Actress Anja Meyer: “Let’s create a movement to raise awareness about the connection between plastic use and marine plastic pollution” with Marco Derhy

It would be a movement to create awareness about the use of plastic and its problems resulting in marine plastic pollution, and enforcing or creating ideas about alternative packaging materials. I love the ocean and fish, love the beach and swimming, snorkeling and diving, it’s my happy place! Then travelling to Indonesia in 2017 and not being able to swim in the ocean and only in the swimming pool made me very sad! I always heard about the issue briefly in the news, but seeing it with my own eyes really changed everything. If we just imagine that all the plastic waste continues to grow like now, then in future there will be no more clean beaches and all marine life suffers and dies. Plastic stays pretty much forever, it’s not biodegradable! Change really needs to happen.

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Anja Meyer. Originally from Germany, after completing her university degree in Industrial Design, she came to Canada to school for acting. She has spent time working in Europe, Australia, Singapore, and Canada. Anja is also a model and has worked for fashion and lifestyle brands. With a passion for inspiring others, she continually tells viewers what she is working on and shares her journey on Instagram and Facebook.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I grew up in Germany in a small town close to Berlin. It was great! We walked to school, and after the homework was done, we just played outside all day. As a kid, I did not have aspirations of an acting or modeling career. I actually wanted to become an astronaut or a baker at the age of 8. Since I was 12, from what I remember, maybe earlier, I was quite the painter. Almost every day, I was painting or drawing with oil colors or pastels. I had a creative mind and always wanted to practice, studying art techniques from books and art after-school programs. I even had a few exhibitions and won small local art prizes.

My first acting experience was the school theatre group, and we had various performances on stage from when I was 14 till 18 years old. Being a little shy, I enjoyed being on stage, expressing myself, and playing characters unimaginable in real life. The audience often complimented my performances and said they would never expect such a quiet person like me. For me, it was like transforming into somebody else, which was one of the most joyful experiences. Other than that, there weren’t many acting opportunities in a small town while growing up.

When I was 18, I auditioned to go to university for acting; my parents supported me as much as they could. Unfortunately, I did not do the auditions and decided to study Industrial Design instead, as everyone advised me to use my drawing and painting skills. At university, I took a photography course and photographed other models to learn more about photography. However, I tried to be a model at the workshop just for fun and realized that I enjoyed it much more than being behind the camera. It was merely a fun hobby that then leads to the first paid photoshoots over time.

After I graduated from university, I got interested in acting again and was part of the Theatre Ensemble at ‘Kulturhaus Spandau’ in Berlin. I researched several schools in Germany and Canada and then decided to go to Vancouver for 1 year. I wanted to combine my desire to explore and travel while improving my English skills, living in a popular filming location, even called Hollywood North. So I went to William Davis Centre for Actors Study in Vancouver.

After one year living abroad, I wanted to see more of the world and traveled to Sydney, Australia, and lived there for 7 years working part-time as an actress and model. The immigration laws in Australia got tightened, so I was residing in Singapore for a few months. Last year, I moved to Toronto, Canada as a new permanent resident. I really enjoy both a lot now, acting and modeling, and therefore pursue both simultaneously as a career.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

The first thing that comes to mind is a wardrobe faux pas. In Singapore, I had a video shoot for a nightclub scene and got told to bring a few clubbing dresses as clothing options, and so I did. I know that I had to be careful of being too sexy there, as it’s very conservative unless they particularly say to show cleavage. A local friend also told me that showing boobs in a low-cut top or dress is frowned upon, however to my surprise, wearing short jeans shorts is fine, and you see lots of girls with shorts everywhere, also short summer dresses. So it’s confusing for a foreigner. Being in a new country, coming from Australia, I still thought it must be different for a nightclub. I was bringing the typical Australian or probably any other western country-style clubbing dresses. The wardrobe stylist was literally in shock seeing my cleavage and said that that is impossible and I need to cover up more. Luckily I also had a dress with a just below the neckline cut. However, for this particular shoot, I even needed to cover up my shoulders with a scarf as well. In other shoots, I realized that the stylist even made sure that my bra is not padded and the breast shall look rather smaller if possible. Literally, in every shoot, they asked me to ensure I was not wearing a padded bra, even when wearing baggy blouses. In contrast, in no other country I worked in, they cared about the padding of a bra and rather, on the contrary, sometimes even prefer a larger chest. It was an amazing and interesting experience to see those differences in cultures.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I had an audition for a soap opera, and I was particularly excited about it. I felt like I had waited all my life to earn enough money from acting and get on TV finally. To my despair, I was acting in a theatre play at the same time, and I guess I got a little too much into the character of the play, which was an older lady than me in real life and a prescription drugs addict. The audience loved my performances, and I even got praised a lot. However, an audition for a soap opera is completely different and, therefore, the acting style, and I always heard about it, at least in theory. With a big smile on my face and sweating profusely, I walked in with absolutely zero ideas for acting on screen anymore. I didn’t feel confident as I haven’t done any on-screen acting in a while, versus my theatre acting was so fresh and real. I prayed I can do it and will get back to my old on-screen experience. Well, it didn’t happen. I even played a little bit of the prescription drugs addict character from the play at times. It was like the character from the play, the older lady is trying to act to be somebody else, but it only works at times but is not consistent enough. Also, I did funny big physical movements typical for theatre actors, but a horrible choice for TV. After all, it was an experience to see the impact of weeks of theatre rehearsals, and it goes more deeply into you due to more repetition. I learned to practice and rehearse profoundly before an audition and approach on-screen and theatre auditions differently.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I have a few photoshoots lined up and one short film in spring when it will be warmer again to film outside. And generally, most commercials and videos have a fast turnaround, and there may be a new casting call tomorrow for a shoot next week. That spontaneous lifestyle is for sure interesting and exciting by itself.

I am starting to work on promoting several brands and stores where I am a brand ambassador. I work as an influencer for a tumbler bottle. I had a video shoot for the tumbler in Singapore and now plan to spread the word about the product. I am really passionate about our environment and encouraged to reduce plastic waste, not worsen marine plastic pollution and save our oceans. A reusable bottle does not only look prettier but also creates less plastic waste. I plan to set up an online store on my website, which will feature all the things I recommend.

I am having vague ideas about creating my own brand to create awareness about the plastic pollution problem. It’s still on paper, but an idea that I would like to do.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

During a photoshoot for Singapore Airlines, I had the opportunity to work with a photographer who has years of award-winning experience being ranked in the top 200 advertising photographers worldwide. It is a blessing to work with top talents in their field. It inspires and motivates me to become a top talent in my modeling and acting career.

In several projects, I met actors who inspired me with their techniques and ambitions, for example, to produce their own short films. I always find it amazing to meet creative people who fight for their dreams and work towards their goals. It always sparks a light in me too.

In 2010, I also met actor Chris Coppola while being an extra on ‘The Search for Santa Paws’ during my time in Vancouver. While studying at drama school, I always wanted to talk to the actors. We had a nice little chat, and he found it cool that I am from Germany as he has worked with German actor Til Schweiger several times on movies. We even still message sometimes on Instagram nowadays, and once we met up when I was in Los Angeles for a holiday.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them thrive and not “burn out”?

I believe having a rhythm and developing a routine can be helpful. The schedule of shoots and auditions can be all over the place. I had call times as early as 5 am or as late as 11 pm and filming overnight. However, the truth is that most actors don’t work every day of the week with a fixed schedule from the production team. On the off days, it’s easy to sleep too much and waste time, but then feeling bad about it, not knowing when the next gig is coming in. Therefore, most talents do not rely solely on their agents. As a freelance artist and business owner, you are your own receptionist, marketing strategist, social media expert, contract writer, and invoice sender. As a result, it is so easy to feel overwhelmed. Try to discover the hours that you are most productive and use them to your advantage. Make a plan and schedule tasks that need to be done. Also, don’t forget the value of personal time, including friends, family, hobbies, and self-care.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

It would be a movement to create awareness about the use of plastic and its problems resulting in marine plastic pollution and enforce or create ideas about alternative packaging materials.

I love the ocean and fish, love the beach and swimming, snorkeling and diving, it’s my happy place! Then traveling to Indonesia in 2017 and not swimming in the ocean and only in the swimming pool made me very sad! I always heard about the issue briefly in the news but seeing it with my own eyes really changed everything. If we imagine that all the plastic waste continues to grow like now, then there will be no more clean beaches, and all marine life will suffer and die in the future. Plastic stays pretty much forever. It’s not biodegradable! Change really needs to happen.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started,” and why? Would you please share a story or example for each?

• Be patient and persistent. While building your portfolio, sometimes you are bound to start with some free, discounted, and/or collaborative work. So it’s a good idea to do a few student film projects to build a showreel. However, be careful not to sell yourself short for anything that will not benefit you in the long run! Know your value. Don’t expect to land a leading role after graduating from drama school. That also means be money smart. Also when some individuals earn a fortune just from one commercial booking, it is not guaranteed to happen. In general, the income is sporadic, so it’s good to save money after you made a ton. You never know when the next gig will come. It is in a sense similar to other professions who work as freelancers. They also need to get new clients and don’t have a stable paycheque. Most of the time, I have worked another job part-time for about 2 days a week in Australia, which was in graphic illustrations and bilingual customer support for an international company. At times I worked even full time in overnight shifts and sometimes went straight from my shift to set and only slept 3 or 4 hours in the evening before going back to the next night shift. That is something NOT to do. Even though the finances are great, it takes its toll at your exhaustion levels, and I only ended up looking tired at shoots or auditions. However, working 2 days a week is a great idea to have some stability, also resulting in benefits like paid holidays and retirement plans, etc. The employer must understand to have the flexibility to change shifts around, though. I worked on Saturday and Sunday, which makes it easier, as most auditions and shoots are during the week. Since 2016 I solely focus on working in the performing arts, but starting from scratch in a new country hasn’t been easy so far.

• Don’t be afraid to ask people with more experience. It is ok to reach out to others and at least try to get some advice. Oftentimes, I thought they were too established and would never talk to such a beginner like me. And so, I did not even try it in the first place. At the same time, do not expect any reply or help, but it is worth trying. Go to meet-up events for actors and models, join Facebook groups, and follow inspiring people on Instagram.

• Be careful. There are scammers out there, unfortunately. Often when a job sounds too good to be true, it is. I once filled out a casting form with my address, and a week later, I received a cheque of $2000 in the mail. The company sent me emails saying that they hired me from my portfolio photos and casting form. They said they prefer to pay me up front, and I shall hire a makeup artist from the fee. It sounded odd to me, so I did a google search and found out that it is a fake cheque scam. It is very tempting to cash the cheque, get the $2000, and the promise to work on a big campaign shoot. It is also very dangerous, so it’s always a good idea to google search or asks others for advice. I emailed them back that I will not cash the cheque and only accept payment after the shoot, and they never replied to me anymore. Always do your research. Sometimes it’s not as bad as scammers, but time wasters. Men who want to meet or talk to women on the phone, making false promises of having contacts in the film industry. They want to discuss possible future shoots over a coffee, for example. It can be legit, but it does not need to be. Check if their email address is a professional company email or if they have an online portfolio. I usually trust my gut. When something feels off, then I rather decline.

• It’s good to maximize your visibility. That can be promoting your work on social media, emails, forums, or groups — the more consistent you are, the more likely someone will take an interest in you. It’s a great way to build a fan base and also to attract potential clients for work. Since I started working on my Instagram, I got sometimes been directly contacted for commercial shoots. An actor friend posts funny sketches and videos and told me that he got offered a role in a feature film due to his Instagram videos. Invest some time to ask yourself what you like to do and start doing more of it. For example, if you are passionate about fitness, create some short fitness films. Teach others and share your knowledge. People want to better themselves or be distracted with a good laugh after a long workday. But most importantly, if it feels like a burden to create your own short films, funny videos, educational videos, or anything you heard you should be doing, then better don’t do it. Creating your own videos or films is fun for some but maybe a nightmare for others. Do whatever brings you joy and try not to follow a should-do list, some other person may have advised you to do.

• Don’t take things personally, especially rejection. It is normal in this business to book much less work than you go on auditions for. It is how this industry works. It’s not that you are not good enough. Do your best and move on! Your time will come. I sometimes made a statistics file in an excel document and realized that often I only book 1 out of 10 roles I applied for. Or even worse, once I got booked for a music video in Australia and then sent home from set. I got my hair and makeup done, got dressed in costume, and had to wait for my scene for a few hours. Then the director and producer came to me telling me that I can go home now, they are very sorry, but they feel my look does not match their expectations and are recasting the role. I got booked after they saw my photos and videos, but they changed their minds for some reason. I still got paid for the shoot, but it was devastating as I constantly wondered if I had done something wrong. I felt embarrassed about the story for a while, and only after a few months have passed could I talk about it with others. I only told my acting agent and a good friend about it right after it has happened.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Don’t compare your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel.” Steven Furtick

This is one of the many quotes I love. It’s relevant to each one. There is no point in comparing and despair. Pretty photoshopped faces from the magazines and on social media styled and glammed up actors with the help of makeup artists, friendly and witty celebrities on talk shows. They are all just human, and I am sure they have their bad days too, where they don’t look their best or are not in the mood to talk to anyone. It is a good thing to remind yourself of that! Being in the entertainment industry, I realized it myself too. When I am alone at home in my sweatpants doing hundreds of emails, not being in the best mood versus being on set filming all glammed up, and after I saw the commercial the first time, I thought to myself: ”Wow, is that really me? I look so good like my life is perfect.” But I know that in reality, it’s not, that my behind-the-scenes world is not all pretty.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Several people in my life have helped me directly and indirectly. I very much appreciate all the wonderful coworkers I met on set, and even if you are not in contact regularly, I know I can ask for advice or tips. After I left Australia, I posted on Facebook that I am in Singapore, and an actress I met years ago reached out to me and sent me a message with tips and how to pursue acting in Singapore as she has lived there for a while in the past. Her insights were invaluable, and without her encouragement, I may have never stayed in Singapore and booked several great projects. I want to thank my parents for allowing me to pursue this career, my boyfriend for giving me emotional support, and his sister for being my biggest fan.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? They might see this. 🙂

I would love to chat with Jennifer Aniston. I always loved watching Friends and still do sometimes now. I love sitcoms and aspire to act in one in the future. Also, Gal Gadot would be amazing to meet. She made it huge despite not having the standard American accent. There are so many amazing people that it’s not easy to pick. A third person I also like to talk to is Eva Green. Being from France and having an international career is astounding, and I would like to chat with her about her experience of being a bond girl. If I could meet all 3, it would be amazing, but even if it’s just one of them, I would be more than happy.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My main focus is Instagram, and I like to share behind the scenes insights too: @anjameyers

Some people prefer Facebook, and so I created a page:

Occasionally I share some videos from projects on YouTube:

You can also check out my website for updates, and I have a blog too:

Marco: Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!

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