Rising Star Miranda Gruss: “More people will learn empathy if they take an acting class and learn the value of stepping into someone else’s shoes”

I think the thing that has helped me the most in my life was learning how to empathize with other people. And funnily enough, acting was a huge help in that! I think a lot of people would benefit from taking an acting class and learning the value of stepping into someone else’s shoes. As a […]

I think the thing that has helped me the most in my life was learning how to empathize with other people. And funnily enough, acting was a huge help in that! I think a lot of people would benefit from taking an acting class and learning the value of stepping into someone else’s shoes.

As a part of my series about TV’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Miranda Gruss. Miranda is an NYC based film & TV actor. She started acting professionally at 11 years old and is best known for her role as Zoya in Cinemax’s The Knick. When she’s not on screen or auditioning, she works full time in customer service (she has to pay rent), and uses her free time and film degree to write & direct shorts, music videos, and web series. She also, like everyone else, has a podcast. It’s called Supporting Roles. She talks to actors about acting. It’s available on SoundCloud and iTunes. No big deal.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Miranda! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Thank you for having me! I was born in New York, but my parents moved my twin sister and me to a tiny town in PA when we were around 3 years old. In my parent’s defense, it was a great little town to grow up and have a childhood in. We grew up very slowly which I don’t think would’ve been the case had we stayed in New York. I believe this allowed me to stay a kid at heart — I still get excited when it snows.

Can you share a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

It was something that had always been an interest to me. It was this kind of normal thing for me to come home from school and put on Titanic or Gone with the Wind and just stare at the TV. Even younger still, my parents say I used to point at the TV and beg to watch “The Dorothy Tape” which now as an adult I call it by its original title, The Wizard of Oz. Film and TV just kind of took over my life from a very young age. I used to beg to go to bed early so I would be allowed to watch a movie. It was truly, truly an escape for me. And the fact that I was an identical twin stood out to a lot of people, so we were kind of pushed from many angles to seek out the entertainment industry.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I very distinctly remember walking out of my Cinematography class in film school after watching Children of Men and saying to my sister — “I really want to work with Clive Owen someday.” Then a year or so later I was randomly in a hotel room, and they had HBO/CINEMAX, and somehow it was the premiere of The Knick that night. I watched the first episode of the show in complete awe. I was so blown away, and I remember calling my sister and telling her she had to watch the show and going on and on about how much I wish I could work on a show like that. Fast forward like literally a few months later, and I somehow end up working with both Clive Owen and The Knick team for 4 episodes. Its the craziest and the best thing that’s ever happened to me so far.

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 started acting really young, and I got a lot of bad advice from a lot of people. Probably the most frustrating kind was in regards to “standing out” and “networking.” It was really forced on me to not take no for an answer and to like beat down doors for the job you really want. Which resulted in some really cringe-y desperate e-mails reaching out to directors and casting directors practically begging them for work. I remember doing a self tape once for a very prominent director and my dad advised me I should sing a song after my audition “to show them how many other skills I have” and I was very naive and so I did precisely that and sent in the tape. What I’ve learned is, you have to find your own way and take people’s advice with a grain of salt because there is genuinely no set path in this industry. While that kind of approach may work for others, it never felt right to me to do things like that. For me, I have to take that pressure off and just focus on my audition and try to let relationships happen naturally. Despite how much I’m talking about myself right now, I find the idea of networking and putting myself out there very challenging.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Mostly auditioning and taking classes right now. I’m really focusing on my audition technique and spending a lot of time taking on-camera classes with casting directors. This simultaneously helps me create relationships with casting in NY but also helps me improve my auditions. As far as projects on screen? Most recently, you can see me as “Miriam” in a movie called Chained For Life.

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?

So am I! I think it’s an exciting time in entertainment right now. I personally was able to grow up seeing myself represented on screen. The entertainment industry has had such a huge impact on me and to think that not everyone is able to find characters they connect with would be frustrating to say the least.

I think a lot of societal thinking trickles down from the media and I think it has a more significant impact on how we see the world than we realize. Opening up stories to include people of all types would hopefully give us all a much more well-rounded idea of what our world is and looks like.

We learn empathy. There are things that I have watched on TV that I have never personally experienced. To look at someone and watch them experience something through their eyes teaches you so much. Who couldn’t benefit from learning to empathize with someone who’s different than you?

I and many others want to see layered, deep, complex characters on screen. I’ve seen growth for female characters just by looking at how much the casting breakdowns have changed in the past few years. It still happens but I’m seeing less and less female characters described as “hot’” or “sexy” as their only character traits. I’m glad to see the industry start to be more inclusive all around. We’re still on our way but I’m hopeful.

From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

1. Stop cutting funding for Drama/Arts programs in high schools to start. If people don’t grow up knowing that this industry is an option or avenue to pursue, we won’t have the opportunity to watch some incredibly talented people share their stories on screen. We need to nurture young people who are interested in the arts.

2. I think we need to stop treating diversity as a quota to fill on a show and to instead invest in stories and writing that showcases different backgrounds and perspectives in an authentic and detailed way.

3. Invest in projects with leading roles of all kinds. It is comforting to see someone you can relate to on screen. Everyone should be allowed to experience that.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. I wish someone explained to me that the “big break” doesn’t exist. The longer I am in this industry, the more I realize the big break is a myth. It’s more like small successes that slowly lead to larger opportunities and a gradual gain of a body of work. There are those stories you hear of the waitress who goes on an open call audition, and all of a sudden is walking down red carpets. That may happen for some people, but for most actors, it’s going to be a long and winding road of small jobs leading to bigger and bigger jobs. There have been times where I thought “this is it! This is my big break!” only to be excruciatingly disappointed when after the acting job is over I’m heading to my day job the next day. I had to train myself to instead think how lucky I am to even get to do that acting job and how fortunate that I have a day job that offers me the flexibility to do so.
  2. That your self worth isn’t wrapped up in how often you are booking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told: “You’re only as good as your last job.” Like most industries, this one has ups and downs, and it’s normal to have times of drought. It doesn’t lessen the value of the work you’ve done in the past. It doesn’t make you “a bad actor.”
  3. Make eye contact in your auditions. This was a hard lesson to learn that no one ever really told me. A very kind casting assistant stopped me in the middle of an audition for a Netflix series and asked if he could give me some advice. I said of course and was very embarrassed, and he said: “make eye contact with me, it’s very important.” That moment changed every audition I’ve done since then. Bless that angel casting assistant.
  4. Don’t choose your own headshot. You’re not going to be as objective when selecting a photo of yourself. It’s okay, of course, you want to look good! I struggled with this too! But you have to choose one that most accurately represents you and your friends and family are going to have a better sense of that. Headshots are really hard to get right. I’m still working on this one myself.
  5. Take the pressure of booking off of your audition. This took me YEARS. We want to act. We want the job. We want to work. But that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself. As soon as I started focusing on just doing a good audition, my auditions got so much better. I felt prouder of my work. And eventually just going in and doing a good audition was almost as good as actually getting booked.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Find something else in your life that brings you joy besides acting. You constantly feel like you have zero control of your future and your career and if you spend all your time focused on how to be a successful actor, you’re going to be miserable. I was. I started finding joy in other things, in other skills, spending time in those areas of my life helped me lift this weight off my shoulders. You can still work on acting and your career and nourish other areas of your life at the same time. Allow yourself the time to indulge in other things.

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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

This is a big question! I think the thing that has helped me the most in my life was learning how to empathize with other people. And funnily enough, acting was a huge help in that! I think a lot of people would benefit from taking an acting class and learning the value of stepping into someone else’s shoes.

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 am now fortunate to be able to surround myself with people who support me, but that hasn’t always been the case. Besides my parents who weirdly supported this from the beginning, someone who made a huge difference in my life was the director of the film school I went to. He was one of the first people in my life who genuinely believed in me and my skill set. He taught me so many valuable lessons about this industry and helped build a solid foundation of knowledge and skill that has only made me a better actor. He’s one of the first people to congratulate me when I book a role and continues to push me to be better. He literally called me a few weeks ago to tell me I’m wasting my potential on Instagram stories and I should be writing instead. It’s special to have people in your life who believe in you.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

The below quote from Ira Glass changed the way I thought about my whole life. When you start acting, it’s normal to have this dream of being wildly successful right away and then you’re grinding and hustling for 10 years and feel like you haven’t even scratched the surface. This quote so eloquently explains why you do what you do and why it’s crucial you don’t give up.

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first few years, you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. Taking awhile is normal. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

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 just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂 
Haha honestly right now I’m obsessed with Jim Cummings. I saw his short film Thunder Road last year and watched it probably 12 times in a row and then went on this deep dive into his work. He wanted to make something, and so he did. He wrote, directed, and starred in his own film.I can’t help but be inspired by that! As an actor, you’re always just waiting around for someone to allow you to act. He just did it himself. I am just ridiculously impressed and think it’s the coolest thing in the world. I know other people have done this before, but for some reason his story just really got to me.Please go watch his stuff.

How can our readers follow you on social media? 
You know I have Instagram and its just my name. @mirandagruss
Did you like listening to me talk about acting because if you did, oh boy you’re in luck!! I have a podcast called Supporting Roles. Did I mention I have a podcast? It’s on iTunes and SoundCloud

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Thank you for letting me talk for way too long!

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