The Geminis: buddy, can you spare a tux?
Interviewee: Theresa Joy
By: Gayle MacDonald
Date: November 13, 2009
Source: The Globe and Mail
Note: This is an interview with THERESA JOY who plays Billy on THE BRIDGE. Theresa’s part of the article is in blue font if you want to just skip to that part.
Everyone looks like a million bucks at the Geminis. But most Canadian actors can’t afford too much champagne, Gayle MacDonald reports
At Saturday night’s 24th annual Gemini Awards ceremony in Calgary, the cameras will capture Canada’s top TV talent, gussied up, glam and giving the impression that an actor’s life is impossibly charmed – even grand.
But scratch beneath the high-gloss surface – and chat with a few journeyman actors – and you’ll get an entirely different story.
Talk to anyone who’s helmed a top show, and you hear countless tales of the pay-your-dues-reality of most working actors’ day-to-day existence – like the bloke with a guest role on a hit TV series who couldn’t afford a tux for the Geminis, so had to rent one. Or the gal on a prime-time comedy who blew her monthly budget on acting classes and had to borrow a little black dress. And another actor, with a recurring role on yet another weekly cop show, who almost missed his plane because he was doing voiceover work as a crusty, old panda in a kid’s cartoon. In today’s less-than-booming entertainment economy, they are being squeezed even more, not less.
Indeed, when the show’s over at Calgary’s BMO Centre, most actors will throw off their fancy garb and return home to juggle multiple jobs (bussing tables, driving cabs, working retail) or multiple careers (commercials, voiceovers, radio promos, script writing, stage managing) – the multitasking survival game necessary to pay the bills while they wait weeks, often months, for agents to call with the next gig.
“It’s a very small percentage – perhaps 5 per cent of Canadian actors – who actually make a living strictly acting,” says veteran Toronto casting agent Lisa Parasyn, adding almost every actor she knows has a second, sometimes a third, job.
“The everyday working actor makes $10,000 to $20,000 a year,” estimates Parasyn’s business partner Jon Comerford, who is casting Showcase’s new show Crash & Burn , which debuts Nov. 18. “If you’re a regular on a series, you can make $80,000 to $100,000, but those people are the minority. In the mid-eighties to late-nineties, Lisa and I would have been casting several movies of the week, which shot in 24 days and paid actors $1,500 to $2,000 a day. Those same movies are now shot in 14 days and the average actor makes $600 a day. Practically every show we work on these days is paying [union] scale. American budgets traditionally used to be much higher, but they simply aren’t any more.
“But actors are a rare breed. They do it because they love it. … A certain temperament becomes an actor, but it’s not for everybody.” Further proof that the starting-out actor’s life can be hand-to-mouth was handed down in the most recent Hill Strategies research report that found actors experienced the sharpest decline in average earnings among artists from 1990 to 2005, dropping 34 per cent to about $18,000.
Of course, there are always the lucky few who catch that proverbial “big break.” They’re the same gang (think Paul Gross or Flashpoint ‘s Hugh Dillon) who may lend their voice to plug a car or life-insurance company, but they dabble on the lucrative sidelines because they can – not because they have to. For instance, Dillon, who also stars in the critically acclaimed series Durham County , can be heard in national advertising campaigns for Chrysler and Manulife, and in the video game Left 4 Dead 2 as well.
But for the vast majority of actors, the side jobs are needed to pay the rent, keep the heat on, and buy the groceries.
Everyone in the acting trenches has stories to tell. Single mom Theresa Joy, who recently scored a role as a rough-and-tumble street cop on the upcoming CBS/CTV police series The Bridge , made ends meet for years in a multitude of jobs – bartender (hated it), Buffalo Bills cheerleader (she viewed the stadium crowd of 80,000 as her audience and the skimpy uniform as “my costume”), co-host of Super Bowl half-time shows, beer babe on Budweiser and Labatt’s commercials, and selling clothes over eBay.
The 31-year-old actress also did several independent features, films she describes as “pretty far out there, but I got the lead role, so I took them. Most of them no one’s ever seen. Or likely will.”
Joy, who lives in Stoney Creek, Ont., with her 12-year-old, says her daughter has seen her do some pretty crazy things over the years. “She’s seen me get down, and have to pull myself back up, just about every other week. But acting is what I always wanted to do, and I couldn’t ever give up. It’s just really expensive when you’re getting started. In fact, you’re usually not making money; it’s costing you money.
“When I got The Bridge I was so grateful,” adds Joy. “To have a craft truck and people coming to make sure I’m comfy, is a blessing. Sheer bliss. If I work 13- to 14-hour days, it doesn’t matter to me. Struggling for a long time makes you appreciate where you are – and where you’re trying to get.”
For more than 10 years, St. Catharines, Ont., native Jeffrey R. Smith has paid his acting dues. Now – just off a role in AMC’s six-part miniseries, The Prisoner , with a role in ABC’s upcoming show Happy Town and a part in the feature film Casino Jack (opposite Kevin Spacey) – the actor hopes he’s finally rounded the corner and landed the parts to ensure a steady stream of work.
Roughly speaking, a series lead in this country, on a show with major U.S. distribution, could make between $10,000 and $40,000 per episode. However, Canadian regulars appearing in a low-budget series, possibly without major American distribution, make in the area of $1,000 a day. Most of these shows shoot between four to seven days an episode, (with the actors not necessarily on set every day) and are usually picked up for between six and 22 episodes.
“I’m on a roll, I think,” says Smith, reached on his cellphone in New York City. “A small price to pay for free accommodation,” he quips.
But while things have definitely been looking up for the 39-year-old, Smith still figures his acting income only brings in $20,000 to $25,000 a year – which explains his sideline occupation as a personal assistant to American film and TV producer Michael Maschio, and many voiceover gigs. This past week, for example, he auditioned in Toronto for the part of “some scary squirrel” for a Nelvana kids’ show.
“I also do a lot of radio-announcer stuff, but animation is fun because it’s decent, fast money and it flexes a whole different creative muscle,” adds the actor.
“Last year, when I came back from The Prisoner [which premieres tomorrow night] I didn’t work for almost four months,” recounts the George Brown College grad. “In those times, I have to dip into my lines of credit – and then when I get another job, it’s catch-up. I see some of my peers who have left the business and now own their homes, and that’s the thing I haven’t done yet. But I’ve fulfilled my dream. So I have no regrets.”
Toronto’s Rich Caplan, of the Noble Caplan Agency, says he knows actors who have become so successful doing voiceover work — that they can’t afford to be “actors” any more. Others just turn to a commercial or two a year to get them through particularly slow times. Then, Caplan adds, “there are some actors who find a balance, seeming to be able to do it all, do it well and make a good living.”
In that category fits Caplan’s client, Martin Roach, a 40-year-old, married father of three who lives in Ajax, Ont., and commutes to Toronto daily. Acting for 14 years, Roach dabbles in it all, routinely making six figures a year, juggling TV series such as Slings & Arrows , cartoons, commercials and radio promos.
His trick? Roach credits a strong work ethic, and his great, baritone voice. “Right now, I’m a steak in a television commercial,” he chuckles.
“I guess the amount of work I get is a little above the norm. My voice helps me get into the voice department. … I have zero desire to ever work 9 to 5. If I didn’t act, you’d probably read about me in the newspapers. And not in a good way.”
Aspiring actor Douglas Nyback, 24, also boosts his acting income by moonlighting. The Camrose, Alta., native, who recently nabbed a part in the feature film Kit Kittredge: An American Girl as well as a guest starring role in CBC’s Being Erica , also works 40 hours a week coaching fellow actors at Toronto’s Dean Armstrong Studio.
“My immediate family have always been extremely supportive but I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me over the years and said, ‘When are you going to get a real job?,'” Nyback says.
“It irritates me, but acting is all I ever wanted to do. … But I must say this profession takes tremendous endurance.”
Not to mention, a willingness to do menial labour and be a jack-of-all-trades. Even Brad Pitt wore a chicken costume for the El Pollo Loco restaurant chain before landing a role on the eighties soap Dallas .
And Saturday night, Gemini presenter Cory Monteith, the Calgary-born star of Fox’s hit show Glee , could charm the crowd by sharing the fact that he drove cabs as well as worked as a people-greeter for Wal-Mart before hitting it big as the singing jock Finn Hudson.