Meditation is my biggest ‘non-negotiable.’ I like to bookend my day with that and gratitude journal writing to maintain my best shape mentally and spiritually. After years of making this a priority I know it’s value for me and wouldn’t miss a day for anything, even if somedays are more truncated than others.
As a part of our interview series with the rising stars in pop culture, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laurel Harris.
Laurel Harris is an American Actress perhaps best known as Willem Dafoe’s wife in the screen adaptation of Dean Koontz’s best selling novel, ODD THOMAS, and is loved by young girls worldwide for the American Girl film, SAIGE PAINTS THE SKY, opposite Jane Seymour. Laurel is also an award winning writer/producer garnering an EMMY from the Heartland chapter, and multiple NATOA and TELLY Awards. While she has voiced countless television and radio commercials, her most recent narration for the feature length documentary, THE DALAI LAMA — SCIENTIST, premiered at the prestigious 76th Annual Venice International Film Festival in Italy to a full house, standing- room-only crowd of enthusiasts with Nobel Peace Laureate, Betty Williams in attendance for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as well as other celebrities and the representative to the European Union.
Thank you so much for joining us Laurel! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Mymother would say I was destined for it from age two, since that’s when she swore I started performing for the family. She’d reminded me of this often with a really kind and confident smile. She’d always say, “we’ll never be a big enough stage for you,” and constantly encouraged me to follow my passions. I guess that’s why I felt complete freedom when I blasted the television and sang at the top of my lungs every Saturday morning to the opening of Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand,” while leaping off our pink loveseat for my glorious grand finale…every…week. (Yes, I just completely dated myself. And, I think it was worth it?)
Later, when I started dance lessons, I inhaled all things dance and really believed I would be a professional ballerina with the American Ballet Theater. Truth be told, it was also because I was too afraid to actually SPEAK on stage, and felt way more comfortable expressing myself through my entire body as my instrument. After several injuries in my teens, I realized my body wasn’t gonna make it as a professional dancer, and it might just be a sign to switch to acting. I was terrified, but signed up for a drama class in High School and was HOOKED. I guess the rest is history.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
There have honestly been so many, it’s hard to pick just one! Though one of my favorite stories is getting the role of Karla Porter in “Odd Thomas,” opposite Willem Dafoe. I had originally auditioned for a much smaller, “under five” role, of an angry woman yelling a couple of lines in a short scene. I had just had a fight with my then boyfriend prior to auditioning, so I guess I nailed it because the next thing I know, I got a call to audition for a “very significant role” opposite an A-list actor who would remain nameless. They wanted someone that fit very specific criteria, such as certain credits and experience, of which I had none. I told my agent and she said the casting director and team still insisted I audition. Well, in a nutshell, I thought I completely bombed the audition. I misinterpreted the scenes, made it much more dramatic than necessary, and literally laughed out loud at myself the entire way home. I remember thinking, “they’d have to be absolutely crazy to hire me. I did a horrible audition and didn’t even fit what they were asking for anyway. They’ll go with a name actress. Next!” You can imagine how completely frozen I was when I got the call that I booked it! My agent said everyone was shocked, but congrats nonetheless!” The word “surreal” comes to mind when I think back on that entire experience.
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?
Once upon a time I worked as a DJ for a radio station in my home state of Colorado. Maybe because I was so excited to have the job, and maaaaybe because I was too embarrassed to admit that I really had no clue what I was doing, there might have been (several) occasions where I mispronounced the names of celebrities and such, and got ‘schooled’ from listeners calling in to correct me.
The worst time was was when I mispronounced the name of Patrick Roy, the famous goalie for the Colorado Avalanche hockey team. His last name is pronounced “Wah,” and of course I said “Roy.” The phone bank lit up for hours with callers correcting me on that one. But to add insult to injury, I had the microphone turned backwards and spoke into the wrong end for multiple breaks. Thinking I was giving my best performances and surely the phone bank was just lighting up with more upset callers, I ignored the phone lines. When I finally did answer a call, it was my boss who was in her car and half way to the studio to see what the emergency was that my broadcast sounded like I was in a tunnel on Mars, never mind the mispronunciations.
Uh, yeah. I got to keep my job, but still cringe when I think back on those days. Never be afraid to ask for help and to be a beginner, might be just one of the lessons I learned there. Of course, my hockey fanatic brother still chides me to this day.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Given the current COVID 19 situation, I feel really fortunate to still be able to work from home in my VO studio, and even more, to have been asked to narrate the next feature documentary in the Nobel Legacy Film Series on Nobel Peace Laureate, Shirin Ebadi. It was a true honor to narrate the last film they produced on His Holiness the Dalai Lama, which premiered at the prestigious Venice Film Festival in Italy and has won dozens of awards worldwide. This new film will highlight an extraordinary woman of great courage and inspiration for us all, while shedding light on the complex history of her homeland, Persia.
On a personal note, I’m also thrilled to be writing my first children’s book. It’s been a dream of mine for awhile and I love seeing it come together. It’s about a little Star that doesn’t remember how brilliant she is. My hope is that children who read it will always remember their own inner light and value, no matter what they experience around them.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I’ve worked with some pretty extraordinary people who have taught me so much. Watching Willem Dafoe patiently and thoughtfully sign autographs for as long as he could while we were in between takes on set showed me the meaning of true appreciation for people; not just as fans, but as fellow humans appreciating what we do. Willem told me he never dismissed anyone who approached him because he viewed each of those people as part of the reason for his success. Gugu Mbatha-Raw demonstrated a new depth of generosity by giving each of us individual and heartfelt gifts, and later offering me her massage session that she couldn’t make because her call time had changed. Anton Yelchin gave 110% to every performance and yet still made time to chat when he wasn’t working, and I knew he had to be exhausted. Once, we had an ensemble scene that had all of us in tears for many takes. Anton refused to use the eye drops offered to help him look like he was crying. To him, that wouldn’t be organic. Even though it’s a small example, I think it really demonstrated his work ethic. All of these pros inspired me immensely.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Know your ‘non-negotiables,’ as I like to call them. Know those things you do, and then form into habits, that keep you at the top of your game mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Do those and really commit, even if it takes baby steps. I know it sounds so simplistic, but it’s foundational. I like to start with one to three new habits and build on them from there. Say it’s rocking your healthy eating, or making sure you balance work and play, and doing things that inspire you and don’t drain you; whatever it is, know what keeps YOU sharp and at your best. Everything really does start with us taking care of ourselves first.
My other suggestion is to build your “team.” Since we are the culmination of our thoughts and the people we spend the most time with, I think it’s vital to surround ourselves with a support system that shares our values and inspires us to up-level. Whether it’s your closest friends when you’re starting out, or an agent, manager and mentor eventually, being conscious about who we share our energy and dreams with is so key. I love that we can do that through cyber space too if we’re not in physical contact. Obviously, we now have so much more access to people at the top of their game than our ancestors could dream of. One of the bonuses of this digital age!
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.
What a great question! I’m kind of a geek about this stuff, so I’ll try to keep it short! Meditation is my biggest ‘non-negotiable.’ I like to bookend my day with that and gratitude journal writing to maintain my best shape mentally and spiritually. After years of making this a priority I know it’s value for me and wouldn’t miss a day for anything, even if somedays are more truncated than others.
There are also so many people who’s work I really admire and keep on a regular ‘rotation’ throughout my days. Brian Johnson’s “Plus Ones” are in the background while I get ready in the morning, then anyone from Michael Beckwith to Mary Morrissey to Deepak, Oprah or Eckhart Tolle could be playing off and on and as much as needed. Somedays, I might just dance out some good vibes and be good to go. Other days, if I’m in a funk, I’ll play some of their videos back to back until I can feel myself shift out of it. Our thoughts are so powerful, so I want to make sure I have my mental tool kit prepped, as it were, as much as possible.
For acting inspiration, I’m totally hooked on “Actors on Actors,” and interviews like them, where actors talk candidly about their experiences. It feels a little bit like we’ve just hung out for a fancy coffee, or we’re on a quick set break when I watch these. I love to just listen to people and learn from their adventures, and with these, I can do that in sweats!
Last but not least, of course a hot bath with Epsom salts or a walk in nature can work magic for just about anything else that ails too. Squeezing those into an often over packed schedule is still a work in progress…
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
“No, REALLY… It REALLY doesn’t matter what others think of you. REALLY. You be YOU.”
This is what I would’ve said to myself, and what would sum up way more than five things I heard that resonated with this theme.
No matter how many times I heard my mother say, “they put their pants on the same way you do.” Or, an acting coach would tell me, “just be yourself.” Or, some magazine or talk show or celebrity I admired would say something to this effect, I wish I hadn’t resisted it, and let that sink in and be my mantra much, much sooner. I think I would have been braver and maybe even accomplished more.
Now, with that said, I will also tell you that I consider myself to be someone who has few regrets in life. Truly. I look at all of life as a series of “takes and mis-takes,” and I know it’s all for my ultimate learning. Still, I kinda wish I had said, “I’m happy with ME” just a wee bit sooner. I really like how it feels right now to fully own who I am, and the joy that it brings me… and others for that matter. If I had a time machine, it would be so fascinating to see how different life would have turned out if that one single thing had been different; if I had just said one more ‘no’ to someone I didn’t trust, or ‘yes’ to someone I was too afraid to show how much I cared for. “What if?” We could all ask indefinitely, right?
So, more importantly, I’ll come back to my other favorite mantra… “It’s all good.”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A former agent taught me the most valuable thing I continue to say after every audition — whether it went well or not — His favorite four letter word… “Next!”
This reminds me that absolutely everything is temporary, and I have no idea what the ultimate reason is as to why things happen. So really, it’s best just to trust that once I’ve given it my best, I can let it go and know it’s all working out for a reason. Believe me, this is still a work in progress too, but it applies to everything in life when you think about it. “Next! “ might sometimes be the ONLY thing I can think to say to myself in an interaction or experience, and it usually gets me to smile if nothing else.
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 never fully understood how much my mom gave towards my dreams until after she died; countless trips to rehearsals, her last dollars spent for my toe shoes, not to mention staying up all night to sew costumes for my productions when I knew she had fifty other things she could and should be doing. My mother’s love was the most unconditional I’ve ever known and I will never forget her relentless belief in me.
She had been sick for quite some time with cancer, and was pretty physically limited as a result before her death. It was around that part of her life that I called her with news of the red carpet premier for “Saige Paints the Sky.” I was brimming over with excitement at the thought that she might finally be able to attend one of my big events that she had worked so hard to help bring to fruition. I’ll never forget hearing the mix of pride and sorrow in her voice when she said, “I’ll be with you in Spirit, honey. I’ll be with you in Spirit.” It was at that moment that my heart sank to the floor and I knew she would no longer be by my side on this journey, in this body, but would always be with me on the other side. It was a bitter pill to swallow, and a full circle moment of truly comprehending everything she had given to help me “fly” as she would say. I don’t ever want to take any little thing or anyone for grated and I’m immensely grateful I can still feel her with me now…in different ways.
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. 🙂
Yes, we ARE people of enormous influence! My movement would be to eliminate most single use plastics. Our oceans would be forever grateful!
There are movements to convert plastics into fabrics and other re-usable items and I think that’s fantastic. Though I also think we have to include a wider outreach to lower consumption. Significantly reducing excess packaging as well as most individual plastic beverage bottles would be my personal dream come true. How about we all start with reusable water bottles, pretty please?
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. 🙂
Meryl and Oprah have been on my vision boards FOREVER. (No need for last names with these icons, and I don’t aim small, eh?!)
I think the world of them and believe they’re among the greats that have set the bar high in this industry. Whether it be their philanthropic ventures, their wit and intelligence, or their extraordinary talents, I shiver a bit with excitement when I dream of meeting and working with them. In the meantime, I’ll continue to salute them from afar for bravely using their Superpowers for good.
How can our readers follow you online?
I’m on Linkdin at www.linkedin.com/in/laurelharrisactor
Or, for Instagram it’s laurelharrisactor and
Twitter is @laurelharrisact
For my newsletters and more, my website is: www.laurelharris.com
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational!
Thank YOU! It was a treat and I wish all of you the best!