Naomi Grossman, an actress on “American Horror Story,” talked about her experiences in Hollywood last week. Grossman graduated from Northwestern in 1997. She also gave out advices she wishes she knew back then.
The actress is known for her role as Pepper in the hit anthology series of FX, American Horror Story. The talk she gave was entitled, “So, You Wanna Work in Hollywood.” It was held in Annie May Swift Auditorium with an audience of about 30 people. The affair was part of a speaker series organized by the School of Communication’s External Programs, Internships, and Career Services, known as EPICS.
“For the most part, unless you’re Zooey Deschanel, actors first starting out in Hollywood right out of college are usually demoted to those ‘nurse number four to the left’ type of roles,” Grossman explained. “There’s nothing wrong with these kinds of roles, but they’re typically for wallflowers. They’re there to support the star and I’m not like that.”
After the actress finished school in Northwestern, she was well aware that she wanted to go to LA and have her own show. Initially, it was a struggle to break into the entertainment industry. She had to work as a waitress and a cocktail server.
“About five years in, I had an epiphany,” she said. “I realized I want to be an actress, but I’m not acting … So if no one would cast me, I cast myself.”
She wrote, produced and starred in a solo show entitled “Girl in Argentine Landscape,” which was based on her own experience as a foreign exchange student in Argentina her senior year in high school. It garnered critical praise from LA Weekly. Her second solo show, “Carnival Knowledge: Love, Lust and Other Human Oddities” also did well.
Nonetheless, she still was not receiving notice from Hollywood, so she made a decision to put up some of her work on YouTube. Some of the videos she uploaded gained more than one million views and were shown at comedy and theater festivals nationwide.
“This was keeping me in the game,” Grossman said. “I was keeping my creative mind active, fine-tuning my comedic voice, putting myself out there in case anyone cared. And finally, someone did.”
She then got an audition for “American Horror Story” and was ultimately landed the role of Pepper. What was initially a small role turned out spanning two seasons, putting her on the map and changing her life.
“I got lucky,” Grossman said. “But what is luck? Luck is when preparedness meets opportunity. My ‘If you build it, they will come’ attitude really ended up paying off in the end.”
Grossman shared 10 tips to students to remain sane once deciding to go to Hollywood. She told them to be certain they love what they do and do work they are proud of.
“I think listening to yourself is the most important,” Grossman said. “Deciding what it is that you want and going for it in spite of the odds … Spend your time however it fulfills you. We create our own realities.”
She also adviced the audience to not create a backup plan or impose on themselves a deadline.
“The minute you impose a time limit, you’re giving yourself an out,” she said. “You’re implying that this might not happen for you so you prepare yourself with a plan B, which means you don’t actually love plan A enough.”
The final piece of counsel Grossman left the audience with was to not micromanage life.
“Do what you do as best as you can and don’t get attached to results,” she said. “The end in store might even be better than the one you envision for yourself.”