Jessica Manuel is not one of those people who starred in her high school production of Our Town and got bit by the acting bug. Her path to the stage began at McMurdo Station in Antarctica where she managed to find the only living bug there and get bit by it. Her time in the South Pole lead her to pursue her dream in acting and star in a one-woman show detailing life at the bottom of the earth called The Antarctica Chronicles.
Jessica lives in Los Angeles and has worked on shows like 90210, CSI: Miami and a couple of really neat Marvel Comic One-Shots. In her spare time, she works as a transformational coach helping people achieve their dreams. In the first part of this series, Jessica talks about her path from Antarctica to L.A., how she stays motivated and why Toddlers and Tiaras is on her guilty pleasures list.
1. You were working in Antarctica of all places and got bit by the acting bug, how did this happen?
I had signed a year contract to work at McMurdo Station. I went back with the intention to save money to go to school for something creative. At the time I thought it was going to be film school. I was at a field camp, fueling helicopters, when a station email was sent out stating that there were going to be auditions held in McMurdo for “Much Ado About Nothing.” I wasn’t able to make the auditions, but I said I would like to help out in any way. Next thing I know, I got an email that said, “fortune smiles on you.” The director Jason Davis offered me the role of Beatrice (still my favorite Shakespearean character.) We did the play in the gym and the second I walked out on stage I felt the sky open up and I knew that I had to pursue acting. The bug had hit me in the face.
2. How did this little bug take you from Antarctica to Australia?
I remember Jason telling me that there was an acting school in Sydney and he said it was like an “Actors Candy Land.” I was sold. We travel through Christchurch New Zealand when we get off the ice. I headed to Sydney, got an acting coach and auditioned to get into the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA). There were 2300 people auditioning for 23 spots. I beat the odds and was accepted. I spent the next three years living and going to school in Sydney. After I graduated I stayed in Sydney for another year before moving to Los Angeles.
3. As someone that is trying to earn a living and follow their dream in a sea of people doing the same, how do you set yourself apart from the others and how do you stay motivated?
I truly believe as an actor you can set yourself apart the moment you walk in the door of an audition. That moment is crucial, because when you walk in you bring your energy with you. There are a lot of frustrated actors out here. If you carry that frustration (I hate my job, traffic was awful, I need a new agent) into an audition, you’re toast. People might not be able to put a finger on why they don’t want to hire you, but it was something. So my strategy is to bring a happy, whole, joyful human into the room. Aside, from all the technique, training and hours of class work, I want to be a person that these people can look at and say, “Yes, I’d like to work with her. She seems like someone that would be fun, competent, and nice to have on set.” You have to realize that these people are bringing you into their family. Especially if it’s a long running TV show, they want things to run smoothly and time is money. They need people who are talented, but also normal; by normal I mean someone who is not going to be a crazy pants on set. Trust me, they are out there.
And as far as keeping motivated, I simply believe that I am on the right path and that if I don’t book a job, there was a reason. I have to say I didn’t always feel like that, but my transformational work really changed all that. There were times that I would freak out if I didn’t get a job or had a bad audition. My weekend would be filled with thoughts of, “I’m a horrible actor. I’m never going to succeed. Everybody else is better than me.” All that crap gets exhausting! Through the course I learned about non-attachment and surrender and those were powerful concepts for me. Now my auditions are fun and if I don’t get a job, I’m not attached to that outcome. I let it go, because simply there is nothing I can do about it. I don’t know why they didn’t hire me, I’m brunette they wanted a blonde, I’m too tall, to short, who knows, but wracking my brain trying to figure it out was just wasted energy. Nothing will wear you out more than trying to change something you can’t.
4. What keeps you going when times are lean things are looking bleak?
Trust me, there are a lot of those times when you are an actor. You have to have thick skin and not take anything personally. That’s easier said than done. I remember plenty of times crying after an audition and thinking, “nobody likes me. I have no talent. What am I doing this for?” Then I would pick my self up and do it all over again. But I got stronger and I attribute my mental wellness to my spiritual practice. I’ve studied the teachings of Wayne Dyer, Jerry and Esther Hicks, and have been a long time meditator. My studies brought me to The International Academy of Self Knowledge where I recently became a Transformational Coach. I found that having a strong sense of self and clear desires were the key to keeping me on track and sane.
5. When you are not auditioning for roles, what do you do to stay creative?
I meditate everyday, I work with my Transformational students which really stretches my creativity, I belong to a community choir, I paint with my husband, walk the dogs, read (currently the Harry Potter series, I know… a little behind the times, but still good), and I just finished co-writing a screenplay… a romantic comedy… hopefully coming to the screens near you in the future. And then after all that, I enjoy hanging out on the couch catching up on my favorite shows… True Blood, Curb Your Enthusiasm (I love Larry David) and yes… I’ll admit it…I’m obsessed with Toddlers in Tiaras. It’s horrible, I know, but it’s like a train wreck… I can’t turn away.
In next week’s interview, Jessica talks about her transformational coaching business and offers MY readers a special discount!