Actress Susan-Kate Heaney: “I have a lifelong dream to open a non-profit center where anyone can create and connect with their own artistry, for no cost”

My husband dreams of opening an after school program for kids who don’t have arts programs in their schools. And I always volunteered at a Nursing Home growing up, and actually started a poetry program there where the residents and I would work on poems about their lives. It’s a lifelong dream to open a […]

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My husband dreams of opening an after school program for kids who don’t have arts programs in their schools. And I always volunteered at a Nursing Home growing up, and actually started a poetry program there where the residents and I would work on poems about their lives. It’s a lifelong dream to open a non-profit center like this, where anyone who needs or wants it can come and for no cost they can create and connect with their artistry.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Susan-Kate Heaney. Susan-Kate Heaney is an actor, writer and filmmaker from New York City, who now lives in Los Angeles. As an actor she has appeared most recently as Renee on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (The CW), Nurse Mackenzie on The Mindy Project (HULU), Shirley in Masters of Sex (Showtime), and in numerous movies including Pant Suits (opposite Bryce Dallas Howard). She has written and performed in many comedic solo shows, (most recently Facebook with Mom at Second City, The People’s Improv Theater, Fringe and the VS Theater), created a webseries about her mop collection (Top Mop) and created, written and produced numerous comedic shorts. She performs improv and sketch and works commercially and in voice-over.

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

Well, let’s jump right in. Since I was five years old, I’ve been talking to mops. Yes, mops. It started at my aunt’s house, I was playing outside and saw a mop leaning up against the side of her how, stick side down. To me she didn’t look like a mop- she looked like a friend. I named her Aggie and would spend hours talking to her, finding out about her life. Here’s the thing- this didn’t stop. I started collecting mops, and I would talk to and as them. They all had different personalities, voices and backgrounds. So I guess you could say from a young age I was creating and playing all sorts of wildly different characters. Side bar, I now have over 40 mops now and they still live with my husband and I, but more on that later. When I was young I heard what a play was, and I begged my mom to let me audition for one. I don’t come from a theater family so I went to an audition for “The King and I” with nothing- no headshot, no dance shoes, no song to sing. But they let me sing “Happy Birthday” and I got to do the show and fell in love with everything- the cast and crew, the rehearsals, the smell of the theater- everything. I couldn’t imagine a luckier feeling than being around people you love, playing characters and telling stories. I still feel this magic every time I start a new project or have an audition, by the way.

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

You cannot help but encounter an interesting thing every day in the business, so I could go on and on, but I’ll just talk about Young Storytellers for a second. It’s a really cool organization where teaching artists go into classrooms and help fifth graders write a screenplay, and then actors come the last day of the program and perform the screenplays for a huge school assembly called the “Big Show”. The most hilarious part is when the fifth graders audition you, and it’s like a little microcosm of Hollywood. I have done the shows with super famous actors and comedians and everyone is nervous to audition for these ten year olds, I swear. I definitely pander to the kids in my auditions. They like when you do grand caricatures of their teachers and parents, and especially love when you do over the top physical comedy. I always throw in a pratfall. But the funniest part is they can see through it all and always find your real “type”. Once I had a little screenwriter really hesitate to give me a role, and she finally relented and handed me the script with a “I guess you can handle this”. The role was Angry Wolf #3 and it’s one line was a howl. But she was right. Not really my casting.

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 have made many mistakes! And truthfully- you really don’t learn unless you do. But here’s one story that comes to mind. I’d just had my wisdom teeth out surgically. They were severely impacted and they had to knock me out. I had a chemistry read the next day that I was sure I’d be fine for. They’d given me Vicodin for the pain and I took one and it made me feel truly insane- like eating dinner with my brother and hallucinating I was holding him in both of my hands kind of insane. So I threw out the medicine so I could be good for the audition but I spent a practically sleepless night awake in pain. I went to the audition bright and early the next morning and of course it was a seduction scene, me playing a femme fatale type. I was 22 and this was not my normal casting, so already I was up against it. We start the audition and my scene partner is looking at me with crazy eyes. I keep going, really laying it on thick, flirting my face off. But it turns out what my face was doing was drooling. I couldn’t feel it because my face was still totally numb but it was pretty obvious to everyone else. Lessons learned- self care is important. You don’t have to say yes to an audition the day after intense surgery- there will always be another audition. And drooling is the antithesis of sexy.

I will say one more thing- I think the biggest mistake you can make is to try to be less you. When I first moved to LA six years ago I had some acting teachers that tried to make me fit more of a Hollywood mold and kind of dull myself out, look more leading lady, lower my voice, present more gracefully. I am a quirky, joyful mop-lover. And yes, I love having the ability to play all sorts of different roles and to tell many characters stories. But when you are fitting a mold, it is usually boring. The world needs MORE YOU. Not less you. So go ahead and learn how to drop the pitch of your voice for different roles and figure out your hair and make-up for what the audition calls for but never lose sight of you and your authentic point of view and reason for being an artist. Never.

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

I’m really excited to have finished writing my final draft of the mop feature! It’s called “MOPS” and it’s a quirky indie comedy about a woman who loves mops, has over 40 of them- is this ringing a bell?!- and how to function in the real world when your imaginary world is just so much more fascinating and interesting. I’m talking to production companies and investors now. I’m also jazzed about “The Quirks”, an upcoming podcast and live variety show I have coming out (the live show premieres November 28th, 2018 at the Comedy Central Stage). The podcast and show are about unpacking our innermost oddball tendencies, and celebrating the quirks that make us all unique. And together with Jenn Liu I co-created (and directed, edited, wrote and starred in) “SK & J”, a real-life comedic webseries about the two of us as friends and writing partners. Jenn and I have extremly different personalities (read: we drive each other crazy) and it’s been fun to put our real-life experiences out their in a comedic, cathartic way (follow @skandjwebseries on Instagram for updates). Also, we are expecting a baby in January (my husband Marc and I… that would bring a whole new level to the webseries)! Not a project, but it’s an upcoming adventure I am extremely excited about.

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

I love that song lyric (from Irving Berlin) “There’s no people like show people…”. It’s true! I did the movie “We Need to Talk About Kevin” years ago (my role was cut out of it but it was an amazing experience). Tilda Swinton was so generous. She immediately gave me a huge hug in the hair/make-up trailer. I was fresh out of college and this was my very first big job, and to have her greeting me so warmly just set the tone for the whole day. The awesome entertainment lawyers Jodi Peikoff and Michael Mahan (Peikoff/Mahan Law Office) have always been so helpful and supportive, and Jodi visited set a week or two later (they rep Tilda). Jodi mentioned me and Tilda gave a very kind and very effusive review of working with me, which she definitely didn’t have to do (I was there for less than a day). I still consider it to be one of the most generous experiences of my life (even though you cannot see my face in the movie, ha!) and I will always adore Tilda.

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

Live a life you love. Surround yourself with people who support you. Support other people. Go see as many movies, shows and tapings as you can. Read everything- scripts, books, plays, newspapers, poetry. See and experience things that are outside your specific field. Go to museums, hike, draw, dance, grow something, get your hands dirty. Travel, both far and in your own backyard. Go to a neighborhood you’ve never been to and soak up the culture- eat, interact, walk. Volunteer. Volunteer again. Find causes you believe in. Make things. Read scripts aloud with your friends. Rest. When in doubt, remember your why for having chosen this career. If you can reconnect to the why, I find a lot of the burn-out/overthinking/stress melts away, and you remember your purpose.

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

My husband dreams of opening an after school program for kids who don’t have arts programs in their schools. And I always volunteered at a Nursing Home growing up, and actually started a poetry program there where the residents and I would work on poems about their lives. It’s a lifelong dream to open a non-profit center like this, where anyone who needs or wants it can come and for no cost they can create and connect with their artistry.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. Make your own work. My amazing mom once had the idea for me to perform monologues in public (with a nice red lipstick on, of course!) as a way to get discovered. This- doesn’t work. I have always created my own work (plays, movies, web series, podcasts) and thus my own opportunities. A huge part of the reason? I have a ton of family and friends on the East Coast (like that amazing mom I mentioned), and I miss them. And if I’m going to live so far away from them, and knowing this career is the only thing I want to do in this world, you better believe I’m going to keep hustling. You know that advice create the things you want to see in the world? Yes. That. And create the things that light your soul up, too.

2. Things always turn around. I’ve been cut out of many movies and tv shows. I have a Jimmy Fallon/Kimmel dream where they go to show the clip and I say “Are you sure? I’ve been cut from so many things!” and then we all laugh and they play a montage of all my roles on the cutting room floor. In the same day, I’ve found out my role was cut from a film a week before shooting and shot a network comedy with an awesome director/showrunner who gave me extra lines on set, just for fun. Three weeks ago I auditioned for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Didn’t get the role. Two days later I got a call that the writers wrote a new role for me with super fun scenes! Yay! I’m a demented optimist, but I believe deep down that good things continue to happen. No matter what, the sun always comes out tomorrow (I’m still slightly bitter I never got to play Annie. Someone remake this movie now please and cast me as a grown-up Annie! Oh boy, there I go again. Lemons out of lemonade.).

3. Celebrate the wins and the experiences. Listen. No matter how famous you are or how much success you achieve in this business, there will be plenty of things that still go to someone else. I’m a workaholic and when I first started, when something awesome would happen I would still have the feeling of “Great, what’s next?!” I bought a fancy bottle of wine when I booked “Masters of Sex” and decided to drink it with Marc the next time I booked something. Well… I was waiting…. and waiting… Finally I realized how insane I was being, denying myself joy until something I had very little control over happened. I drank the wine. And it was delicious. Now I have learned to celebrate the wins and the fact that I’m here, doing what I love, outside validation or not. Some days the wins can be that you went to an acting class, or learned something about yourself, or that you did or didn’t buy the over-the-top glittery shoes. Celebrate you, boo! And maybe buy the glittery shoes, too!

4. Tend your own garden aka “don’t compare your behind the scenes with someone else’s highlight reel”. It is so easy to look at other people’s careers and feel depressed, or that you aren’t far enough along. Don’t get sucked in to those swamps of sadness (I recently just saw “Labyrinth” for the first time. Forgive me.). Take stock of all that is working for you and work on being grateful. Be happy for others’ successes and let them motivate you and keep your desires focused on what you yourself want.

5. Figure out transportation. If you’re moving to LA, learn to drive first. About NYC, I lived there for a long time and I wish I could tell you to learn the subways but I can’t because the MTA is always a hot mess. If you’re in NYC just breathe and get some great music and headphones and always pack a book. I was a late bloomer with the driving, I only learned six years ago. Because of that I have knocked off three side view mirrors, hit 5 different walls, knocked over two garbage pails and have so many scratches on my poor Scion that I tell valets who are marking off damage spots to just put a big X through the whole thing. Don’t be like me, singlehandedly keeping your mechanic (shout out to the amazing Julio at LA Radiator!) in business.

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

It’s tough for me to choose one. I started a quote of the day program in High School and used to go read one at each morning’s announcements over the loudspeaker (I was super cool, can’t you tell?!). For the purposes of this article I’ll say “One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn’t pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself”, from one of my heroes Lucille Ball. Life happens, but if you can stay working and stay positive you can really see how each day is a gift.

None of us are able to 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?

There are so many people! It takes a village. My husband Marc is unbelievably supportive and an amazing reminder of what is important when I forget. I once had a minor breakdown when I couldn’t get in for a big audition because they said “she’s not model hot”. I cried to him and said “Why wasn’t I born model hot?!” and he gently reminded me who I am and what I share with the world. Sometimes we forget. My family and friends are the most supportive I could imagine, always there with a pep-talk, funny meme or new way of looking at things. I’m grateful for my reps, everyone who has encouraged me or given me a chance and even the poeple who have discouraged me, including an old guidance counselor who tried to scare me off with the unemployment rates of actors when I told her that’s what I was going to be (I am definitely fueled by a challenge).

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

Um, hi Oprah! Do people answer this question and not say Oprah?! In all seriousness, I’m ready to get this mop movie made, so… Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, come “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” this situation (again) please!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: susan_kate

Twitter: sue_kate


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

— Published on December 28, 2018 at

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