Insights from an aspiring actress
First published April 3, 2012.
In August 2010, a girl called Jenny shot to internet fame overnight. She decided to quit her job by emailing her entire office with a set of photos of herself holding up a hilarious sequence of messages on a dry erase board. But one of her collegues forwarded them to the Chive and her ‘I quit’ message ended up being seen by the whole world.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. It turned out that the whole thing was an elaborate - and brilliant - hoax! Jenny didn’t actually exist; she was in fact an aspiring actress called Elyse Porterfield. (Elyse has since married and her surname is now Anderson.)
I’m always fascinated when people, out of nowhere, suddenly find themself in the public limelight. How will they handle the pressure? Will they make the most of the opportunity to push open new doors? Will it help or hinder them?
So I decided to follow Elyse via Twitter and Facebook to see how her story would pan out. And now, coming up to two years on from that moment of fame, I thought I would interview Elyse and see how she’s been getting on and what she’s been learning along the way.
For those who know me, you’ll be aware that I am fascinated by talent and human potential and I’m always on the look out for interesting stories that will help other people to maximise the potential in their own lives. As with all of my interviews, this also has that angle.
Let’s jump right in and start with the big picture! Clearly you have a natural talent for acting but what do you dream of accomplishing with this talent that you have over, say, the next 10 years?
My dream is to be making a comfortable living by doing what I love, acting. Be it film, television, or stage, as long as I am able to fulfill my passion for acting I will be blissfully happy. I don’t need to be famous, but a certain amount of recognition for my work is always appreciated and is a motivator for me. Hopefully 10 years from now my career will be established to the point of me being able to own my own home and live a comfortable debt free life.
When did you first realise that you were talented at acting how did that discovery happen? Was it something that you were passionate about and then realised you were good at or the other way around?
I grew up in a performing household. My mom was a music teacher and she also taught voice lessons. I had a passion for singing at a very young age. When I turned nine I got to audition for my first community theatre show “Annie.” I ended up playing an orphan in the ensemble, and I was hooked. I guess you can say that is when I officially caught the acting bug, but my mom would tell you that I always wanted to be a star.
“I am the happiest when I am using the talents God gave me, and I feel that my most unique talent lies in singing.”
I have a BA in Musical Theatre and for me singing has usually come first, and that is where I feel my unique talent lies. When I sing a song I get emotionally connected to it, and my imagination runs wild, which in many ways influences my acting. I am the happiest when I am using the talents God gave me, and I feel that my most unique talent lies in singing. Although I have been told a few times that I have a very expressive face, which is great for acting :)
What has been the biggest hurdle you’ve had (or indeed continue to have) to overcome in trying to ensure you maximise your potential and fulfil your dreams?
It was definitely dealing with the people at my University. I was in a very elite and selective program, but the teachers acted like children and the whole four years were worse than high school. I was miserable every single day. The teachers created cliques of popular kids and they would only hang out and cast those people. I refused to be a part of that type of immaturity. I’m not one who will in a sense “lower” myself to get what I want. They were shallow people and because I chose to live a life outside the program, I was shunned for it. It’s funny though because I’m very greatful for it now. It gave me the thick skin I needed and it continues to motivate me to this day. The funny thing is that they all suddenly loved me after the hoax. Guess I finally earned their attention! :)
Coming up to two years ago you shot to internet fame thanks to that brilliant job quitting hoax. What impact has that had on you both professionally and personally?
It’s given me more confidence in both areas. It happened so quickly and easily, and it’s a constant reminder that things can change overnight; and that is an exciting thing. To this day I will get randomly recognized on set or on the streets, and I love the fact that some truly famous people out there know who I am. I feel like I’ve accomplished so much more in my first year living in LA than I ever expected to, so it comes with huge satisfaction.
Can you tell us a little bit more about what’s happened since that time and what opportunities you’ve had to further your career?
Well, I’ve done a web print shoot for Expo Markers and AskMen.com, cameo’s and background on tons of TV Shows, featured in How I Met Your Mother, Parks and Recreation (airing soon), CSI NY, Pretty Little Liars, and more. I can also be seen in the feature films The Muppet’s movie, Water for Elephants, and Project X. I have done a few web commercials: You-too (a video streaming type site), and “Bump” the iPhone app. I also played the part of Lauren in a pilot called Drama. It was featured in the NY TV Festival this last fall.
The only thing I really need to take my next step is a good agent that can get me into good auditions. The crazy thing is that I’ve booked 90% of everything I’ve auditioned for! That’s a huge success rate, but it’s just impossible to really get in the door to bigger things without a good agent, or good connections, so that’s what I’ve really been focusing on. Making industry connections is the most important thing you can do as an actor.
Who have been the key people supporting, encouraging, and challenging you in terms of helping you both identify and develop your talent and pursue your dreams?
Obviously John Resig of the Chive, my amazing family, and my husband Matt, but I have also received a lot of personal support and advice from actors that I admire, and that is priceless. The one person from my University who always did support and believe in me in was David Grapes. He is the head of the performing arts department and he always gave me a chance. I felt his support when no one else at that school would support me, and to this day he continues to keep in touch and cheer me on. I want to make him proud.
Who have been the people from fields other than acting who have inspired you to push yourself to the limit and make the most of your life?
I would say my parents for sure. They raised me to chase after my dreams while staying strong in who I am. They want me to be happy in whatever I do, and having that support has freed me to go after my goals full force.
“My husband is very good about making sure my head doesn’t get too big :)”
Who are the people and what are the things that keep you grounded and help you maintain a healthy perspective, balance, and focus in life?
My bird Charlie. Haha. I get to clean his dirty cage! Just kidding. My husband is very good about making sure my head doesn’t get too big :) I have a very strong and normal support system of friends and family. I really don’t think I’m anyone spectacular. I’m just someone doing what I love, and it’s a bonus to get recognized for it!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to identify their talent, develop it, truly maximise their potential, and pursue their dreams?
Train train train, and never give up. Don’t let other people decide your fate. I honestly believe that if you truly believe in yourself and never give up, you can accomplish anything. It’s the giving up part that gets most people. Keep going!
Several things jumped out to me from this interview with Elyse. I love the way that she is so down to earth normal! She has a sense of humour and doesn’t take herself too seriously, whilst at the same time being totally serious and focussed about pursuing her dream. That’s exactly the right kind of balance to strike.
It’s great also to see her gratitude towards family and other key people who have helped her along the way. Gratitude is one of the most important ingredients when it comes to trying to live a successful life.
I’ve said many times that talent, hard work, and character are three essential characteristics to a successful life. Elyse embodies each of these. She has talent, but she’s made the choice to combine that with a LOT of hard work and commitment. Talent is never enough. It takes blood, sweat, and tears to take a talent and turn it into something meaningful. And she has stayed grounded and kept her perspective.
Lessons for us all!