Book Review: The Actor’s Life—A Survival Guide

I have been a fan of the American version of The Office since I first saw an episode (roughly 2007). My extended family was collectively enjoying downtime on Christmas break and my uncle popped in a DVD disk of the show. I followed The Office throughout high school and college, frequently quoting memorable lines with family and friends. Now, I often watch an episode or two during my lunch breaks.

When I discovered that Jenna Fischer (Pam Beesly) and Angela Kinsey (Angela Martin) were real-life best friends and working on The Office Ladies podcast together, I was thrilled! I love behind-the-scenes and making-of content. As much as I appreciate on-screen magic of film and tv, I LOVE learning about the hard work and creativity that fueled the final takes.

So, when Jenna Fischer posted on Instagram about her book The Actor’s Life—A Survival Guide, I promptly ordered a copy.

While my expectations of the book being an in-depth history of Fischer’s time on The Office were dashed (I suppose that’s what her podcast is for), I was surprised and delighted by how detailed she was in crafting a practical how-to guide for surviving and *hopefully thriving in the industry. The book lays out tons of tips and tricks on everything you need to know about Hollywood (with just enough juicy anecdotes sprinkled in)—from seeking out the right headshot photographer to what to expect as an extra on a tv show; from the difference between agents and managers to the importance of maintaining a strong support system.

I am not currently pursuing a career in acting—although I’ve always fancied that I would enjoy the creative process and I do love a performance opportunity. However, if I ever decided to make that career shift, I would absolutely re-read Fischer’s book and take copious notes. There were so many great nuggets of information about how to build a great acting career and Fischer really struck the perfect balance between realism and encouragement. For being so technical, it was a fun, easy read.

As a self-titled creative, the applicable takeaway that stood out the most in my non-actor career was Fischer’s constant prodding to create new works and see them through to completion. Whether it is painting a picture, writing a screenplay, building a treehouse or starting a TikTok account, she maintained that continuing to spark a flicker of creativity in your own life will 1. keep you going with something fun to do during periods of career droughts and 2. provide fuel for when the time comes to jump back in to the game.

“Whatever you do, know that it’s going to be a disgusting mess of awfulness. And then, do it anyway. … Because the only way to improve is to finish something, look at it, learn from it, and then start something new. The new thing will be better. And then the thing after that, and the thing after that. But you can’t get better if you don’t finish anything.”

The Actor’s Life–A Survival Guide (2017) p.193

One recurring theme in the book was the importance of advocating for oneself. Fischer continually reminded the reader to listen to their gut and clearly articulate what they are or aren’t comfortable with doing, saying or showing. I think the compelling thing about how she framed the advocacy was that in an industry in which many people feel the need to “do whatever it takes” to find success, Fischer reminds us that regardless of your talent, previous work history or connections, every actor will fail far more than they will succeed. With odds like that, you might as well stick to your standards and pursue roles that you can feel good about, so that when you do succeed in landing a part, you’ll be able to confidently invest your time and energy. 

This book may be for you if you also like: The Office (tv series); The Office Ladies (podcast); Lauren Graham’s Talking as Fast as I Can (book); Start Something that Matters (book); dreaming about being an actor; how-to guides.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Lisa Fox says:

    I was just starting to think what a gift it is to be able to hear your voice in this piece, when the quote from Jenna Fischer jumped out and pierced my soul.

    Liked by 1 person

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