Book Review: The Actor’s Life by Jenna Fischer

The details:

Title: The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide
Author: Jenna Fischer
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 252
Where to buy: Barnes & Noble

I am a very big fan of the U.S. version of the TV show The Office, so when I saw that Jenna Fischer, who plays my favorite character Pam Beesly, had written a book. I immediately got it from the library. Unlike many recent books by celebrities, this isn’t a memoir. Fischer provides very few details about her personal life, only sharing as far as her experience might help others who aspire to a creative life. It is a well-written and extremely useful book about a way-of-life most people glamorize.

Fischer offers practical advice about getting headshots, finding an agent and manager, and auditioning. She’s realistic yet supportive, writing as a mentor to any new actors arriving in Hollywood. Even if you’re really good, she says, you still might not make it, but you have a better chance by doing as much as you can to build your own community of fellow actors. She says that when she arrived in Hollywood, her first instinct was just to send out copies of her resume and headshots and study the craft alone while waiting for the phone to ring. But she began to realize that she needed to become further involved. She volunteered and joined groups and worked behind the scenes when needed and took additional classes so that she could surround herself with those who were passionate about acting. Although a little luck is needed to be successful, she found that she had a better chance at getting that luck when she was more involved.

It took Fischer eight years to get her first big break: a regular role on a TV series, The Office. During the time between her arrival and that role, she recalls that she sometimes wanted to quit. It was difficult to live in debt, in bad apartments, auditioning for roles, getting close, and not being chosen, or getting chosen and having the show be cancelled. However, she surrounded herself with supportive people who wanted to help her succeed and wouldn’t listen when she told them that she wanted quit. She recalls the advice of one of her teachers: if you can imagine doing anything else, do that instead. Fischer couldn’t think of anything else, so she knew she had to try to be an actor.

She also mentions some friends who are also actors. One was very talented, but could never quit his job as a full-time waiter. Another could support himself through very small roles and never became very famous. More quit and went home. She also includes interviews with other actors who each had very different paths to achieving their ideal acting life. The point is that a successful life as an actor, or as any other type of artist, doesn’t look the same for every person. The common thread is how much work is necessary to get to that ideal place career-wise. Fischer is honest about the struggles she went through early in her career. It’s not as easy as showing up and having managers and agents recognize your talent. And it doesn’t end once you get a regular role on a very successful TV show. She writes about being fired recently from a job because focus groups noted her lack of on-screen chemistry with the male lead.

This is a funny, reaffirming, and kindly written book, filled with practical advice and a supportive attitude. Fischer covers everything from eating during a scene (the food will be served cold so it doesn’t go bad, order something light if possible since you’ll need to eat during all of the scene takes, and take small bites, as she learned during a scene involving ice cream cake during The Office’s first season). She outlines the steps for joining the SAG-AFTRA union. She offers great advice for being a professional on set and avoiding gossip. Sometimes the lifestyle is not glamorous (she recalls a horrible time filming a commercial for a new ride at an amusement park), but it’s all worth it to be doing something she loves doing. She talks about her mistakes so new actors don’t duplicate them. Although this is a book about how to become an actor, Fischer provides advice and supportive stories that would be useful in any creative pursuit.


Book Review: The Lighthearted Quest

The details:

Title: The Lighthearted Quest (Julia Probyn #1)
Author: Ann Bridge
Genre: Fiction (first published in 1956)
Pages: 356
Where to buy: Barnes & Noble

Is it possible to like a book even while you see a multitude of problems in it? I kept asking myself that as I read The Lighthearted Quest by Ann Bridge. I was attracted to it because it was on sale and had a beautiful cover and the description on the back looked interesting. While this was a well-written and intriguing mystery, it sometimes made me cringe.

Julia Probyn, our heroine, goes to Morocco to try to track down her missing cousin, Colin. Julia is a snob, but an absolute genius, though her”dumb-blonde” looks deceive other people. She is charming and witty and makes instant friends everywhere. She was described as perfect beyond belief. Characters like this usually bother me to no end, and such was the case with Julia. She was a competent and determined investigator and was able to use connections to her advantage to get information relating to Colin’s disappearance.

The book went off track for me in the places it diverted from the focus on finding Colin. While waiting at a dock for her cargo boat to Morocco, Julia bemoans the fact that the dock workers have enough money to charter a flight to see a boxing match. Later, she contrasts their surplus of cash to spend on frivolous things to her titled friend of good family who is penniless and struggling. She regrets the fact that the world is changing and judges the way others choose to spend their money. When she meets an American while travelling between cities, she rolls her eyes over his anti-Imperialist attitudes. After all, Julia thinks, look at all the good the French are doing in Morocco, all the while dismissing opposing points-of-view as horribly uninformed. Julia is condescending at times to the people of Morocco, viewing herself as someone to be deferred to because she is English. All of this is very in tune with the time it was written, but it felt like needless filler. This book would have been much stronger if it had been more focused on the adventure aspects of the plot.

Although this was a well-written and mostly entertaining novel, it felt very dated. Bridge was obviously well-travelled. Her descriptions of Morocco and Julia’s travels were gripping. And, yet, there’s something I can’t quite explain that I didn’t like about this book. Most of the time, I love reading books published years ago and don’t mind that their opinions and actions aren’t quite in step with today. It’s interesting to immerse myself in other times, to learn how people thought then, and to reflect on the way things have evolved in modern society, how far things have changed and how far yet we have to go. I found Julia’s snobbery very off-putting, so I don’t think I’ll be reading any more books in this series.