"nothing in this industry is guaranteed. And that it’s actually ok"
Alexa is an actor, producer & co-host of The 98% podcast, acting coach & mentor, creative soul…and waitress (to pay those bills).
As a human who wears so many hats that they could be a milliner, Alexa steps out of the busy day-to-day to share her insights into the workings of the acting world.
I’m an actor, producer & co-host of The 98% podcast, acting coach & mentor, creative soul…and waitress (to pay those bills)
How did you get your start in the industry?
I’ve wanted to be an actor since I was 3 and so my parents put me into the local stagecoach from age 4. I took a gap year after doing my A-Levels to work 3 jobs to save money for drama school where I went onto train for 3 years. In terms of the podcast…I met my co-host (and now best friend) Katie in a commercial casting waiting room. We exchanged numbers and a few months later, knee deep in a depressive episode and feeling totally alone in my #actorslife struggles, I sent her a 6 minute long voice note on WhatsApp asking if she might want to start a podcast with me to normalize the conversations around the reality of being an actor. The rest is history!!
How did you turn that first job into a career?
Hmmm..as an actor you soon learn that acting jobs don’t necessarily beget acting jobs. And so much is out of our control! So a hard and almost impossible question to answer…I suppose my first professional TV job taught me a lot about the industry and so I guess I was more prepared for the realities of it than others when I entered the profession after drama school. I was 16 and did many rounds of auditions for one of the new lead roles in the third series of Skins. I ended up booking the job and it was a dream come true!! Until a couple weeks before filming where I got a call saying someone in production (can’t remember their position) thought I looked too much like Kaya Scodelario who played the already established character of Effy. Because my character was to be Effy’s new best friend they decided they wanted the character to look starkly different. And so they changed the brief, recast the role and offered me a small part in one episode instead. To not only be so close to a career-instigating role, but to then have to act in a scene with the actor who ended up being cast in my role, was kinda heartbreaking. But it definitely helped with my resilience and the notion of getting back on the horse after falling off..or in this case - being pushed off!
What is the most rewarding part of your job? What keeps driving you forward?
As an actor..just getting an acting job! There is nothing like it. Especially when you work so hard or it’s been so long since you were last paid to act..it’s just incredible to reach that goal and enjoy every minute. In terms of being a creative and what I do with the podcast and mentorship online..just hearing from fellow actors that they finally feel heard and that our content and what we work for has helped them find a healthier work/life balance and has made their actor journey easier. My whole life I’ve always had this feeling that I want to help others, and to be able to do that in a profession I am so passionate about myself has been so rewarding and made all the time/effort and money I’ve put into The 98% worth it. We don’t make any money from the podcast but when I hear actors say we’ve actually changed their life and the way they view themselves and the business, that’s priceless. And it makes me just want to use my experience to help others even more.
Career highlight thus far?
Winning 25 Best Actress awards from film festivals after playing my first lead role in a feature film! (Oh and something a bit more glamorous..being stopped on the red carpet at the BAFTA’s by Zoe Ball who told me that she loved the short film I was in that was nominated for Best British Short that night!)
Can you tell us about a difficultly you’ve faced in your career and how you managed to overcome it both literally and mentally?
I could be here all day talking about the various difficulties! Being an actor in the 98% (only 2% of actors earn their main source of income from acting work) means you are no stranger to hardships. I’d say the biggest difficulty was completely losing my confidence at drama school. I had worked and prepared so hard my entire life to go to drama school and then onto the professional industry, but I was bullied by a tutor who was head of department and my 3 years of actor training were miserable. I was broken down, picked on and told I wasn’t good enough, and was never built back up again. I left training a shell of myself and of the idea that I could only get my confidence and validity as an actor from external sources. Which came from instead of focussing on the craft and my growth during training, I spent the whole time trying to impress and prove that I was worthy of being there.
When you only give yourself validity when you receive a “yes” (be it from your agent, a casting director, a director etc) and then you end up going months, even years, without an acting job, you internalize that rejection which only leads to poor mental health and a vicious cycle of desperation for acting work and berating yourself when you don’t get it. When in reality the reason you’re not booking jobs is most likely down to a million reasons and ‘not being good enough’ is NOT one of them! I had to work really hard to find my own self worth and validation within myself and know that I am talented, worthy and impressive whether I am in acting work or not. The ways I did this were starting The 98% and being part of a first-of-its-kind platform that spoke openly and honestly about what it’s really like to be an actor. I knew that all the difficulties and upset I was facing wasn’t just happening to me - I heard it from friends all the time. But nowhere else do you see the reality of #actorslife represented. And that makes actors feel alone and like it’s embarrassing to share anything about being an actor unless it’s a “pleased to announce” tweet. But normalising these conversations helped not only me, but others listening. Resilience helps of course, as does keeping lists of positive achievements throughout your career and giving just as much weight to things that aren’t just a “yes” from other people, as you do with booking acting work. This is something tangible I would advise others to do. Buy yourself a nice fancy little notebook and write down every accomplishment. It could be participating in a monologue slam or booking a job, or it could be simply organizing a play reading with friends or signing up to an acting class. It helps remind you that, in an industry that only celebrates the acting job wins, that you are winning in far more areas than just that.
What have your successes and failures taught you?
That nothing in this industry is guaranteed. And that it’s actually ok to hold space for how unfair this business is, as long as you don’t let it envelope you. We are made to feel like we are bitter, jealous actors if we comment on how unjust this experience can be. But in my opinion, if you’ve never experienced bitterness or jealousy as an actor - you’ve been very privileged in your experience of it!! But you can’t let it affect your self esteem or effort. You have to let it go. Take this business for what it is and work to make your corner of it as full of joy as possible - whether you’re acting or not.
What would you say has made you so successful in your career?
-Resilience -Making my own connections and working collaboratively with others to network and learn, instead of waiting for the phone to ring
-Finding joy and creative outlets outside of acting so that auditions don’t feel like your whole life hangs in the balance if you book it or not
Since the start of your career, what changes have you noticed in the industry and how do you feel about them?
Social media, self taping, productions opting to cast names or actors ‘with a profile’ more and more
I don’t want to write an essay so for now I’ll zone in just on the social media aspect… I feel frustrated about the rise of social media and content creation playing a part in an actor booking jobs. Actors are little kids who love dressing up and playing make believe who have grown into adults who want to use art and performance to inspire and entertain. We don’t start this journey with the idea that we also need to be influencers, make daily online content, garner followers, vlog our lives etc etc. And I don’t think we should have to. If that’s something that comes naturally to someone, great! But industry professionals telling actors they should be “making the most of social media” is misguided. Firstly, as we have seen, social media platforms go in and out of fashion and some even face being banned. These platforms might not even exist in a few years. Also…It’s SO MUCH WORK being a content creator! And at the end of the day, it’s unpaid labour for actors who are only doing it to try and get followers to earn them a potential casting/job. And going viral is no guarantee. Some don’t have the time/energy/ability/want to do that, and that’s ok!
We are also, as humans, HIGHLY aware of the repercussions of regular social media use. Poor mental health, comparison spirals…to expect an actor to take all that on because “it’s an opportunity to get yourself out there” is unhelpful. (You also don’t see any other part of the industry having those pressures. Directors/casting directors/producers..they don’t need to “get themselves out there” because they’re the ones with the power in this business. Actors have enough on their plates as it is. Social media is the new normal, yes. But we don’t have to let it dictate and take over our industry.) Social media is powerful and you can use it to your advantage as an actor 100%. It’s a shame twitter is turning into a hellscape because it’s a great platform to creatively connect. But it should not be an expectation and actors do not need an added pressure of having to have an online presence. I just wish, stripping everything back, that this industry valued talent and work ethic over anything else. Sadly, that’s not the way things are. But it’s nice to fantasize!
What is your hope for the industry moving forward?
To be more fair, representative, authentic, accessible. Sadly those things feel far fetched but we can begin with acknowledging that we shouldn’t be perpetuating the idea that being an actor is just the experience of the 2%. Red carpets, table reads and costume fittings every other day is not what makes you an actor. Working 2 day jobs, filming a self tape on your lunch break, writing emails at midnight to schedule to send the next day…that’s just as much of being an actor as anything else.
To zone in on something specific and tangible that needs to change? Drama schools and actor training programmes need independent regulatory boards and complete reform. Now. From doing the podcast and running our social media, the stories we’ve heard are ghastly and unacceptable. And yet when we raise concerns and awareness around the problems, there is radio silence. Drama schools have a duty of care to their students that, on the whole, are NOT being upheld. It’s not that difficult to fire sexual abusers, provide mental health support, and encourage students instead of bully them…is it?!
Why is representation and inclusion so important in the industry and what do you feel actors themselves can do help improve equality throughout the industry in all areas?
Art reflects life and acting is art. Film, tv, theatre…is art. Life is full of diversity in many forms and so we should be seeing that represented in the entertainment industry. I think we need to move away from box ticking in terms of representation. If a production has a clear diverse mix of people in the cast announcement but no one of the global majority on the writing/production/showrunning/music/creative team then…are they really being inclusive? If making a point of being representative is only for those who are on camera/on stage and visible to the public, then production aren’t really being inclusive…they’re ticking a box to show external sources that they’re “doing it right” instead of actually making things representative and accessible at all levels.
Actors don’t usually find themselves in the situation to make these decisions (or if they do we are very aware that if we rock the boat we can be replaced) but if you are an actor who is ever in a position to make change, or make your own work, *listen* to the people you are wanting represent or..if you’re of the community being represented - listen to yourself and just do the darn thing! This industry needs your voice.
If you could speak to your younger self at the start of your career, what advice would you give them?
Redefine what “success” means. Once you do that you will find success in the work actually accessible to you, and not be chasing after a dream or goal that a) is most likely unattainable in reality and b) might not actually be what you hoped/thought it would be. That’s not to say that something miraculous might happen, you never know. But you are just as likely to potentially go months or years without an acting job as you are to have a “big break”.
We are made to feel that “success” is becoming a profiled actor/booking a lead role in a famous TV series/having loads of online followers/appearing on red carpets and at press events…but success is also sending an email and getting a positive response, nailing a self tape audition, signing with an agent, even staying mentally positive after receiving rejection after rejection. You get to decide what success means for you, no one else. Certainly not this industry, who isn’t really doing anything to help you! Don’t brush off small wins and achievements just because you want something bigger and better. You’re only setting yourself up failure and to be unfulfilled.
What would be your greatest piece of advice to actors?
If you didn’t get an acting job for the next 3 years, would you still be happy anyway? Because you should be. Being an actor may be the biggest part of you…but it’s not just who you are. You are a person first, who happens to be an actor. Find, and live, a life that brings you joy, comfort and fulfillment outside of acting and the industry. The way to do this is to truly unlearn that your validation as an actor comes from the industry. Ie - your worth and happiness is dependent on who your agent is/how many auditions you get/how many credits are on your cv/whether you’ve done a tele job or not/if you’re performed on the west end. Once you find value, validation and worth from yourself - rejection feels less personal and doesn’t lead you to question your talent or ability. Even if it’s joining a weekly dance class, getting a pet, going on that dream holiday you’ve been putting off “just incase you get an audition”, taking up a new hobby…if you’re working towards acting goals, work towards life happiness goals too. Because you can blink and years can go by, and you deserve to be happy in those years. Acting work should just be a bonus. Life might not end up looking like what you had imagined when you were putting on shows in your living room as a kid…but the industry isn’t what you thought it would be either. Things change. Find your voice and listen to it.
(Also..”big breaks” don’t really exist. Take it from someone who has now-famous friends.)
What would be your advice to actors trying to make an introduction to yourself or others in your field?
Know yourself and lean into that! Don’t try to be like others, or the version you think you need to be. Be confident in who you are and your abilities. And in terms of reaching out to people and introducing yourself - do your research! Make it personal. Know what you want to say and make it count!
What are the most common mis-seps actors make them approaching you?
For me? Nothing. Because (via the podcast) we have created a safe space and accessible community I welcome any sort of interaction. I’m here to listen to you, rant with you, validate you, support you, encourage you and help you in any way I can. I will soon be starting work as an acting coach for general acting teaching and audition technique at a local acting studio in Vancouver (where I’m currently based). I am planning to start freelance coaching/mentorship as well and am wanting to offer a few free sessions to actors who would benefit from what I have to offer! So keep an eye out on my social media for that if you’re interested!
How can actors get in touch with you or find out more
about you or what you do?
You can find links to listen, more info and our wonderful, helpful and insightful blog on our website the98percentpod.com
What question would you wish I’d asked you here and what would be your answer?
Who is Alexa outside of acting and the industry?
A passionate creative, neurodivergent free spirit, intersectional feminist vegan, mother to a rescued Mexican street dog and 50+ houseplants, true crime consumer, and lover of the outdoors who dances vicariously in her living room to musical theatre tunes and 00s pop.
Look out for the next episode of The 98% with special guest Steph - co-founder of Both Feet! Subscribe to The 98% now, wherever you get podcasts, so you don't miss the release Monday May 15th. Check out the 98% podcast on Spotify HERE!
Advice from the 98% podcasts Alexa Morden