…Social movements are what inspire me, and we as a world are still struggling with the basic concept of equality. If I could inspire anyone to look at everyone else with compassion, as equals, and to follow the most basic golden rule of “Treat other the way you want to be treated,” I think we as a society could begin to make leaps and bounds in other areas. But until everyone is treated with empathy and respect, I don’t know how we can even begin to think about other things.
As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Principi.
Michelle is a Boston native who moved to New York to pursue a career in acting. Since arriving a few years ago, she has appeared in several television series, commercials, web series, social media & digital ads, and independent films. Even mid-global-pandemic, she spends her time auditioning, taking digital classes, and adapting to the ever changing landscape on the entertainment industry.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was young, I found my home in the performing arts. I was painfully shy and introverted (still true) but the moment I stepped on stage for a dance recital or school play, something clicked and I became a brand new person. I decided I never wanted to let that feeling go, and chose to devote myself to acting as a way to keep that self-expression active, and to be the happiest, best version of myself.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
On a whim a few years ago I submitted and was chosen for a holiday fashion segment on NBC. I had a fun time, and moved on to other projects. Then, when it aired, I suddenly got messages from family and friends I hadn’t spoken to in ages. It was my first time seeing the ripple effect of appearing on TV and being recognized, and it truly made me feel special, even just for a day.
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?
A rookie mistake that I will never live down — I skimmed an audition notice instead of reading it thoroughly, and when I showed up with my monologue prepared I was mortified to hear those who were auditioning before me getting ready to perform a SECOND monologue. There was no way I could memorize and perfect a comedic Shakespearean monologue in 10 minutes, so when I though nobody was looking I kicked my bag down a hallway, grabbed it, and ran as if my life depended on it. I refused to look back to see what kind of a scene I had caused. Thankfully, that is the only time I have had to literally flee from an audition. And you can BET I have never made that mistake again — read ALL the requirements at least three times before accepting an audition invite!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am a regular on the Conde Nast series “Culturally Speaking.” It is exciting to be asked back each season, and to watch the reaction videos people around the world make to them!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
The one instance that comes to mind is when I was doing background work on a series shooting in Boston. It was mid-January, filming outdoors, and mind numbingly cold. We were mercifully allowed into a building to warm up where I and the other background actors quickly took our shoes and socks off to regain some circulation and feeling in our feet. I was sat next to Peter Facinelli, who looked quite confused as to what was going on. I didn’t realize who he was, and essentially apologized for the shoeless bonanza while also steadfastly refusing to put them back on until absolutely necessary. I didn’t realize until the show aired who I had been talking to while giving myself a foot massage, and needless to say I was quite embarrassed for my past self.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
From a young age, I was taught that if this career is something you don’t need to do with every fiber of your being, it’s going to be a hard road. You have to have that conversation with yourself, and know that if there is anything else you can see yourself doing in life, then that is the path you should follow, for your own mental well-being and fulfillment. Burn out is unavoidable, sadly. But knowing that, and knowing the signs of it, means you can find ways to cope with it. If you feel burned out, take a step back, get off social media and stop comparing your journey to everyone else’s, and do something entirely unrelated to this industry. Cook, read, go for a walk — keep your mind occupied with anything else, and give yourself time to remember why you love to do this, and to miss doing it.
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?
You are going to fail more times than you succeed, but the mark of someone who will reach their goals is the person who keeps moving forward despite setbacks. Embrace failure! Failure means that you have tried, and that you are working. Failure is not the worst thing — inaction and apathy are. Yes, failure can hurt, but the moment you do not care and it does not hurt anymore, you know you have nowhere else to go. As long as you care enough to feel the sting of failure or rejection, you will keep pushing forward and keep working towards your goals. That passion and drive are so rare these days, and it is a beautiful thing to have.
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.
Every morning, I make it a point to exercise and stretch. No matter what happens in the day, I know I have accomplished something by moving my body. Also, 10 minutes of yoga every morning is a new practice I have picked up this year, and it truly helps me feel grateful to myself and reminds me to treat myself gently. Ultimately, that is my best tip: treat yourself gently and with kindness. Make sure to get your work done, but don’t deny yourself rest and relaxation. Once I started to be aware of what my body needs (maybe a mid-day nap, or a giant bowl of ice cream during a stressful week), I began to see my overall mood improve, and functioned better on a day to day basis.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t be afraid of the word “No.” — There were certain projects or classes I wouldn’t even considered applying for or taking, because I was certain I would be rejected. Once I shook off that mindset and stuck my neck out for anything that interested me, I realized more doors would open, and more people would ultimately give me a chance. Even if those chances ended in rejection, I still got farther than I would have if I never tried. For example: I applied to a role I knew I wasn’t suited for, but the project itself seemed very cool, and I wanted to be a part of it in any capacity. The director sent me a message saying I wasn’t a fit for that character, but as it happened the lead role had just opened up and she thought I would be a good fit. I booked the role, and from that moment knew I would apply to anything I was even the smallest fit for. You never know what can happen.
- It isn’t personal. — The inclination is to feel like a failure as a person when rejected, or not even given the chance to read for a role, especially when you’re being judged solely on a headshot. It’s easy to thing, “Am I not good enough, attractive enough, emotive enough?” The fact is, you never know what is going on behind the scenes. I may apply to a role where they have already cast a tall brunette, and having the two of us on screen at the same time may not be aesthetically pleasing. I will never know the behind the scene machinations and decisions, so I cannot let myself take things personally. It’s not a dig at me, it’s just the way things work.
- Pay your dues. — It is rare, if ever, that you will find resounding success on your first try. You have to do the work. I spent my first year in New York doing every non-paying, student film, indie production I could. I needed the experience, and I needed to build a portfolio and reel however possible. I still to this day will do one of those non-paying projects if the role strikes me as interesting or different than what I have on my reel. It is rare that anyone will trust you to play a character in a large project if you have not proven your ability to play that character. Be prepared to work hard, in tough environments with no glamour, in order to work your way up.
- Social media is your best friend and worst enemy. — In this day and age, every actor or performer needs a social media presence. Often in casting calls they will ask for your Instagram, and I have booked paid jobs off of my social media profiles. It’s just how the world works now, and it is important to network with people in the industry and social media is the way to do it. However, I make a point to “mute” or “unfollow” anyone who causes me self-doubt or makes me feel at all badly about what I am doing. Comparison is a brutal thing, and as much as I want to support other artists in their journeys, I recognize that for the sake of my mental health I need to avoid seeing everyone post about their successes when I am in a slump. I want everyone to feel proud, and share their achievements — I will do the same thing! But knowing how down on myself I can get when I feel like I am not at their level, or getting the same chances as them, I avoid inundating myself with notifications about everyone else. I know that I need social media in my career, but I also know that it can cause horrible anxiety. It is a fine line to walk, so proceed with caution!
- Be. Nice. — It’s so simple, and yet so many people never grasp the concept. Everyone you meet could impact your career, and it takes so much effort to be angry and unkind, so why would you ever not treat people with kindness? Additionally, I cannot tell you how many times I have been cast in a role without auditioning because I showed up, did my job, and was not only easy to work with but pleasant to work with. Why hold another round of auditions and callbacks when you remember an actor who gave a solid performance and was great to have around? Kindness will get you far. That is not to say you should be a doormat — if someone in a position of power is taking advantage of you, you need to have a backbone and speak up. But never sink to the level of being rude, or spiteful. Rise above it, go into every situation with a positive attitude, grateful that you are getting to experience an industry many people can only dream of, and people will take notice and want to help you achieve great things.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The quote that has stuck with me from childhood to now is from The Lord of the Rings: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” There are so many things outside of our control, and it is easy to feel powerless in the grand scheme of things. But while you cannot control others, or how the world works, you can control what you do and how you live your life. Go after things you want — in twenty years you will be able to look back without regret, knowing you did everything you could and lived your life in pursuit of happiness.
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?
My best friend (and also roommate!) is instrumental in keeping me going and moving forward. Every self-tape I need to submit, every audition piece I need to rehearse, every headshot or clip I need opinions on — she is there, encouraging me and helping me. From childhood she has been behind me, giving me pep talks when I need them and smacking sense into me (metaphorically speaking) when I doubt myself. There is no way I would be where I am today without her, and I am eternally grateful to have her in my life. Fun fact: she is also named Michelle!
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. 🙂
Wow, there are so many things I wish I could influence. Ultimately, social movements are what inspire me, and we as a world are still struggling with the basic concept of equality. If I could inspire anyone to look at everyone else with compassion, as equals, and to follow the most basic golden rule of “Treat other the way you want to be treated,” I think we as a society could begin to make leaps and bounds in other areas. But until everyone is treated with empathy and respect, I don’t know how we can even begin to think about other things.
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. 🙂
What I wouldn’t give to sit down with Meryl Streep for a private lunch! She is everything I aspire to be. She has spoken about the struggles and rejections she has faced, and the way the industry was almost determined to not accept her. Now, she is one of the most prolific actors in history, and the chance to speak with her about those challenges, and how she feels about her life and career would be a dream.
How can our readers follow you online?
Find me on Instagram!
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!