“Scrub over here and it shines over there”. Basically the idea is that you work and work in one direction and you keep thinking and waiting for those doors to open but they don’t but then something else magical happens out of left field.
As a part of my series about TV’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Courtney Rackley. She is an actress and producer, known for Dealbreakers, Hand of God, and this is Why We’re Single. She attended Harvard’s MFA program at the American Repertory Theatre. She received her BFA from New York University. As an abstract painter, her passion for theatre keeps her moving between NYC & LA.
Thank you so much for joining us Courtney. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
My parents told me that in preschool I was always taking charge, organizing the class, not exactly sure what that would of looked like — running naptime?!
I have moved every year of my life right up till the last 10years. Parents divorced. They were really young, and I think trying to find themselves. So my childhood alternated between wanting to settle in somewhere and getting to reinvent myself every year. It made me a quirky kid for sure. Alternating between hiding in her room coloring or being the vice president of the school. Eating lunch alone in the math study hall or starring in the school play.
And I think that also shaped who I am as an artist. How I crave structure in order to have freedom within it. It’s like I want the boundaries of the words of a script, and then I’m able to be free within that. Also, there is no way to be “wrong” when it comes to creativity. I don’t feel in competition with anyone because my take is uniquely mine.
My voice, my expression of character — it feels empowering. And producing has been another way of being able to keep that part of me alive without waiting for permission. I also think it was my way of creating a community. A family for support and that I could support. Structure within the structure.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I don’t remember not producing stuff: playdates, game nights, girl scouts, camp counselors, reunions, art shows, readings, parties, plays and then the minute I turned 15, I started working in management. I double majored at NYU in theatre and photography. I love the feeling of disappearing into another world, I think that’s why acting has stuck. Acting provides the freedom of entering into another world. For me, art in any form forces you to be present in a way that allows for the disappearance of self. Out of my head, my ego and in service to a story.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I crashed a network session. I didn’t know you couldn’t. I just heard about this show from my roommate and she said I should audition. I thought I was crashing auditions but by the time I got all the information and showed up, they were all the way to network callbacks. I somehow managed to get onto the lot and into the head of NBC’s office without so much as having an appointment or being on any list. I mean this was right after 9/11 and security was at an all-time high. Turns out the network execs can’t watch your audition at that point without a pre-deal in place. So about 15 network execs came out because they had to leave the room while I auditioned for the showrunner and casting director, 2 women. If I had gotten the job, this would be a great story… however… Everyone was so shocked and blown away that I had gotten this far… that was all anyone was paying attention to. At that point, the drama of it all far exceeded anything I could have done in the room.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Just finished DEALBREAKERS. I’m on the shortlist for the Sundance producing fellowship with my first feature. Have another short-form series in pre-production for a new online network. And I’ve been writing and painting a lot while I wait to see whether we need to write Season 2 for DEALBREAKERS.
I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Everyone is special and unique just like everyone else. It’s an equal playing field and everyone’s stories are important. They are important for our culture or how will we learn, grow and evolve as people. To see things from a perspective we might not share or even have experience with.
That being said, I’ve been guilty and paid the consequences. I once did a shoot with ALL women. Written, directed, produced and crewed… I didn’t pay any attention to who was the BEST for the job or getting different perspectives. I wanted women and diversity. It was right around the Women’s March and it was an interesting learning experience. Not all of them, but on the whole, here we are fighting for equality and the women treated the men on set, who were mostly assistants, terrible. I was horrified. It’s not just about diversity but how those in power treat each other, of all races and sexes.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?
- Say “Yes”! Be willing to play and show up.
- Doubt yourself and do it anyway. It’s always my business what I think about me.
- You are competing with no one but yourself. So bring what YOU have to offer.
- What color are their eyes? I always try to leave an audition or a meeting and find out the color of their eyes, that way I know I was with them.
- You learn by listening. You only know what you already know if you are talking.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Before my first show, FIRSTS THE SERIES ended up on Amazon, nothing was happening with it. It was supposed to be a big hit and go to series and nothing happened. In fact, the opposite happened. My agents dropped me. My lawyer dropped me. The show was represented and IT got dropped. No one was calling me back. I was devastated. So I threw my dogs in the car and drove home to Colorado, where I spent the summer herding cattle, going to yoga and hanging at the dog park. I knew that I wasn’t “right sized” about it. That nothing should be THAT important. My whole identity was wrapped up in that show going, and I’m sure it suffocated as a result.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
When we made DEALBREAKERS, I wanted it to be a show about how people REALLY want to connect. And how with the best of intentions we don’t. And I thought that by seeing a lifetime of someone (me) trying to meet “the one” and failing — that might help or give insight to others. I didn’t want it to be crazy ladies and jerks, but real people trying to connect… and then you know, add the funny. God willing, I already have season 2, 3 mapped out.
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?
So many people have helped make my dreams/ projects come true. Nobody makes anything without a whole crew of people wanting to help. For the past 2 years I’ve been working with director Colin Campbell who is the most optimistic, patient and helpful collaborator. He made Dealbreakers what it is.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Scrub over here and it shines over there”. Basically the idea that you work and work in one direction and you keep thinking and waiting for those doors to open but they don’t but then something else magical happens out of left field.
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?
Whitney Wolfe. I made DEALBREAKERS with BUMBLE in mind and the fact that she has managed to create a whole brand/world from adversity — THAT is inspiring.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
· Instagram: courtneyrackley_
· Twitter: @crackley
· DEALBREAKERS TRAILER- https://vimeo.com/320545889
· FACEBOOK- Courtney Rackley