…I think mental health is one of the things emphasized the least and needed the most. Greater acceptance that mental illness is a true struggle for many and abolishing the shame that people who suffer often feel because of it. I think self-worth should be taught as readily as drug awareness. From the start, I want every child to know that each and every one of them are more than enough and deserve greatness no matter their limitations physically, mentally, financially or environmentally. I’d really love to start a mentorship program for children and advocate for mental health and well-being to implemented into formal education.
As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeanine Bartel.
Jeanine is a proud member of SAGAFTRA and AEA. She is a mom, actor, acting coach, narrator, writer, producer, hopeful director, and works in all mediums of the industry. Select credits include:
TV/Web: FBI, Blindspot, Chicago PD, The Blacklist, Bull, Law & Order: SVU, Nurse Jackie, Carrie Diaries, Manhattan Love Story, L&O; Criminal Intent, The Real Page Turner, Exit Zero, East.
Film: Yes, My Dinner with Schwartzey, Less Heat in Arizona, Elegy, Prodigals’ Road.
Theatre: The Problem of Verisimilitude, Oh, My Goodness, Unmentionables, Macbeth, Love’s Labour’s Lost.
She loves indie film for stretching her range and exploring all kinds of characters. She coaches privately for on-camera audition technique, self-tape and on-set preparation, auditions and on-going study. www.jeaninebartel.com
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I like to say, I started as a dancer at 3 and they just wouldn’t let me talk, so I moved into acting, but honestly, I am a story teller. I lived in my imagination most of my childhood, creating the worlds around me and playing with the most fascinating friends. (Just so happens most of them were conjured up in my mind!) It is no surprise that I ventured down this path. I love to create, to embody all kinds of characters and bring truth to their experience. As an actor, I get to dive into so many different lives and hopefully, through my work, start a conversation, share a new perspective, educate, empathize, and honor people’s stories.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
It would be hard to pick just one. I guess it’s the feeling of coming full circle. I had an opportunity to work on a project years ago and it was so happenstance. I was reading a script on the subway and a voice from over my shoulder asked if I was doing “that” play. I got nervous because I was shooting an excerpt of a play for an NYU student film and didn’t want to get anyone in trouble. We got to talking and I saw he had an envelope with William Morris in the upper corner. I asked what he did, and it turned out he was a screenwriter. Somewhere from within, my boldness rose and I asked if I could give him my headshot. He welcomed it- never hurts to ask! We parted ways and the next day a director called. That kind gentleman had given my headshot to the director who was workshopping a reading of one of his plays. I auditioned the next day and was cast in the most fun play with an amazing group of talents. In that reading, I met people who others would know as TV stars, who I admired, who literally offered me a hand. The producer, a known TV actor offered to come have breakfast with me and his manager the next morning, as I had a callback for a film he had a cameo in. Another actress introduced me to her agent. Nothing came to be from that particular meeting for me as far as a representative, and I didn’t end up getting that part, but it planted a seed, that whenever given the opportunity to assist someone a little bit behind you on the journey, you give your time or make a call. On top of all that goodness, nearly 15 years later I was cast in a TV show as a co-star; just a morning of work. But one of the fine actors I had worked with in that reading, when I was unbelievably green, was cast as a Guest Star. I reminded him of our connection… and then had the opportunity to pay it forward. He had just been cast, had tons of dialogue and had just flown in. We ran lines, we played, we had become colleagues and peers. It’s a lesson in the journey: make the most of each step, be a sponge whenever around others who are further along, be courageous when needing guidance or a helping hand, and then whenever you can; be that mentor, guide or friend to someone else.
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 look back now at the crazy things I did when I first got here and just laugh. I used to stay up and get Backstage as soon as it hit the newsstands at 4am. I’d have all my headshots in the mail by 6am. At that time, nothing was online and that kind of effort and drive (aka craziness) produced results, as mine were often the first headshots an office received. I’d scour the paper and get to every open call at 5 am and just wait to be seen.
One of the first auditions I attended was for a BMW Industrial. Wayne Cilento was choreographing and my little hopeful mind just sat in line like I had every right to be there. I got onto the stage and it seriously was like a scene from A Chorus Line: “5,6,7,8 … GO!” The room was filled with Broadway level, trained dancers. I held my own, even if my tail was a bit between my legs most of the time. When I left, the line was around the corner. I had no idea the legendary reputation Mr. Cilento held when I started my day. I just knew I had always loved to dance and I needed a job. I went home that afternoon and took “Dancer” off my resume and replaced it with “Actor who Moves”. What I love about that experience is the reminder of what I brought to everything when I was just starting out, an eagerness and a bit of good naivete. I would go to every open call and just throw my name in the hat with whatever I had in me. I’ve learned now to be more discerning in the auditions I choose to pursue and also more aware of the auditors’ time should I really not be trained for or the right person for the job, but there is something beautiful about believing you have as much of a chance as anyone and just going for it. That idea, I try to hold on to. Why not me?
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m currently shooting the remainder of season 1 for an independent TV series called East, created by Dana Marisa Schoenfeld. I love the character I am fortunate to play. She has no social filter and is completely unapologetic- at least in her public life. As the series continues, I’m hoping we get to see a bit more of the pain under that behavior.
During the pandemic, I was asked to join a group of actors for weekly meetings on zoom to work our craft and keep our creative spirits alive. When we came to David Rabe’s Hurlyburly, we knew we’d found the piece to focus on. The desperation, mental anguish and isolation in this play are profound and, although set in a different time, speaks so much to what we’ve all endured this year. I am fortunate to be a part of this brilliant ensemble of actors working to bring a revival of Hurlyburly to New York City this Fall.
I have also been collaborating with two actresses who have become friends over the years, Liz Samuel and Julie Zelman. We’re developing a series that brings attention to women’s issues that rarely get talked about openly. Come to think about it, that also has a thread of exploring public behavior versus private, personal experience; the masks we wear, especially in social media. I am fortunate that on both of these projects I also love the people I get to work with. It makes all the difference. Finally, I am adapting a few of the short stories I have written into short films that I’d like to produce; some to star in and some to direct.
Up next for me, the short film Robot and the independent feature, Ramsey.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I have been fortunate to work with so many wonderful people and amazing talents. The most interesting of them are the ones that open up and share their stories. It is in the hours waiting to go to set or the in-between moments in a very long shoot, that often people open up to you, share motivational experiences, or funny stories about their life or the business. At times, you just become the exact person someone else needs in a challenging moment in their life. You might share a story that others need to hear or are present while another unknowingly needs a friend. As actors, our greatest gift is our humanity. We become so much more than co-workers, often we become friends or inspirations for each other.
I’ll share one story about a man that made me feel very special early on in my career. I was hired as a background actor for a very rare commercial to air during the Academy Awards. Actresses whose work I greatly admire were the stars; Susan Sarandon, Eva Mendez, Julianne Moore, Kate Bosworth, and Halle Berry. I was to play Ms. Berry’s dresser in the commercial. The campaign had its stars but because I was helping her dress, my face kept ending up in the shot. The agency was pretty determined to keep the stars as the only principals. The loveliest, most talented, and gentle-hearted director, Robert Altman, came over to me and held my face in his hand and said “Why can’t we see this beautiful face?” I still didn’t make it into that spot, but the fact that this legendary director who had worked with so many of our greatest talents, thought mine was as worthy a face to fill his frame as these gorgeous stars, made me realize that so much of this business isn’t worthiness, it’s a matter of opinion or bottom line. Mr. Altman gave me the gift of feeling we are each more than enough.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I believe you should absolutely do something for your craft every day, especially on those days where you feel defeated. If you don’t book a gig or even get in the room, give yourself a little time to mourn the job or opportunity, then get back up and never let anyone stand in the way of you doing what you love. For me, it was essential to find balance, to find the life outside of acting, to be a mom to an amazing little girl, to have beautiful friendships, travel, explore, take risks, and learn new things. Our job is to live life truthfully on a stage or in front of a camera, so the more life experience you have, the more you bring to the table. When I first began, I didn’t believe I could ever turn down a job or audition; I’d never say “No”. I learned, in order to do my best work and pursue the business with sanity, patience and joy, I had to say “Yes” to so many other things that filled me. It is also essential to listen to your spirit. If you need to take a break or work a job so you can afford to pursue your craft with more ease, take care of a family member or take an amazing adventure, you should. Fill your soul with whatever speaks to you and trust you will return with a greater joy. I also learned that it is ok if, at any point, you find you prefer another path. I’ve seen many friends (extremely talented ones) decide this life is not for them and that is not failure, that is choosing another journey. That hasn’t happened for me, but knowing that possibility exists allows me to keep checking in and making sure the life I’ve chosen is still bringing me joy, because it is often a very challenging one.
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?
Thank you. I do think success is relative to every individual. I feel successful in that all my work now comes from being a performer, performance-related jobs or coaching other actors. It wasn’t always that way. I have been doing this for over 20 years and I feel very fortunate that opportunities keep coming, whether I create them for myself or they are presented to me. I believe if you truly love your craft, you will keep going regardless of what gets thrown at you. Not to say that it is easy by any means, but if you look at each audition as an opportunity to do what you love, get better at your craft and share a bit of yourself with those around you, as opposed to a job to win or lose, then you are just on the journey of your career. There is no rejection, no failure, only steps. Each day challenges you, but also makes you better and stronger. When you put in the work and dedication to your craft, you begin to trust that you are more than enough and that what you bring into the room is uniquely yours. Think of it as an offering or a gift that you share with no expectation in return.
There’s a beauty in getting to the level where you know everyone in the room is extremely talented and each of you could do that job really well, but differently… you release the pressure of getting it right, because there is no right, only choices. Sure, you want the job but knowing that so much goes into the decision-making, and only one person gets each job, has really given me the freedom to do my work, bring the version only I can bring to the table, and then trust. That one job may not be yours, but you’ve left an imprint and then I think YOUR jobs find you.
There’s a great saying, “What’s meant for you will never miss you and that which misses you was never meant for you.”
All that said, of course there will be days that challenge your spirit, self-worth, positivity, and career choice. On those days, allow yourself time to feel it all, find a friend, do something you love, and then come back with a renewed spirit.
There are also tangible things you can do in moments that feel like defeat or are challenging.
Keep a folder on your computer- whenever you receive a really nice affirmation of your work, great feedback from an audition, do a self-tape you felt great about submitting, or share a post when on a high after an audition or gig (anything that makes you feel on top of your game as a performer/artist), tuck it away in that folder. In those moments when you question your talent or if you are cut out for this career, take a moment to read and watch those treasures. It is a reminder of moments your talent felt appreciated and more importantly, moments you know you rocked; moments you believed in yourself and felt like you are doing exactly what you are meant to do…. It refuels your tank!
A few years ago, I started a little tradition. Whenever I book a gig, go out of town for a job, attend a big premiere or work I am really proud of is nominated or celebrated, I buy a little keepsake, a reminder of that moment. For me that is usually a piece of funky jewelry, not necessarily expensive just something that I love and know I will wear often. In this career, we have a lot of defeats, a lot of hard moments or times when it feels like nothing is happening, but whenever I wear those special pieces, I am reminded that I have also had amazing achievements and highs along the way.
I want to acknowledge that we are living in a time where we can’t not be changed by the pain and uncertainty in the air we breathe. I have offered a lot of positivity and things that have helped me over the years, but what we’re experiencing globally and internally right now is immense. And I think we have to give ourselves grace. This time will challenge everyone in different ways. It will test you to find your deepest reserves of self, of confidence, of feeling enough, of holding on to all you’ve worked on and all you’ve grown to be; of understanding your purpose. It may make you question whether you are on the right path or on a path at all. If you are finding, like I often am, that all you normally do to feel strong or confident, brave or bold, determined or productive, are not serving you, you are not alone. It is ok to hit pause, it is ok to cry, to hurt, to not be productive for a bit, to feel the pain and the questioning and then do whatever you can to not sit in it for too long. Sometimes we need to find new ways to keep going, to ask for help or support, to step away from all that frustrates us and find something new we love that brings us joy and do that thing for a bit. Trust that all your experience and all you have done to get to where you are, are not lost. We are very much living in the unknown, at a pause in the road, that may need re-paving… but you are still on your path.
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 aim to work out every day so that on the days I miss I don’t worry about it. 10 minutes of yoga on a really busy day can do wonders to get your blood flowing and clear your mind, but a lengthy work out is fantastic, when possible. I love being fit, but it is essential for me to move my body in order for my mind to stay calm and clear. I love alternating kickboxing and yoga, each has such a different energy, an intensity or calm, that feed me physically as well as mentally. I try to do at least 100 push-ups a day because it makes me feel strong and a sense of accomplishment.
I am also a big fan of journaling. Whenever my mind is talking louder than me, I put pen to paper. You’d be amazed how differently you feel once the thoughts are out of your body and just have somewhere else to go. There is also something visceral about thoughts passing from your mind, down your body, through your hand and onto the page. It’s a physical connection and then writing them, essentially handing them to something outside of you so when you lift your pen from the page, they are no longer yours. A new favorite, journaling in the dark. I am less judgmental of my thoughts and just let my mind go to the places it may be afraid to go in the light. And if writing feels like too much, talking out loud into a recorder is another great way to talk yourself through something. It’s almost like an acting exercise. Talk to the other person “in the scene”, find out what you want and get clarity on how to get it. Sometimes the answer or the calming thoughts come as you are processing out loud. These are also great tools because you are able to go back later and read or listen for clarity, growth or reflection.
I’ve rediscovered my love for painting and sketching and find it to be extremely pacifying and cathartic. I’ve recently started visualizing every day. We are visual people, seeing the things you want with you in the frame, really helps bring it into focus.
Finally, I believe forgiveness is a huge aspect of both self-care and peace of mind. Whether you are seeking it or offer it, and whether you are able to get it from the person you feel you’ve wronged or if you’ve tried and it’s just not being offered or no longer possible, learning to forgive yourself with the promise to do better is essential to a clear, present, hopeful heart and mind.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
– You are more than enough, just as you are! I hope I’ve shared examples of this throughout this interview.
– Yes, it’s a visual medium, but for audition, it is less about the clothes and such. Dress simply, tell the story, and let you and your work shine through. Years ago, I had an audition for a pilot and I was just having one of those days and not feeling very good about myself. I’d tried on every outfit, and wanted to crawl back under the covers (yup, we all have them). With minutes to get out the door to arrive on time, I literally stood in front of the mirror and gave myself a pep talk. Loosely quoting myself here ~ “You are playing a mother who has to protect her child. You are a mother and you would do anything for your child. Does it matter what you look like or what you would be wearing?”
With a resounding “NO” echoing in my mind, I put my hair in a bun, put on a simple maroon top and maroon pants, ran out the door, and BOOKED that job!
– The things that are obstacles in your life will be obstacles in your work. If you need therapy for it in your life, it will probably show up in your work in one way or another. So, work on yourself, find your inner peace, be gentle and kind to yourself. I think this one is somewhat self-explanatory, but as an actor, when my mind is cluttered with the should-a, could-a, would-a’s or just trying to do too much, I can’t make good or strong choices. If this year has truly taught me anything, it’s that so much is out of my control. When everything is spinning, if I choose to deal only with the thing in front of me and not give weight or worry to anything else, I have a much better handle on life. Same goes for my work, if I sit and breathe in the moment, connect with my reader or the other actors I’m fortunate to work with, I can listen and respond only to the task or person in front of me, keeping me out of my head and in the moment.
– Don’t postpone your life. Let your life fuel, add to, and complement your work. I think everything we do gives us a deeper wealth to draw from when creating or understanding a character. Traveling, doing charity work, exploring, meeting people from different cultures and backgrounds of all kinds, give us a deeper humanity and a greater appreciation of both the things that are universally human and the details that you get to color in with your own experience.
– Find your people, the ones that remind you how awesome you are, that lift you up, that help you and are there for you. Find the actors, writers, directors, and people that believe in you, whose work you love, and help each other. Find the people outside the business that remind you of all the other things that bring you joy that don’t come from your art!
My friends, whether they be the one person sitting in the back of the off-off-off Broadway black box or listening the umpteenth time I’ve shared a hurt I can’t quite figure out or sitting in silence together while we hold space for each other’s hopes and fears, the ones that make me laugh or encourage me by their own determination in the pursuit of their dreams, the ones that make me feel sane by being just as crazy as I am, or the ones who are always there, are the reminder of what’s important in life: living every moment fully, surrounding yourself with love, joy, laughter & friendship.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I think so many of us find art so that we can express our true selves. We have a passion burning and we want to set it free, but often we feel like we are not enough or too much. I know that has been my biggest limiting belief and self-saboteur. I read this quote often as a reminder that we are here with purpose, perfectly designed; we are just the right amount of enough and should we limit it, should we not live in our truth, we aren’t serving ourselves or anyone else. I truly believe we are put here to light a path for each other and to ignite each other’s spark when it goes dim.
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 think so many people contribute to your journey. My parents have absolutely always been in my corner, rooting me on from afar, even if they would have preferred I’d gone into accounting! They have listened to me cry from many a cab, audition stairwell, and yes, even a telephone booth. They have viewed a million self-tapes and given thoughts despite being somewhat horrified by the character I was playing or words I was saying. They have been my safe haven through it all.
Richard Allen was a professor of mine in college. He became my mentor and has since become one of my best friends. He was one of the first people to tell me (and make me believe) I could make people laugh. Years ago, he gave me an opportunity to come back to TCU as an alumnus to speak about the industry, teach audition and self-tape technique and how to bring themselves to their work. In entrusting me with time and space to teach the students he loves, life came full circle, the mentee became the mentor. There is no greater gift than being trusted to pass on the gifts you have been given. Richard has been there encouraging me throughout my entire career.
When I first moved to NY, my Aunt Lisa and Uncle Bryan let me live with them, in the days when I really had so much more work to do on myself as a human… and they loved me & let me stay anyway. They let me fail and gave me the space I needed to figure out how to get back up again. And they have been a safe space to return to for both myself and my daughter for years. They say you can’t choose your family. I feel so fortunate for mine. Lisa is still one of my very best friends.
Speaking of friends… my goodness, I just have the most incredible group of friends, and women especially, who empower each other, who listen when you need an ear, extend the flashlight when you can’t find your way, and are there to remind you of your strengths and all you are when you can’t see it. I am extremely blessed in that way.
Finally, my daughter; Mackenzie is my greatest love and my greatest teacher. I truly believe becoming a mother helped me find my greatest purpose. In my quest to find balance between having a successful career and being proud of the mother I am, I realized how very important and essential it is for me to have both; to pursue the career I have dedicated my life to, and always be there for my most favorite human no matter the juggle or struggle.
Mackenzie, is also my greatest reflection. Through her, I see the person I’d like to be, the empathetic heart I’d like to possess, the kindness and encouragement I always want to offer. When I feel down, especially in my career, Mackenzie always reminds me of my dreams, my worth, and her belief in me. Which, ironically and beautifully, reminds me that somewhere along the way I taught her the importance of holding both, belief in yourself and empowering others.
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. 🙂
I think mental health is one of the things emphasized the least and needed the most. Greater acceptance that mental illness is a true struggle for many and abolishing the shame that people who suffer often feel because of it. I think self-worth should be taught as readily as drug awareness. From the start, I want every child to know that each and every one of them are more than enough and deserve greatness no matter their limitations physically, mentally, financially or environmentally.
I’d really love to start a mentorship program for children and advocate for mental health and well-being to implemented into formal education.
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. 🙂
Cate Blanchett and Olivia Wilde. Cate has a fearless way in which she speaks and seemingly approaches her work. Her choices are bold, her characters varied and I can never take my eyes off of her in film and on stage, plus she speaks freely with wit and humor and always gives a great interview. I think Olivia has transitioned from a talented actor to a fantastic director and producer focusing on female-centric projects. She follows that through in her work as an activist and advocate for women’s rights. Both of these fierce women are also somehow balancing motherhood with their brilliant work.
How can our readers follow you online?
You can always check out my work at www.jeaninebartel.com or see what’s happening on Instagram @jeanine.bartel
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!