Actors cannot hope to make a living at these rates: talent Jeff Fuell, actor.

What do you do for a living?

Answer: I am a professional actor and published author.

How would you describe what you do?

Answer:  I would say that I live in a fantasy world, a place where you can make it anything you want it to be, wherever your imagination can take you.

What does your work entail? 

Answer: As an actor my work has entailed starting with a brief stint doing stand-up comedy and then moving onto the theater where I was involved in numerous productions. Some of my favorites were Death of a Salesman, Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, to name a few. I have also been cast in numerous commercials and indie projects over the years. Training is always important and I have studied at numerous places, along with countless workshops and reading drama related books, including biographies and autobiographies. The place that I have had the most fun at was at the Second City Training Center. As a writer the main thing you need to do is read. Read as many genres as possible by a variety of authors. Study their styles. I have had twelve books published in a variety of genres.

What’s a typical work week like?

Answer: I am always involved in a writing project and I try to write something every day. Even if all I have time for are a few pages then that is working because those few pages may be the start of a new chapter or story arc. I work out all the time because being in good shape is essential in this business. Hopefully, I am involved in some kind of acting project or at least auditioning or taking classes. Other than that I am pretty much taking care of the odds and ends of life that need to get done.

How do you get started? 

Answer: You have to have a deep love of movies and television shows and be interested in the stories and characters. You look at all of this and say “I want to do that?’ Start off with taking some classes at a place that has a good reputation and see what happens from there. 

What do you like about what you do? 

Answer: I would say I like that fact that everything is an adventure instead of a boring routine. Everything I do involves using my talent and my imagination instead of just going through the motions at a tedious job.

What do you dislike?

Answer: I dislike the fact that except for writing I have to depend on other people to get things done. Unfortunately, this business is filled with flakes. The number of projects that I have been involved with over the years that for whatever reason have crashed and burned are in the double digits. I also dislike ageism. It seems that once you cross that forty-something threshold it becomes much harder to be able to even audition for work. Also, I really dislike the current situation of the industry right now with more and more jobs going non-union. I also do not like the New Media contract because it is definitely being abused by production companies that do not want to pay actors their worth. All of this needs to be corrected or the industry is going to start falling apart. Actors cannot hope to make a living at these rates and agents/managers will go out of business from low commissions. 

How do you make money or how are you compensated? 

Answer: I try to make everything that I can as an actor. I mainly depend on investments in the stock market, mutual funds and book sales to get by. 

What skills are needed to do this?

Answer: As an actor, you need to learn all the skills that are essential to the craft: confidence, timing, presence, developing your voice and being articulate, developing chemistry, learning industry terms and how the business works, the pros and cons of going union, what sites to upload you materials onto, being active on social media. These are just starting points. As a writer you need to be able to sit down and write. Thinking about writing will never get you anywhere. I cannot begin to tell you the number of times someone has told me “I have a great idea for a screenplay.” Great. Write it because nobody is going to do it for you.

What is most challenging about what you do? 

Answer: What is most challenging about this business is trying to avoid the people who cannot do anything for you. I do not even bother wasting my time with indie filming anymore. Too many bad experiences, plus most filmmakers do not have any kind of budget and expect you to work for free. Trying to find a good agent who is getting you out there is always a challenge. You cannot book if you are not auditioning. 

What is most rewarding?

Answer: Booking the job and seeing it through, and then seeing the end result and hoping that it is good. Also, the check clearing is always rewarding. As a writer one of the most rewarding things is finishing a project and putting it on the market. It is also somewhat of sad experience because something that you may have been working on for months and gotten very close to is now over. 

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Answer: This reminds me of a joke that most people in the industry have heard before: There is this guy working as a bartender, who just happens to be an actor. He sees this famous director walk in and decides to talk to him and tell him that he is an actor. He asks him what does it take to be a successful actor? He figurers it will be one of the standard answers: “You gotta have talent kid, you have to be at the right place at the right time, you have to know the right people, you have to have the right look.” The director looks him straight in the eye and says “rich parents.” This is a joke but there is a lot of truth to it. Just to get started in the business and be able to compete you have to do so much: get quality headshots made, get hardcopies made, upload them onto all the sites you belong to and pay a small fortune for, get reels made, pay to upload them onto the sites you belong to, pay for video auditions, classes, workshops, books. All of this is money. Most actors are broke and are lucky if they can just get some decent headshots made. My advice to someone would be to ask yourself if this is genuinely what you want to do in life because there is no point in putting all of this money and time into something that you are not really sure of.

How much time off do you get?

Answer: A lot more than I would like.

What else would you like people to know about your career?

Answer:  If you are working steadily on something you genuinely care about (and these times are rare) it is the greatest feeling in the world. I am more proud of my writing than most of the things I have done as an actor, at least so far.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do? That it is all fun and games. There is a lot of frustration, letdowns and depressions along the way. Most of the work is not very creatively rewarding and you take whatever you can just to work. Every now and then, not as often as I would like, something comes along that excites me as much as writing.  

What charitable cause do you support and why?

Answer: I would have to say cancer because I watched my father die right in front of me, this after a year of watching him going through depression, chemo, losing weight and losing his hair. He eventually got better but then it came back and ate him alive. Just thinking about it bothers me to this day. 

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photo: archives Jeff Fuell
photo: archives Jeff Fuell
photo: archives Jeff Fuell
photo: archives Jeff Fuell
photo: archives Jeff Fuell
photo: archives Jeff Fuell

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Text: Saif Rahman Sozib

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