While you have a talent and something to offer, don’t get caught up in the “BS” parts of acting professionally. All the people fussing over you are really just doing their job, they do your hair and makeup because it’s their job to make you look good. Same with the wardrobe. They aren’t fussing over you because you’re so special but rather because you are the product (actor) for the day and they care about their job.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Peggy Lane (Seinfeld, Will & Grace, King of Queens) a former child actress and is now a Producer and the Creator of the Award Winning International Web Series Donna On The Go. It was submitted for Emmy® consideration in 2017, 2018 and 2019. She has Written, Directed and/or Produced over 30 projects some of which have won Telly Awards, gone to Cannes and qualified for an Academy Award®.
Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Acting — It began with modeling. I had a weak right knee and took ballet lessons to strengthen it. One of the moms there told my mother, Dee, that I should try modeling. That seemed silly to us but we pursued it and after a while, I started to get some print work. It seemed fun probably because my parents did all the work. They drove downtown and figured out how to get places — all I had to do was show up!
Writing — I came to realize that even while working on the top shows on television, actors were mostly hired hands. Well paid hired hands but still, their input wasn’t usually taken and I could see the frustration in them. I started writing because of that.
Directing — In order to protect your writing or the idea you have in your head, you need to be able to direct it as well, if at all possible. At first, it’s pretty much volunteer work. Like anything, it’s a proof of concept.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Wow, that’s really hard. There’s quite a few. There are SO many ups and downs and the ups are what keep you going. One of the most interesting stories to me involves Molly Shannon. We’ve worked together on Seinfeld, Will & Grace, The Middle, Kath, and Kim and even a T Mobile commercial. I consider her a friend.
I coach actors as well as direct, write and produce and I got to help her prepare for her audition for the HBO show Divorce. We worked on her audition scenes a lot, even over the phone and on the day of her audition and even on her first day of filming. She worked so hard on that. And she got it!! She just wrapped the 3rd and final season of it.
What’s interesting to me is that I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of very famous award-winning actors and they still have insecurities. They still question their ability. They still get nervous. It never goes away. I would look at them sometimes and think “You’re Molly Shannon” or “You’re Margo Martindale” you’re amazing! And yet they still have doubts.
I got to coach Molly for Drama and Margo for Comedy. They were both a little out of their comfort zone and it was such a privilege to be able to help them feel more comfortable and have fun with it.
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 heard that you always say “yes” when you are asked if you have a skill in an audition. Like can you juggle? Sure. Sure I can juggle. Do you speak French? Sure. Sure I speak French. Whatever right? So I’m about 10 years old and I’m asked in an audition if I can ride a horse. And guess what I say? Sure. Sure I can ride a horse.
Then they ask English or American style. Despite the fact that I have NO IDEA what that question even means, I decide to say English because Americans always seem to think that Brits are superior. They seem impressed. A few hours later I get the call that I got the job!
Fortunately, it’s a Friday so I have time to learn. I have 2 days to learn how to ride a horse like an English person.
Turns out that means without a saddle! Or a lower saddle which of course is much harder.
I was able to train a little on Sat and Sun so going into the job on Monday I could barely even walk.
But I’m an English horseback rider right, so I walk in like I know exactly what I’m doing. Acting right?
This is a commercial so they have me riding a horse along the side of some picturesque water. The horse sizes me up and immediately knows I’m a fraud. I felt disdain. He tested me right away and knew instantly I didn’t know what I was doing.
So he decides to take a really long walk in the opposite direction of filming and then decides to gallop quickly. By now I’m hanging on for dear life and he’s got one more move in him. He would like a drink.
He heads for the water and goes in a little and decides to take a drink. By now I’ve nearly fallen off the horse and I’m terrified. Some of the crew and the horse wranglers are running after us and eventually catch up to us.
They decide they gave me the wrong horse. They wanted to give me an older slower one but someone accidentally gave me a young buck that was raring to go. They looked identical.
But while they were blaming the horse and each other, I knew the fault was mine. If I knew what I claimed I knew I could have controlled that situation better. They lost valuable time on set because I lied.
So, to this day I will not say I can do something if I can’t. I’ve turned work down because I knew I couldn’t do what they needed and didn’t want to hold up production.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Lately, I’ve been working non-stop on Donna On The Go. First, it was submitting it to the Emmys®, and now it’s Film Festivals. It’s a daily thing to keep track of all of them. As of this writing, we are in 150 film festivals taking us through Oct of 2020. We’ve won Best Web Series at 15 different festivals along with Best Director wins for Craig Hutchison (for JUDGE), Vince Deadrick Jr (for REALLY!) and for me (for MEETING & MAMMA) plus Best Script wins for Peggy Lane (JUDGE and MEETING & MAMMA). Our Lead Actress, Donna Russo has won Best Actress awards and has been nominated at many festivals as well.
In addition to that, I get to coach a lot of actors and a current student of mine has booked a lot of work in New York and I’m so proud of her!
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
Oh yay — I get to name drop again!
- Jerry Seinfeld. The most amazing and calm work ethic I have ever seen. A truly decent man who worked harder than anyone I’ve ever worked with. His name was on the show and he took tremendous pride in that. For example, the crew would start on Monday at around 7 am and work until around 7 pm. A 12 hour day. But not for Jerry, from there he would go to either editing or the writers’ room and work for hours.
- Margo Martindale. Getting to coach her on set was an honor and she trusted me because I had worked with Jimmy Burrows for 8 years on the original run of Will & Grace. When we shot the pilot episode of The Millers, she wanted to be “opening night ready” — like a play. I told her that sure it’s opening night but they’ve just rewritten the script on show day. Anyone who has worked on a multi-camera show (a sitcom shot in front of a live studio audience — usually) can attest that line changes come even while the studio audience is being seated. It’s not a format for the faint of heart. Getting to work with Margo, and find the characters throughline helped me become a better writer. Taking what I learned from her, I went back and worked on all the scripts I’d written to make sure each character had a sensible throughline. It’s so easy to sacrifice that for stories and jokes. What an actor the caliber of Margo looks for is a story and behavior that makes sense whatever the format.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I wish someone would tell me that! I can say that as I’ve gotten older, I really have to choose where I put my energy. What I commit to do and what I can or cannot devote 100% of my time to. There has to be some way for me to contribute and a way for me to be acknowledged for the work I do. I’ve worked on so many projects where someone took all the credit and most of these projects involve pulling favors from people whose respect I’ve earned. I refuse to do that anymore.
The other advice I would have is to have something else you love to do. Even if it’s watching movies or TV as research — you’re learning and relaxing. For me, I love animals, dogs and cats and I find that very healing.
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. 🙂
It’s an idea I’ve had for a long time and I hope someday I’m in a position to do it.
Profit-sharing for crew members.
I’ve worked on some of the most successful TV shows ever like Seinfeld, King of Queens, The Middle and Will & Grace…..and when those dream gigs end, the crew has to start all over and look for a new show. Sometimes they get to go to the next show, if there is one, but sometimes there are months and months without work. While the Creators, Executive Producers and Actors will continue to profit from that show (as they rightfully should — they made it successful), the crew (often thanked in award ceremonies) will not. I’d love to set up something where each dept. could share percentages of points so that they too could profit from their contributions.
The show Seinfeld has earned 3.1 billion since it went into syndication in 1995. That’s BILLION. Wouldn’t it be nice if the crew could get a few thousand a year for their time there so they don’t have to scramble every year to qualify for pension credits and health care and rent and mortgages?
A single “point” on a show can be worth millions — a point on a show like the aforementioned ones, can be worth as much as 25 million dollars. If the crew could “split” a point, say even 100 ways — (using the 25 million as an example) that’s about 250,000 for 100 people. Life-changing.
Crew members could be given the choice upfront — maybe even offsetting it with slightly lower union wages as to if they wanted to be a profit participant.
James Earl Jones was originally paid 7,000 dollars for voicing Darth Vader. He chose the salary, as he was “dead broke” at the time and declined the points that George Lucas offered him. He wanted and needed the money upfront.
So how much did James Earl Jones give up? In a 2010 interview on Live! With Regis and Kelly, Jones admitted that the decision to take cash instead of points eventually cost him “tens of millions of dollars.” It was probably much more than that, when you take inflation into account. For a comparison, Sir Alec Guinness accepted the points, and to date, his heirs have earned an estimated 95 million dollars from Star Wars.
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 began my career as a child actress and model at the age of 5.
- I wish I could go back and tell myself to be easier on myself. To not take myself so seriously. Take the work seriously, because they’re paying you but don’t take yourself so seriously.
- Have friends. Friends who aren’t in the business and wouldn’t be “competition.” That will keep you grounded.
- While you have a talent and something to offer, don’t get caught up in the bs parts of acting professionally. All the people fussing over you are really just doing their job, they do your hair and makeup because it’s their job to make you look good. Same with the wardrobe. They aren’t fussing over you because you’re so special but rather because you are the product (actor) for the day and they care about their job.
- Enjoy the moment. It’s easy to get all caught up in what time you will wrap, how far away is the next audition, will I ever work again….. but when you get the chance to act- whether it’s an actual job or an audition — enjoy it. For that moment — the role is yours.
- It’s an honorable profession this “business of show.” At its highest most noble level, it’s an insight into human behavior. It’s empathy. It’s a way to understand others without judging them. Don’t listen to those who say it’s a waste of time. It’s a noble profession.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I believe it’s a Mel Brooks quote: “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”
Always, always, always hope for the best and prepare for that too but I’ve found that in order to not completely fall apart, asking myself what’s the worst that could happen, and acknowledging that I’m okay with that means I accept the risk involved.
For example, if I were to get an audition for a role I believe I’m not right for or even have a chance in hell of getting….. what’s the risk? Looking foolish? Wasting my time? I’m okay with that, because the balance of that is getting in the audition room and maybe I’m right for the next thing they cast. Or maybe I convince them I’m right for this role. Who knows?
My Father was a WW11 Vet. He stressed the importance (life and death in his case) of thinking things thru. Of having a plan and a backup plan. Of factoring all the things that could wrong and having solutions for them. Turns out it’s an essential quality for a Producer to have!
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 Mother. She encouraged me when I was young to not be afraid. To really go for it and to have fun. Once when I was a kid probably around 10 or so, we were in Chicago coming out of another audition I didn’t get, although I think in this case I actually had booked the print job and had returned a few days later, (apparently a few lbs heavier because the pants were a bit snug), and was replaced — my mom asked me if I wanted to quit. I said no because who wants to be a quitter? Had she said it differently, like “would you rather do something else?”, I might have said yes, but “quit, no way! Who wants to be a quitter?
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. 🙂
Tina Fey, Tina Fey, TINA FEY!!! 30 Rock is brilliant, an absolutely perfect show and my goal is to be a Showrunner. It consumes every waking and sleeping hour of my life. In a small way I’ve been able to do that with Donna On The Go but I want to reach people on a much larger scale in the ways that Will & Grace and 30 Rock have.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Web site: https://www.peggy-lane.com/
Donna On The Go Web Site: https://www.donna-on-the-go.com/
Donna On The Go Facebook: @DonnaOnTheGo