A Seasoned Hollywood Actress on the Pathway into Today’s Industry
Ever wonder what the journey to Hollywood looks like? Want advice from someone who has been there and done that? We were honored to sit down for a chat with Hollywood actress, Courtney Cook, and she gave us inside access to her career, how it blossomed, and coveted advice for young aspiring actors and filmmakers. The undeniably talented Cook has been featured in shows such as “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”
What made you want to start a career in TV and Film and how did you begin?
I’ve always loved telling stories. I’m a singer and that’s how I got started. I have a degree in Communications and Music. After college, I was in a musical at a community theatre in Birmingham, AL and a friend in the show said to me, “I’m moving to New York in six months, do you want to go?” I gave it a half-second of thought and said, “yes.” That decision completely changed my life and put me on my current path. In New York, I was a cabaret singer, I auditioned for and did a lot of regional theatre and then began doing more on-camera work. I love storytelling on film. After 15 years in New York, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue more on-camera work.
What are your credits/career successes?
My very first on-camera job in New York was as a background actor on “Sex and the City.” It’s kind of a cool story for me because I was in a scene with Sarah Jessica Parker (Carrie Bradshaw) and Ron Livingston (Jack Berger). Fast-forward nine years and I wrote, produced and starred in my first short film in Los Angeles and Ron’s brother, John, was my romantic lead! My first co-star role in Los Angeles was on “Parks & Recreation” with Amy Poehler and Rashida Jones. Last year I was on “Grey’s Anatomy.” But, my biggest role to date has been on the award-winning show ” The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.”
What are some of your great moments as an actress?
I have a lot of great moments, but there are three that top the list. My first great moment was my first co-star role on “Parks & Recreation.” The feeling of arriving on set, being welcomed and knowing that all the work I’d put in for years, and I mean YEARS, had led to this moment, was incredible. My second great moment was when I wrapped the short film I made, “The Bed Bug Thing.” Knowing that I created this, it came out of my brain and all these people came together to bring it to life was an empowering feeling. But, my top moment was being on “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story.” I was in a scene with John Travolta, David Schwimmer, Nathan Lane, Courtney B. Vance and Dale Godboldo. I grew up watching John, I was huge fan of David on “Friends,” and I had seen Nathan in several Broadway productions. Sitting on that set and holding my own with these legends was thrilling!
What do you enjoy most about acting?
I love the rehearsal process. I love figuring out who I am as the character and learning who that person is, what they think, how they feel and why they do what they do.
What is your advice for those trying to break into the industry in 2017.
Train, train, train. Create, create, create. Be persistent. Do it because you have a passion for the art, not because you want to be famous. Do it because there is nothing else you’d rather do. If there’s anything else you’d rather do, then do it. This is a tough business. It’s extremely rewarding creatively, sometimes rewarding financially, but you will work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life.
What is the pathway for young filmmakers and actors?
Today, it’s all about creating your own work. Sure, you can get cast in a TV show, a movie or a web series, but there is so much competition for those roles. It’s not enough to just be an actor. You need to be a content creator as well. That doesn’t mean you must have an ongoing web series or something like that, but be in the space of creating. Have work to show. This way you’re not waiting on someone to hire you, but you’re doing what you love to do. Then when you do get hired and PAID to do this work, it’s a bonus!
What is one thing you would tell a young filmmaker or actor they MUST do to start their careers?
I think young filmmakers and actors must be writing stories and shooting their own work. By doing this they are exercising their creative muscle, learning the process of putting a film together and giving themselves an opportunity to be seen. It puts them in a power position of doing instead of waiting for someone else to give you the opportunity to do.
What is the best way to get a job in the industry?
There are so many ways to get a job in the industry. I think students need to always be learning, creating and building their network of contacts. So often it is all about who you know, but you get to know people by being actively creative. Create your own projects. Get your work out there to be seen. You can do this by entering it in film festivals. At every festival and in every class and workshop in which you participate you’re meeting people and making connections. Find people with whom you can collaborate and keep making art. Don’t discount working with your fellow students. Someday they could be the next Steven Spielberg!
What is one mistake you made in your career that don’t want anyone else to make?
I didn’t decide I wanted to be an actor until after I graduated college. I got into acting classes and started training, but in my mind I felt like I was behind everyone else. I was older than most people in my classes, and I made the mistake of comparing myself to them. Just remember everyone’s journey is different. Don’t judge where you are based on where someone else is on their journey. Don’t compare your talent to someone else’s. Know what you want, decide what you need to do to get there (more training, more experience, etc.) and keep on your path. Remember, it may look different from someone else’s path.
The question we all want to know…What was it like working on the set of ” The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story?”
It was an incredible experience. John Travolta was exciting to work with because he would ad lib into the scene. As soon as they called cut, he would begin an ad lib to lead us into the next take. It was so much fun! It kept us in character and focused on the story so when they called action it felt like we were just continuing our conversation. All the actors with whom I worked in that scene were so gracious!