Don’t let men talk to you like you’re garbage. Film sets tend to be primarily male-dominated. I have an entire document detailing some of the messed up things I’ve heard or been told by guys I’ve worked with in this industry. Every female or other marginalized person must learn not to take their flack, and learn to stand up for themselves. Don’t ever be afraid to say you’re uncomfortable. They might act like you’re being silly or snobbish, but you have to trust your gut and your instincts. I once had a director get mad at me because I didn’t want to walk into traffic on a major NYC street. I told him I wasn’t comfortable, and after much grumbling and grousing, they found a PA to stand and direct traffic away from the actors. I was safe. But only because I spoke up.
As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Helen Laser.Helen Laser is an American-born actress hailing from Montclair New Jersey. She began acting professionally at an early age, and has received training and education from Muhlenberg College (where she was nominated for the Irene Ryan Award at the Kennedy Center and graduated Cum Laude), Ithaca College, and Oxford University (where she received the class award for excellence). She has also pursued singing professionally since the age of 8. She began her film career at 15, starring in an award-winning viral PSA about kindness. The video now has over 30 million views. Most recently, Helen has appeared on television, in various stage performances, and has had an illustrious voiceover career. Most notably, Helen can be heard as the voice of Annie’s Homegrown (in addition to many other brands on television commercials and radio).
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I guess I have to thank Ms. Cleerdin, the drama teacher at my elementary school, who cast me as Lucy in You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown when I was 4. I discovered a love of acting, and coincidentally also discovered stage fright! There’s a VHS tape somewhere in my parents’ house of me, white as a sheet, in my little blue dress waiting to go onstage. It looks like I’m waiting for the guillotine.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
What popped into my head was the day I shot a commercial for Good Morning America. I was playing a PA, and shooting the opening scene on the set of the actual show, when Michael Strahan wandered in and was so confused as to why they were filming a PA getting coffee. He didn’t realize I was an actor! I took that to mean I was giving an impeccable performance.
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?
Oh boy — at my first commercial audition I was called up to slate (there were about 5 other actors present who all seemed infinitely more professional and experienced than I was) and I got so nervous that I pronounced my last name wrong, and then tried to correct it and kept stumbling until I eventually gave up. They must have thought I was having a stroke. I made a note to practice slating before every audition after that. At this point it’s second nature, but there have been many train and subway rides with me whispering, “Hi, I’m Helen Laser.”
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m currently writing a couple of screenplays and a pilot — and a film I played the lead in is making the festival circuit now and winning awards! I’m very proud of it. (It’s called “The Time In Between The Seconds,” directed by Mark Clauburg.)
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Michael Weatherly once complimented my shoes, Alan Rickman asked me about my goals in life, I got to ask Emma Watson about her experiences shooting the Potter movies, I hugged Andy Cohen and discussed my love-life (not in that order), I tripped on Santino Fontana, I almost ran down Peter Dinklage in an elevator — but I would say the most interesting person was a real-life cowboy from Canada I met on set — he explained lasso-ing and told me all about what it’s like to own and take care of horses.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Do! Other! Things! Find other ways of expressing yourself. Get into cooking or hiking, or writing music. I have found it so helpful to have hobbies that are just for me, and aren’t competitive.
You have been blessed with success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Well, first off I think failure is in the eye of the beholder. There is no measure to success. In my book, you’re successful if you’re happy. So if this career path will, at the end of the day, bring you joy — then you’ve already won. I guess this means I’m successful. This career has brought me unparalleled joy.
Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Kindly share a story or an example for each.
I try to keep up with all of my hobbies — I practice drawing, writing, making music, and learn new recipes whenever I can. I try to make things for fun rather than trying to make something “good.” I trade work with friends and talk about it and get excited about it. I meditate. I try to find myself in nature as often as possible. And I make as much time as possible for the people I care about most. I’ve also found teaching very fulfilling, as well as mentoring and giving advice when asked for it. You are never above giving advice to those who sincerely ask for it.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- I wish someone had told me that being myself is enough. I felt very self conscious when I was first auditioning, and later learned that my personality, as is, turns out to be pretty fun! It’s refreshing for a casting director to interact with a human person rather than an actor trying desperately to make them like them. You can’t make everyone like you. The great irony is that it’ll probably end up making the opposite happen.
- Do the dang work. If you get a script, READ IT. Prep it. Mark it up, do your research, practice it, memorize if possible. Charm alone will only get you so far, and not in the rooms you really want to be in. I’ve always been someone who prepares like my life depends on it, but I still think I need to be reminded that there is always more you can do. I don’t recommend wearing out the text or getting married to one particular choice — but maybe read other work by the same playwright, or see what else this director has done. Go back to your notes from Stanislavsky. There’s always more you can do. And you’ll feel so much more confident knowing you’re prepared and ready to kick butt!
- Do your hair. And figure out what powder is. I cannot tell you the amount of auditions I went to shiny and frizzy.
- Don’t let men talk to you like you’re garbage. Film sets tend to be primarily male-dominated. I have an entire document detailing some of the messed up things I’ve heard or been told by guys I’ve worked with in this industry. Every female or other marginalized person must learn not to take their flack, and learn to stand up for themselves. Don’t ever be afraid to say you’re uncomfortable. They might act like you’re being silly or snobbish, but you have to trust your gut and your instincts. I once had a director get mad at me because I didn’t want to walk into traffic on a major NYC street. I told him I wasn’t comfortable, and after much grumbling and grousing, they found a PA to stand and direct traffic away from the actors. I was safe. But only because I spoke up.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for advice! You need to respect the time of those you ask, but I think getting advice from people you trust is crucial. I owe so much of my career to friends, peers, and actors I look up to who were so generous with their time and guidance. Only jerks will be rude or weird about giving advice — within reason. Don’t ask a random stranger who has your dream career to give you hours of their time and all of their industry secrets. But most people, I’ve been grateful to find, are more than happy to share a cup of tea and talk about the business. I am indebted to some truly generous people that I am now honored to call my friends.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” — Katharine Hepburn
(Something I try to keep in mind, as a stringent rule-abider)
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?
I would have to say hands-down my parents. They have always been incedibly supportive despite not being the biggest theater fans. They probably thought I was possessed to want to get in front of big groups of people and talk. They have always been in my corner, trying to help me in whatever endeavor I chose, and for that I am so truly grateful.
You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂
Join me comrades, in the march to communism!! Jokes aside, I don’t know if I have all that much influence, but I would say that the movements that are most important to me, (and tend to go hand-in-hand) are the Black Lives Matter movement, and progressivism. Our country is in deep trouble, and so many Americans are having their most basic human needs ignored and impinged upon. It isn’t right. It isn’t just. And something must be done. I admire people like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, and organizations like the ACLU, for fighting on behalf of people who are being denied their most basic human rights.
We are very blessed that 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. 🙂
How can I pick just one!? Cruel question! Alright I will narrow it down to a few off the top of my head:
Sarah Ruhl, Julie Andrews, Greta Gerwig, Hayao Miyazaki, Taika Waititi, Rebecca Sugar, and Kristen Wiig.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can follow my instagram @HlaserWolf, or peek at my website: HelenLaser.com