NYCDA Alum Emma Bell stars in “A Quiet Passion”

Emma shares her experience with us…

NYCDA: What do you dislike about the industry? What do you like most about the industry?

Bell: The further you get into the industry, the harder it can be to hold onto you the spark of love that feeds you. I say this because the industry is incredibly political. Over the last 15 years, I’ve witnessed it turn more and more corporate and less and less about artistic expression. A side consequence of this is that all the good material, the material that is truly run by luminaries is crowded with actors from all levels, so in essence the pool of good material is getting smaller (despite all the new online TV opportunities) because the roles are going to bigger and bigger named actors to help sell it.

That being said, if you are someone who creates your own material, this is the time for you. The industry may be run by economics, but there is a still a desire of finding the next amazing story to be told, and that has been opened up to not only well-known writers but you or me sitting at home at our computers with a story idea. That’s not to say it’s easy to have your work seen or taken seriously, but it’s possible whereas several years ago it wasn’t. To go along with that positive turn in our industry, that feeling on set, when everyone is there for the right reasons and you’ve made a family of misfits is the greatest feeling I’ve ever experienced.

NYCDA: What was your best and worst casting experience?

Bell: I’ve had many interesting casting experiences. My favorite was probably my audition for my film,’ A Quiet Passion’ a biopic about Emily Dickinson. The audition was at the Standard Hotel in West Hollywood, which is a strange place for an audition and when I arrived I was immediately put off because of the plethora of nearly naked women walking through the lobby to the pool. I went to the bathroom to clear my head, and there was a line (of course full of bikini clad models). An older British man tried to cut me in line when the door opened up to which I said, ‘Excuse me, sir, I don’t know how they are in England, but here in the States we wait for ladies to go first.’ Then I walked into the bathroom. Once I was through, I found the audition room, signed in and waited to be called. The casting associate came out and ushered me in, and there sitting next to the camera was the director, Terrence Davies, the elderly British man I had sassed 5 mins earlier. As I sat down he said, ‘And how was the lavatory?’, I replied, ‘Uninterrupted, thank you.’  He started laughing cheerily. He was and still is the most exuberant man I’ve ever met. We then talked about Emily Dickinson and how cheeky she was for her time. The rest of the audition was a dream come true, reciting Emily Dickinson poetry and having Terrance direct me along the way. I booked it the next week.

My worst audition experience would have to be any pilot I’ve ever gone in for! Not to be a downer, because pilot season is an extremely exciting time full of possibility, but it is also a true rat race and can produce a lot of stress. The system is not natural for an actor to go through. Even on your best day, and your best performance, you are still sitting in a stale room across from the other person or persons who will get this role if you don’t, and then you are called into an even more stale room, with lights blinding you, as you go through the audition, sometimes for the 4th or 5th time, in front of a bunch of corporate types. They give you no feedback just a slight nod, and you’re back to the waiting room until you are called to either go home or stay. It’s horrible.

NYCDA: Have you experienced typecasting and how do you deal with it?

Bell: I have absolutely experienced type casting! For the first part of my career, I was the ‘cry and die’ girl. Seriously, I went through about 6 years where all I was cast in were victim roles. A lot of crying and then usually die. That has lifted a bit as I’ve gotten older, but I’m still type cast in other ways. I get told I’m very innocent looking, which means they don’t see me in tougher roles. I get told I’m very young looking, which means they can’t see me as a more mature character sometimes. But then I also get told I come off mature, which means I can’t be an ingenue anymore. Not sure if those are really type casts but they are limitations.  Type casting aside, I do think it’s incredibly helpful for an actor to know the types of characters they can play with their eyes closed. I can play the vulnerable and caring girlfriend or the manipulative rich girl really well. Not because of my talent, but because of my look. It’s a tool in our belts if nothing more.

NYCDA: What project are you currently working on?

Bell: Currently, I’m celebrating two films I had the honor to be a part of. One is ‘A Quiet Passion’ where I portray young Emily Dickinson to Cynthia Nixon’s older Emily Dickinson. That is out in theatres currently on the east coast and will be released in the west next week. Also, a fun female empowering comedy called ‘Different Flowers’ which is having a great run at the festivals. I just came through pilot season which was both the best and the worst of my career, and am now focusing on my directing and writing.

NYCDA: What advice do you have for current students?

Bell: This is a long haul. There’s no magic level when things get easy. Your problems get better, but more intensified. Be creative in other ways that are just for you. There’s a lot of waiting and I’ve found having other outlets that have zero pressure on them has been a life saver. Be grateful for the work you do get. It might not be what you want, but remember it’s more than a lot of people have. Rejections feel personal, but they are political 99% of the time, don’t let it affect your feelings about yourself as a human. If you could do anything else with your life and be happy do that. If you are like me and you can’t, mazel! Work your ass off for it. Have fun- we are the lucky ones who pursue our dreams, nothing is too serious.