#LivingtheDream: Reflections on Living an Actor’s Life, Being Myself, and Following my Bliss

I have always wanted to be an actor. Always. I came to the realization that it was an actual profession at the age of 11, after having been acting since the age of 7. I saw kids on TV and wanted to work. I saw character actors who I still admire today guest starring on shows and wanted to work. I didn’t want to wait until I was adult. I knew what I wanted to do.

After I had my surgery to correct my leg at 13, it took me about two years to really learn how to walk again. This impacted my gait as I walked, and how I moved in the world. I’ve always had a special relationship with my own body and physicality. Whether it was the way I moved, or realizing that others saw me in a certain way, I was always acutely aware I didn’t fit the mold of perfection and normalcy. To put it mildly, I wasn’t very graceful. I tried, but gracefully moving around has always been a challenge.

My characters, whatever I am playing, are going to move certain ways. All of them. There are going to be very few times when I actually change the way my body naturally moves when walking or running to where it will be noticeable. I can make my walk more exaggerated or “worse”  but very very rarely will I be walking with a completely different gait to the point of perfection. It’s what’s normal for me, and that’s okay.

I knew from a very young age that I was a character actor. Ever since I had learned the definition of the term, I knew that I was one.

A character actor or character actress is a supporting actor who plays unusual, interesting, or eccentric characters. The term, often contrasted with that of leading actor, is somewhat abstract and open to interpretation. In a literal sense, all actors can be considered character actors since they all play “characters”, but in the usual sense it is an actor who plays a distinctive and important supporting role.

When I was looking at colleges about sixteen years ago, I had it in my mind that if I majored in theater, or if the school had a theater department, that it was dangerous for me, because I would be following my dream, and that was frightening. At the time, there were so many nay-sayers with me on my journey to becoming an actor. I think part of me wanted to please my parents by picking the sensible thing to major in and not studying what truly wanted to which was acting. I also listened far too much to those nay-sayers that said acting would be even more difficult for me since I wasn’t a leading lady, I was “different,” and that there just weren’t parts for people like me. “What? Really?” Fortunately, my parents have never been nay-sayers and always encouraged me in whatever I was passionate about.

I majored in English at college even though I had gotten accepted to major in theater at several schools. I specifically went to a college with no actual theater major (they had acting classes and I took them all). Although, they had a music minor (certificate) and various extra curricular activities including drama. I remember when I went to look at the college I ended up attending. I remember standing in the library of what would become my college, and thinking, “This is a good place. Sensible. They don’t have an acting program so I won’t be tempted to do the unreasonable thing.”

Now, there is no such thing as an unreasonable interest. Your interests and your passions are just that. Yours. The fact that I was deliberately denying myself the thing that made me truly happy took me a long time to come to terms with. I didn’t realize that I had deliberately done anything like that until this past year. This past year provided the greatest growth I have felt as a professional working actor. It also helped me reflect on how far I’ve come. It was within this reflection that I realized I had given value to too many opinions of those around me. I did it so much that it drowned out my own thoughts and feelings about my own life and where I wanted it to lead. I’m not blaming anyone for having an opinion, but there comes a point where listening to too many people, and taking their advice as the be all, end all, was unhealthy to my happiness.

I feel like my life is split up in to three sections (so far at least): My childhood before my surgery at 13 to correct my leg, my adolescence from high school through college, and the present day living in New York City. When I moved to NYC almost 11 years ago, I was just about to turn 23. I felt like this is where I was meant to be all my life and I finally got here. When I went to theater school, I finally felt like I could truly be myself without hiding behind the fact that my true passion, what made me the most blissfully happy, and what brought me to the most complete understanding of who I am as a person was acting.

It has been an uphill journey for the past 11 years, and that’s okay. Only in the past 3 have I truly made peace with who I truly am as a performer, and acknowledged that I had a form of cerebral palsy as an actor. It has never hindered me, but before that time, it was never on my resume. I was afraid. I was a afraid of losing roles, of being judged, but mostly, I think I was afraid to be myself. Having CP doesn’t define me, but it will always be a part of me. In not acknowledging it, I was denying part of who I am both emotionally and physically. That’s not to say I didn’t know where I stood in the industry. I’ve always known I was a supporting player. I am a character actor, and to be honest, it took me about 10 years to grow into my “type.” But, I did it. Over the past year, I’ve worked on several TV shows, including the Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon, and an upcoming season of a popular show in a recurring role. I remember talking with the writer and producer of my second episode who said that she loved my work, and had to have me back for a second time. At the end of the day, she came up to me and thanked me, and I did the same. Then, I stated how much it meant to me to work with her because I was an actor with a mild form of cerebral palsy. It was a joy to work with everyone, really. We were both teary-eyed and hugged, and she said it was a pleasure to work with me regardless. She still loved the work. That meant a lot. She didn’t notice anything “wrong” or different. It was, in her mind, just unique, and she even said that. My work is unique.

My mentor, and director of a play I performed in 10 years ago, Eileen Galindo, said to me, “Having CP is a gift for you. It’s an asset. It makes you so unique. No one is going to bring to the table what you bring. You are who you are, and that’s amazing.” She’s right. It has taken me 33 years to realize it, but I am finally at peace with who I am as a person which in turn has helped me blossom as an actor. Go figure. #FollowYourDreams #LiveYourDream

Published by

Stephanie Gould

Stephanie holds a B.A. in English from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH and studied at the prestigious Circle in the Square Theatre School in NYC. She is a member of SAG-AFTRA and AEA. She is also a graduate of the improv program at the People's Improv Theater.

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