Making It In LA

In a piece in Salon, veteran actor turned author, Peter Birkenhead, talks about the difficulty of making it in LA:

But I got better. I did some recurring roles on a few shows, and I was a guest star on a bunch of others. I even did another Steven Bochco show, "NYPD Blue," playing a fast-talking schmuck of a stockbroker (hey, wait a minute …), whom Dennis Franz "liked" for a murder, and I started settling into the Los Angeles version of the working actor's life.

Here's what that life is like: Only 5 percent of people who call themselves actors earn enough each year from acting to support themselves. So the number of actors who drive to work in a Porsche, or home through ornate electronic gates, is microscopic. I drive a Honda Hybrid, and I park it on the street in front of my apartment building. I did own a house once, with my ex-wife, but home ownership and marriage are pretty fragile things for people who sometimes wonder if they'll ever work again.

In response, a letter writer, only identifying herself as the wife of a desi actor in LA, confesses:

This is such a true observation. I support my husband's choice of career 100% (and thankfully, I have a great and steady job of my own). But life often feels like a rollercoaster for us, with my husband's career completely at the whim of casting directors who are failed actors/writers/directors themselves. He has a great audition for a really good part, and then we play the waiting game, and then we don't hear anything after 3 days, and then by day 4 or 5, I can see the disappointment on his face. It hurts my heart, even though I know he has better defense mechanisms than I do. We are also not white -- our families are from India --and the racist/stereotypical comments he gets really blow our mind. One casting director told him he's "not Indian enough" and proceeded to cast a very dark skinned, shorter Indian man with thick lips for that same part. The conceptions about race and ethnicity are so narrow, and casting directors are sometimes the most uneducated when it comes to the tremendous diversity out there in the real world.

This is something we've noticed - the desis cast in TV shows here invariably tend to be short, dark skinned with hilariously fake Indian accents, more a reflection of US perceptions of Indians rather than being representative of desis as a whole. You'd think the casting directors never met anyone from Punjab! Said wife continues:

The thing that keeps us going, with all of this, is his passion for the craft, our belief that he can and will succeed, and the support of family and friends. And a sense of humor about all the b.s. that you do experience in this career! We keep ourselves entertained with the foibles of big stars -- people that he's worked with on various tv shows. Which actor wears a tooth whitening retainer in between each and every take? Which actor can't pronounce any names at all? Which actor fumbles medical jargon really badly, and she works on a hospital drama?

Not Parminder Nagra, surely?

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- March 28, 2006 9:12 PM // TV