantastic and incredibly funny.”)

What if my friends’ show gets picked up to be on TV? What if they hold more auditions and this time they are not looking for a celebrity? What if that casting director remembers me for another project?

Those words – “what if” – are incredibly powerful. It’s the reason there are actors who are still here trying after twenty years of rejection. It’s the reason I’m still here.

I felt those alluring words start to stir in me and I got out of bed.

What if the next audition is the audition that changes my life?

What if?


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