When I spoke to Liz Cassedy during the height of our freezing polar vortex this winter, it was like twisting the cap off a bottle of sparkling Champagne. Her effervescent, adventurous spirit was the balm I needed for my annual unwanted visitor: Seasonal Affective Disorder. Liz helps you see in the dark.
Liz, 25, a Reservoir High grad, took the plunge a while back and moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of being in show business. During our talk, she was blunt about her travails. "The hardest part about breaking in has been not having many, if any, connections," conceded the former North Laurel resident who double majored in theater acting and mass communications and public relations at Towson University. "The saying, 'It's not what you know, it's who you know,' holds true. There is a lot of nepotism. People born and raised in this industry seemingly have an upper hand."
I don't know if the government keeps tabs on how many Americans abandon the comfort of hearth and home to try the rough rapids of a career like this one, but Liz never tarried about her decision. "My boyfriend of two years and I broke up, the lease on my apartment was up. I put in my two weeks' [notice] at work and started packing my car with whatever could fit," she said. "I found a place to live through a classmate at Towson, and within weeks, I was gone."
To make ends meet, Liz is doing what so many show biz aspirants are doing: waiting tables. She got a job working at a trendy eatery in the throbbing seaside suburb of Santa Monica. "Typical actress move," she said, her self-awareness a tonic for the soul. Her list of regulars reads like the scroll-down menu on Netflix: Morgan Freeman, Harrison Ford, Christina Aguilera and Christian Bale are part of the cast of hungry characters who swarm the high-end place. "It becomes so normal to see them," she reported. "I have to be very professional and not tell them how much I absolutely adore them!" Liz also confirms that Hollywood is never short on newcomers like her. Every hostess, every cab driver, she has learned, "has a script, headshot or resume in hand."
During her 18 months in her adopted hometown, Liz is finding out how the game is played. When she reads for a part, she explained, "you have to wow the casting director. He then relays his recommendations for the roles onto the producers who get the final say. There are rounds of auditions, so you could get pretty far in, and something could happen and you could lose it all." Having it all drip through your fingers, she continued, could involve forming "chemistry" with another lead actor but then, suddenly, a bigger-name actor shows up and is hired, leaving the rookie performer, literally, out of the picture. "And, of course, if you know the higher-ups, that will at least get you in the door."
To succeed in the business, she said, you must land an agent. "Agents want to see credits on your resume like a guest star role on a TV show," she said. But here comes the rub: "In order to get those roles, generally, you need an agent. So it's a vicious cycle." You can always audition for an agent, she said, but it will cost you money. Yes, she acknowledged it smells like a racket, but impress the agent enough, and if he needs "your type," he will sign you. Liz said she set a goal for herself. "That within my first year in LA, I would get an agent and become eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild. Ten months in, I became eligible to join the union, which you need to be in to work on most TV and film projects. And at one year, almost exactly, I got an agent. Phew!"
Liz confirmed a stubborn stereotype. Californians aren't the news junkies we are.
"I'm the only one I know that's constantly reading my CNN app for news. It's not that they're apathetic, it's just not what they talk about," she said. "In California, it's all about your passion, your projects and what you do for fun. The East Coast is very goal-oriented with tangible results."
Liz left a good job in marketing and PR, but she's not looking back. "I honestly just hope I never need to go back to that. Working at a restaurant right now to pay my bills is certainly not my dream job, but I feel happier that I'm at least pursuing my acting career in all my free time. I know some people give themselves a time limit. If they don't 'make it' in five years, they'll move back [home]. But I just can't imagine doing that. And 'making it' is relative. It's all a journey."
When she came back to Maryland for a couple of weddings, she said, she felt some pangs of withdrawal. "It really hit me how much I was missing in their lives, and in my family's lives. But I also knew it was the price for following my dream."