June 15th, 2020 | Deneen White | music
I am very excited to have actor, Christopher Hill, with us today and I cannot wait for you to hear his story.
Starting his pursuit in the entertainment industry at the age of five, Chris was introduced to saxophones and discovered how much he loves performing.
As he got older, he grew into acting and his story is just amazing and I can't wait for him to share it with you.
We’re VERY privileged to have him on here today. Christopher, welcome to the show.
THE ACTOR WHO CAN’T STOP ACTING
Christopher: Awesome, thank you for having me! I'm so glad to be here! This is going to be fun!
Deneen: It is going to be fun. So, to get started, would you mind telling my audience just a little bit about yourself?
Christopher: Sure! Okay, let's see…
- I grew up in Seattle in the music culture...
- Joined the military at 19. Did that for four years…
- Wasn't really happy with that, and went off into the private sector and actually worked for the government as a civilian for a while…
- Traveled all around the world, working in the environmental field…
- Raised my kids, basically doing the family thing…
And, I guess about five or six years ago, my kids they're grown they've gone off to college.
And I felt like something's missing. What's missing?
At the end of every day I just felt dissatisfied, you know?
But then I realized what it was!
It was my love of performing and creating.
So I got back into the entertainment field, not in the music part, but more into the acting and I was pursuing a little bit of modeling gigs and things like that.
Deneen: That's fantastic!
When I was looking through your bio you sent to me, I saw you've accomplished so much in your acting career.
And I'm like, WOW!
So let's talk a little bit about your career, because you've had a lot of success in the industry - you're definitely working all the time...
Christopher: *Laughs* with all that success comes a boatload of failures!
Deneen: *Laughs* yeah that's true!
So let's talk about the success and then we'll talk about how you overcame your failures to reach these successes…
So, how have you found all of these many roles?
I'm looking here what you sent me and over two years, you've done over 45 shows and now you're booking co-starring and starring roles!
So talk, how does that happen?
TREAT EVERYONE AROUND YOU RIGHT, AND WORK FROM THE BOTTOM UP
Christopher: Well, I'll tell you, it starts with attitude and work ethic, and I can't overemphasize those.
Every day that you are in the presence of anyone, on any set, you have to be on your A-game.
You have to bring the positive energy, bring everybody around you up.
You know, you'd never know who you're talking to when you walk in!
Sometimes people are in costume or wardrobe and sometimes people are just executives walking around.
So, I always have a philosophy of the way that I treat people…
Let's talk about a Fortune 500 company and use that as an example:
If I walked into say IBM, I would treat the guys scrubbing the floors in the lobby the exact same way that I would treat the CEO in the boardroom.
I do this simply because it's just who I am, I love people.
I'm a social creature and I just love getting to know people and their stories!
And now, it's actually paid off because this has been my way of life since I was a child, really.
But I get to draw on every one of these people at some point, to put that into a character, a little nuance.
I'm watching the way they walk, the way they talk, the things that they say.
I listened to their experiences and I catalog all that, and I'm genuinely interested in them, and I almost feel like I'm living their story when they're telling it to me.
I'm in this story WITH them, you know?
So that's my way of retaining that information.
Deneen: One of my favorite things that I do, and everybody who listens to the podcast know, is I love sharing stories.
And I feel like you and I have that in common because every time I talked to someone on the podcast and I get to hear their story, I get really excited.
Cause now I feel like a part of a story that I can weave together to help other people also.
So I love that you take other people's stories and you weave it into your work!
We have a man that we work with - his name's Mark Christopher Lawrence - and he does that too.
He told us once on a coaching call:
He said, "Yeah, you know what I do? I just go sit out of the park and I just watch someone walk. And then I tried to replicate that and then now it's a part of who I am."
So I love that you're doing that because that's a mindset thing because every interaction, you're integrating that into yourself and then you're able to give that back.
That's so awesome.
Christopher: Yes, absolutely!
Deneen: So another question for you!
With everything that you're booking and all, you must have the world's best agent or manager!
Christopher: *Laughs* Well that may be the best joke that I've heard this year!
Deneen: *Laughs* I'll take that as a "no" then?
Because so many times I talk to people and they think, "You know what, the only way I could book work is by having an agent or a manager."
So besides your personality loving people, which is I think is 99% of getting yourself in the room, but how have you found all of these different roles and how have you found all of this work?
BUILDING YOUR REPUTATION IN THE ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY
Christopher: Networking on every level, first of all, is extremely important.
When I first started doing background in 2014, I wanted to go in…
- I wanted to learn the lay of the land...
- I wanted to learn the language...
- I wanted to talk to the people that were in the industry, the people that have been there...
And, you know, I don't want to talk to the person that's brand new like me because they have really nothing to share, and they're on the same learning curve as I am.
Yes, I would talk to them and get acquainted, but I want to pick the brains of those industry professionals that have been doing this for decades.
So I said, "Well, I'm going to do background until I know everything that I need to know before I moved to the next level."
And in that process, I've created and nurtured every single relationship with everybody that I work with, and just let them get to know me and that my body of work will speak for itself.
“If it's okay, just come over here, stand over here, walk over there and do this, do that.
Okay, reset, let's do it again.”
And then we could do it a thousand times if we want to!
You know, I'm not that person that's going to say, "when are we going to wrap up?" or "When this lunch?" or ANY of that.
I'm not going to be a thorn in anybody's side.
And then the production, the crew, they appreciate you.
They actually know that they're going to have a good day when they see you.
Your reputation precedes you at some point.
And just like anywhere else in the world, and especially in this film and TV industry, everybody talks, you know?
The production and the crew, they may work on one show here and then there'll be another show in the next city or in the next state or wherever.
And you may go there and you'll see people you've seen two years ago, and then they just light up when they see you because they know you.
So I did that and I started having the assistant directors, the producers, and even the writers come to me and say, "You should pursue principal work. You are exactly what is needed in front of the camera."
And while I always knew that was on my radar, but I'm never one to run into anything blindly.
I needed to get educated, and so I did all of the background work.
Then I started taking acting classes and reading books and listening to, you know, podcasts and talking to actors, and I would take advantage of every opportunity I got to pick the brain of someone.
So if I was doing a stand in or photo double gig, and I'm standing there with the principal actor, I don't want to crowd them.
I'm not gonna INVADE their space when they're preparing for work or when they're working.
But, we get to sit down at lunchtime, guess what?
That's a golden opportunity, just to talk to them and hear their experiences.
At this point I'm still on the fence trying to decide if acting and the entertainment industry is something that I really want to pursue, because this is all life encompassing.
I mean really, there's nothing else you can do if you're going to do this.
You can't say, oh yeah, I'll do this on my days off.
No, you won't. This has to come first.
You know, there was one time I was with my family driving, and we were three hours away from home.
And, I get a call as soon as we get to our little vacation destination - it was like a little day trip.
And one of the casting directors called me and said, "Hey, can you get to set three hours from now?"
Basically, I was three hours from where I was.
I just literally just parked my car in the parking space.
But, I backed up and I said, "We're gonna have to do this another day guys."
And I drove home, I dropped them off, I got to the set, and I worked on it.
And it's just those types of things, those relationships that people know that they can go to you, they can count on you and it just takes so much pressure off of them.
And so they love you and you stay top of mind.
So, from when I started to now, I've built so many relationships and business dealings with talent agencies, and I'm here to tell you…
If people think they're going to get a talent agent and that is going to be their express lane to success…
They need to really think about that.
Because it's not just research: this is the relationship with that talent agent.
If they don't know how to market you, and they don't understand your brand at all, or they're just not really interested in it, you might be one of 200 people and they may not even know your name or what you look like when you walk in their office, you know?
So, what are they going to do for your career if they really don't know who you are?
I've had instances where I'd signed with a talent agency and then I'd say, "Where are the auditions? What are we doing here? I've done all my online profile, I got my training, I'm ready to go, why am I not hearing from you?"
I’d ask for submission reports and they'll say, "Well, we don't do those."
Then I'd say, "Okay, well guess what, that's probably not a good fit for me, because that means you're really not doing anything for me."
And, a lot of these agencies don't have the connections in the industry and the relationships, with people, with the decision makers, to even put my name in a conversation.
So after several years of negative agency interaction, I've always had VIP on my radar and been pursuing growth for a couple of years.
I'd just kept saying, "Oh, I'm not ready for that yet. I'm not ready for that yet."
Well, then a couple of months go by, I just pull the trigger and I say, "Now I'm ready."
I booked several things on my own - everything actually that I booked - I booked without my agent.
And there were times when I had two or three agents working for me, but they weren't working for me.
So, I literally would do my own work.
I just self submit, through casting networks:
- Actors Access
- 800 Casting
All of those! Sometimes even through just personal relationships I’ve landed roles!
For example, I had an executive producer call me up one day and say, "Hey, I have a role - do you want to play in this movie?"
And I said, "Really? I didn't see any of the breakdowns."
He said, "No, we didn't put it on the street and I'm calling you directly."
He didn't even want to deal with my agent, and I said, "That's cool, that's cool! You know, I'll take that!"
No questions asked.
But that's because I'd worked with him on a couple other things, starting at background and doing stand in work and that was my first actual principal role that came, before I had even started pursuing an agent.
An agent is not the end-all to the path to your success. It's about relationships.
It's about people who know people who can put you in front of people so that you can show them what you can do and who you are. Yeah.
Deneen: Yeah, definitely!
Something we teach our talent is, just to become that person that everyone wants to work with.
And I love what you said there.
For where you were, you had someone call you directly, for a role in a movie you never even heard any information about, because he liked working with you.
And that's because that's the way Hollywood works.
I think a lot of people don't understand that.
Once you start developing relationships with people, then they repeatedly already have the main role, the main people picked out! If you look at different directors, they work with the same group of people:
Martin Scorsese always has the same cast of characters.
And it's because they know:
- These people are dependable...
- They fit my personality...
- I fit their personality...
- We work well together...
And so it's awesome that you said that because again, so many people think, and like you've said it several times, that people think having an agent or a manager is the be-all end-all.
There is a point where you need them, but it's not really at the beginning.
We work closely with someone whose niece co-starred on The Joker.
And it wasn't until that point where she then said, "Okay, you know what? Now I need an agent. Now I need someone to help me."
I mean, can you imagine getting to the point where you landed a role on The Joker and then you say, "Oh, you know what, now I need an agent."
Most people think they need an agent before they even start work when they can totally get started themselves in a local community theater.
Christopher: Right, exactly.
You have to make yourself attractive to agents too - and that comes from a body of work.
So yeah, if you can book some work on your own and put that on your resume, and then you walk into an agency and say, "Hey, here's my body of work. Here's who I am."
You have to present an attractive package.
Anybody can walk through a door and say, "I want to be an actor. Can you sign me?"
But where's your proof, you know?
Deneen: Yeah. It's so important to have all of that.
Those relationships are key.
You also mentioned that you're taking acting classes, so you're doing all this work and you're also taking acting classes.
Can you speak a little bit about how those classes are helping you?
THE POWER YOU HAVE WITHIN YOURSELF IS WHAT YOU SHARE WITH YOUR AUDIENCE
Christopher: Actually, yes I can.
And this is going to be a deep story for me, so it's a little emotional.
When I was 16 years old, I had a traumatic brain injury.
I was in a coma for 44 days, and given last rights actually, as I wasn't expected to live.
So I don't remember much of my life before that.
For example, the kids that I played on little league sports teams with - when I go back home to Seattle, people would come up to me and say, "Hey Chris! Hey, how ya doing, man? I remember when you did this and that and the other on the football field!”
And I'd say, "I'm sorry."
And then I have to explain to them that I don't remember things from that point in my life.
So the acting classes, a lot of acting is built on sense memory and you draw from a lot of life experiences when you're creating or living a character.
A lot of things you learn in early childhood are some of those things that you may draw on when you're 40, 50, 60 years old - well, I don't have a lot of those things.
So, one of the specific acting classes, it was a sense memory exercise and, and the coach wanted to walk me through something that happened or something I did when I was about 10 years old.
There's a whole process to get down to that, relaxation exercises and a whole bunch of things.
And actually, I'm getting goosebumps talking about it. *Laughs*
But, he actually pulled a memory out of me from 10 years old that I didn't even know was in there - it was on the Lake Washington.
He said, just imagine, and feel…
Put your hand through that cold, clear water and pick up that slick, shiny rock and just throw that rock into the Lake.
And when I did that… I… oh man…
I literally broke out into tears. I started crying like a baby.
Because that's something in me that I didn't know was there and would have not known how to reach inside of me had I not been in those acting classes.
And now it's scary because that was a horrifying experience for me because then, right after that he said, "Let's go perform your scene."
It was the scene that I had been working on in the class for the previous five weeks, and I'm thinking, "Man, I need a minute here. I need a minute here."
He says, "No, you don't. You need to jump in. You need to push that fear back. You need to get out there, expose yourself while the layers are peeled back. Be vulnerable, give it, give yourself. Those are things, all the things that we fear in life. All the things we have to embrace as an actor."
It was, it was extremely empowering for me because, I realized that some things are scary. *Laughs*
And with acting, there's a lot of things that are scary, but the only thing on the other side of that fear... Well there's nothing.
You just have to get through - you have to push through it, you know?
So the acting classes have helped me realize that I can do anything.
They give you the confidence.
BEING AN ACTOR IS BEING A TEAM PLAYER
When you're on set…
- you may have a script
- you have your lines memorized
- you may have rehearsed for hours on end
And then the director changes it and they redirect you to maybe instead of saying this and doing this, say that and do the other…
And go! …
You gotta be ready!
And only a trained professional would be able to do that.
And when there's four or 500 eyeballs on you, there is a lot of pressure and you don't want to look like an idiot.
I have actually seen principal actors fired on the spot because they couldn't adapt.
They couldn't comply to whatever changes that the director needed right then and there.
And they have a lot riding on you.
I tell people all the time, when you get to a set as a principal actor, you are not the most important person on set.
There's a whole bunch of other things that are going on that the director's responsible for and you're maybe five or six in the hierarchy.
The last thing you ever want to be is a problem.
Deneen: Yea, it's so true.
I love that story that you recounted.
Last year, in New York, we had a mastermind and worked with a man named Thomas G Waites, who's an acting coach in New York and in London.
We had so many people go through that mastermind.
He did a three hour exercise where people worked on their monologue - it wasn't nearly as deep where he'd pull memories out of people - but he really taught everyone how to evoke that emotion.
And it's amazing to me how - I mean, it's something I'm sure you know.
I watch movies, I laugh, I cry, I get mad, I get happy: I go through all the emotions.
But as a viewer, sometimes you'd think, "Oh my God!"
The work that it takes, the energy that it takes the actor to draw on their own emotions and then draw on your emotions.
It's almost like a waltz.
It's almost like a dance that you do, and the way you described it was so beautiful.
HARD WORK IS AS REWARDING AS YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR ROLE AS AN ACTOR
Christopher: It is extremely exhausting, yet even more rewarding.
At the end of the day, when you see that body of work, and you've done it the right way…
First of all, as an actor, if you don't believe it, no one else will, you know?
- I feel everything that my character feels...
- I know his complete backstory to the foods he likes...
- I’d know his siblings and their names...
- If he has kids, I know the whole family tree...
And it's all created in my mind.
It may not be there physically, but I have to have that to fall back on because I may have to improvise if the other actor goes off book.
I may need to have something to draw on.
So I have to create the whole world for that character.
And I want to make it believable.
There's so many times I've watched TV throughout my entire life, thinking this person, well, they're horrible:
I don't believe you.
I need you to make me feel you're genuine, it's gotta make me lean forward just an eighth of an inch in my chair to watch you.
Engage me, pull me and take me away from my miserable existence for 15 minutes, let me be in your world, you know?
And that's what I have to give.
There's so many times that we'd be on set and the director says, "Okay, that's it! Next set up."
And they'd want to go to the next scene.
And then I'll go to them and I'll say, "Hold on, hold on. You know, can we run this one more time? Because there's a little something that I saw that I might want to do - just try."
The directors love to have extra tape.
They'd think, "It's just gonna take three or four minutes. Let's do another. I don't care."
Unless we're really pushing time.
But if I see if there's a little bit of time in the call sheet, I'm tell myself, "Hey, you know what, I'll talk to him. I think I can do this. I'd like to try this. What do you think about this? If, time permitting. Can we try this?"
And that might be at the 14th hour of the day!
Deneen: Most definitely!
It's an actor's responsibility is to portray the character with a finesse.
And that's something we teach in our coaching program too.
When you take on the role of the character, you have a responsibility to that character, to present that character in a way that makes other people want to engage with them.
Everything you're saying exemplifies everything that we teach people.
Christopher: That's right.
And you always want to make the audience want more.
Make them feel like they can't wait to see more of this character, this person.
I wanna make you want it.
I want you to have a sweet tooth for me! *Laughs* yeah.
Deneen: Yeah. That's awesome.
It's amazing to hear you say that, despite a couple of minutes ago you said you were not sure if this is really something you want to pursue full time, because it sounds to me like this is something you need to pursue full time because we need more people like you doing this.
LOVE WHAT YOU DO; DO WHAT YOU LOVE
Christopher: Yeah. Thank you.
That was my mindset a couple of years ago when I wasn't sure if I wanted to invest that amount of my life to it.
But then I realized, being an empty nester, what do I have to lose?
I could watch my grass grow or I can actually do something constructive, you know?
But then performing, creating, it fulfilled me in a way that I have been missing for so long…
And I just said, "You know what? I can't do life without doing this."
I actually tried a couple of times, I actually tried to step away and take a break for six months.
I'm a class A CDL licensed driver, so I got a tractor trailer and I'm driving cross country and I'm coming down a mountain and Montana in the middle of the night, the wind's blowing snow on the road.
And I'm thinking, "God, I really wish I was on set right now. I really miss it. I really miss it."
And then next thing you know, I get an email saying I got an audition and then I'd be taping auditions at the truck stop.
Just throw the backdrop up, whatever, whatever.
*Laughs* and I schedule with my load manager and say, "Hey, I gotta be back home in two weeks. I gotta do this."
And they said okay.
They brought me home, parked the truck, got out there.
I got out of the truck in December even though I was planning on spending all of 2019 - I was planning to spend this entire year on the road.
I came home for Christmas last year. But I have not been back on the road since because I have been so busy working.
Deneen: Well I'm glad you let your plans for 2019 change because I know that you've inspired me a lot over the last 30 minutes.
Christopher: Oh, that's awesome!
Deneen: Thank you for being adaptable, Christopher.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with me and my audience today because again, I've had the opportunity to interview almost 300 people on this podcast now.
And every, every once in awhile, I have a podcast and I'd think, "Oh my gosh! THIS. This was one of those ones that to be mandatory listening for everyone."
And this is one of those podcasts just because there are so many bullet points that I could draw a lot from our conversation.
But I think the most poignant point was right at the end when you said that you tried to walk away but you couldn't because after you started driving and you were thinking, "Oh my gosh, I miss it."
And then you get the phone call.
And I think a lot of people have to understand that in order to be successful in the entertainment industry, you have to have that level of passion.
Kind of like when that boyfriend or girlfriend that will not leave you. "No, no, no, no! You may think you're leaving - but you can't!"
And that's the type of passion that you have to have for this industry.
Which is important, because you mentioned - and we didn't even have time to touch on it, which we'll have to do another podcast to talk about that - during those times where you're having "failures," You have to, yes.
You have to overcome.
Christopher: Yes, you do.
It's so frustrating because the failures will make you say, "I can't do this. I don't want to do this."
But I always tell myself every day when I feel like I'm at rock bottom…
I say, "Great things are planned for you the day after you plan on quitting."
You got to keep pushing, you know?
And that's how it happens.
And when you get that "yes" it's like, "aaaaaaaaah!" You just feel so good!
There's nothing like it. That's the best thing in the world.
Deneen: Yeah. It really is!
So I just want to thank you so much for sharing your story on the podcast today.
We'll definitely have to do another one maybe after New York.
I know we're going to be hanging out in a couple of weeks in New York city at our big event.
I can't wait to meet you there face to face! I am so excited.
Christopher: *Laughs* most definitely!
I am excited too!
I'm just hoping that after New York you'll be able to afford me. *Laughs*
Deneen: I hope so too, my friend!
I have a feeling I'd come up to you and say, "Excuse me Christopher, do you remember me?"
You're going to be a big shot and go, "Deneen? Deneen Who?"
Christopher: *Laughs* No, no - never that!
I'm forever humble. I'm forever humble.
This has been so great, thank you.
Deneen: *Laughs* Yes, yes, thank you.
We'll definitely have to coordinate another call after we get back from New York city.
Christopher: Sounds like a plan. We'll talk about it face to face!
Deneen: Excellent. Sounds great.
Thank you so much for being on the show.
Have a great rest of your day.
Christopher: Absolutely, you too! Thank you! Bye bye.
Deneen: Thank you so much for taking the time to read today's article on the VIP Ignite Blog.
If you enjoyed my conversation with Christopher, please make sure you subscribe because I have a lot of fantastic guests lined up for the next couple of weeks!
And if you are interested in learning how to become an actor, a model, or a musician, please visit our website, ammsociety.com to get registered for our next webinar.