Rising Star Rebecca Gruss: “I’d love to inspire people to strengthen their emotional intelligence; I think that is really important right now”

If there is one thing that acting has taught me, it’s the ability to come to terms with my emotions, even the hard ones. All of them. You’re encouraged to explore all the nitty gritty bits of yourself that most people refuse to do. I’d love to inspire people to strengthen their emotional intelligence. I […]

If there is one thing that acting has taught me, it’s the ability to come to terms with my emotions, even the hard ones. All of them. You’re encouraged to explore all the nitty gritty bits of yourself that most people refuse to do. I’d love to inspire people to strengthen their emotional intelligence. I think that is really important right now.

As a part of my series about TV’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Gruss. Rebecca is a NY based Actress and has appeared in many film and television productions over the years. You may have seen her in Cinemax’s The Knick, HBO’s The Deuce, Netflix’s The Characters, and NBC’s Law and Order SVU, to name just a few. At 18 she took a break from acting and studied Filmmaking at Douglas Education Center. You can see her as Jody Malone in an upcoming episode of WGN’s Gone and as Anne in the film Back Fork releasing in 2019. When Rebecca is not acting she works as a Marketing Assistant, gives tarot readings to her friends, and drinks wine with her cats.

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

Sure! I grew up in a small, coal mining town in western Pennsylvania. And when I say small I mean my graduating class was 68 students that I knew since pre-school. It was SMALL! However, I was born in New York, and thankfully my parents took me and my sister to visit often. So we always knew there was more out there than just a little town in PA.

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

Because I am an identical twin, my mother was introduced to a Pittsburgh Talent Agency when my sister and I were babies. For years she would send in literal Walmart developed snapshots of us playing because she had no clue what a headshot was. They finally called us in to audition for Triple X the sequel when we were 11. I remember my Dad explaining to us what an audition was. That realistically we weren’t going to get the job, and this was a tough career and most actors fail. So after that Pep talk, we went! We had never taken an acting class, or auditioned before, so of course, we were terrible but instead of being disappointed WE FELL IN LOVE! We just wanted to keep auditioning. My Dad thought we would get over it and I guess the joke’s on him because we’ve never stopped!

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

That would have to be booking “The Knick”. That was my first BIG job, I was non-union and working at Olive Garden before I booked that. I auditioned four times and for three separate characters, so it felt like such an accomplishment to get a part. I owe so much to Carmen Cuba and Wittney Horton who cast that show. They really care about actors and went out of their way to make us feel comfortable in that audition room. Honestly, every single member of the crew and cast on The Knick were so unbelievably kind and gracious to me and to my sister. That show gave me a foundation and really validated my path as an actor.

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 still make mistakes! There’s no rule book! A lot of acting is stumbling through and coming out on the other side! But I replay a particular moment at a wrap party “socializing” (or just talking to someone about how much food there was because I didn’t know what to do with myself) in my head more times than I’d like to remember. I just had no clue how to socialize at these bigger events, and let loose a little. Starting out, even if I booked a job, I felt like an impostor and that I wasn’t allowed to be there or something. It’s a feeling that I still struggle with, but now before auditions, jobs, or events, I take a moment to tell myself that I deserve to be in this room, that I offer value, and that I know what I’m doing. Because I do.

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

I guest starred in an upcoming episode of GONE on WGN. I shot it two years ago, and it’s finally airing! I also have a small part in a movie coming out this year called Back Fork. We shot that in West Virginia, and it’s a story about the opioid epidemic. It’s a subject that is really dear to my heart, so I’m very excited to finally see that.

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?

I’ve been fortunate enough to work on shows that specifically target this issue. The Duece has a wonderfully diverse cast, the second season was mostly directed by women, and they were one of the first shows to hire an intimacy coordinator for every sex scene. The knick was special because it’s storylines accurately portrayed and spoke to the historical racism and sexism in America which is important to showcase, so we don’t repeat these cycles. And I got to work on the beautiful film Chained For Life that is literally about how people with disfigurements and disabilities are portrayed in media. But they put in the work to make all of that happen. So maybe it just takes as little as building the right teams to tell these stories.

It’s easy for me to relate to a storyline or a character on screen because I have the privilege of being represented. And humans want a reason to connect to someone. To not feel like they have to go through something alone. Most people watch a tv show as a form of escapism, and that’s probably hard to do if you can’t imagine yourself escaping into that show.

So I think to answer your question on, why I think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television, is because at the end of the day we’re all human and we all deserve the ability to escape into a story.

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

  1. I think it starts in schools, specifically public schools. We’re losing the respect for the arts and for student artists. It’s not as nurturing as it should be. I think if we nurtured young writers, and artists we’ll be on the way to more inclusive storytelling.
  2. Right now when you read some breakdowns for casting for POC, they sometimes feel half written, or forced. I think instead of just throwing in a diverse cast because it’s trendy or pressured, we need more developed, complex characters for minorities in Film and TV.
  3. I wish there were more mentorship programs for working actors. Starting out as an actor is so brutal, there are so many starts and stops. The stops can be tough to push past, and I worry about all the actors who don’t have someone to lean on. The industry can feel so isolating at times, just having someone rooting for you to push forward could change someone’s career.

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. Pay for the good headshots and pay for the hair and makeup artist too. Just do it. It took me too long to realize the importance of a good headshot. This is the FIRST thing that casting sees of you! Believe me, scrape up and save for those good headshot sessions, it might just get you in the room.
  2. Invest in a decent self-tape set up. Casting is more likely to watch your tape if it’s not poorly lit and shot with a shaky cell phone. It doesn’t have to get too complicated, but get yourself a small light kit, a microphone, and a tripod. Learning how to put yourself on tape is REALLY important. I have booked roles because of my tapes, it’s possible.
  3. That you have to live in NY or LA to be a successful actor. I’ve never technically “lived” in NY, but I’m a NY actor. For the past five years, I’ve lived near Pittsburgh, PA and I take a bus to all my auditions or jobs. It doesn’t get in the way, and I’ve never been late to an audition (runs to knock on wood.) Sure it’s mildly inconvenient to take a night bus to NY for a 15-minute audition, but I’m not struggling to pay my NYC rent, and I can afford to not live with roommates. If you’re serious about being an actor, you’re going to make it work.
  4. That other actors are not mean and it’s not as “cut throat” as people tell you. I have never really met an actor who wanted to sabotage my career. You see the same people over and over again at auditions and most of the time we’re all genuinely happy for each other when we book. It’s a really tough industry, so it’s just lovely to see your peers working! Two of my friends I met at a callback for a job that my sister and I ended up booking. They cheered us on and watched all of the episodes, and we do the same for them. We’re all out here just trying to make it, so be nice!
  5. Find a Day job! And then find a day job that will work with you as an actor. This is a hard one. It’s taken me years to find a company that celebrates and accommodates you as an artist and as an employee. For most auditions, you get less than 24 hours notice to be in a room, in NYC, with a script offbook. So be upfront about your acting ambitions, it will take the stress off of everyone when need to take time off to audition or work.
  6. Start an audition journal and log everyone working on that project and who was in the room with you. Write down how you felt the audition went and if casting gave you any feedback. This is critical data. Not only will you start to see patterns or ticks you can work out, but you also have a log of every Casting Director, Producer, and Director who you have met! This history might get you in a room in the future.

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

This is coming from someone who “burned out” last year. I was so focused on booking my next job that I was losing why I even enjoyed doing this. I was so depressed and stressed out that I wasn’t performing at the level I knew I could be. I nearly quit, but instead, I took a break, and I read a lot. I just studied, and escaped, and learned. I read the book If Chins Could Kill: Confessions Of a B Movie Actor, and that changed my life. Bruce Campbell is a very successful actor, and learning about his struggles in his 20s after getting to act in some pretty big jobs, he had to return to a day job because he wasn’t booking either. That gave me some much-needed hope. This journey is so up and down, but if you’re in this for the long haul, you’ll find a place in time to act.

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. 🙂

If there is one thing that acting has taught me, it’s the ability to come to terms with my emotions, even the hard ones. All of them. You’re encouraged to explore all the nitty gritty bits of yourself that most people refuse to do. I’d love to inspire people to strengthen their emotional intelligence. I think that is really important right now.

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?

There are a lot of people who I should probably personally thank at some point, but I was fortunate to have a family that supports what I do. They might not always understand what I’m doing, but they support it. Specifically, I was in a tight spot a few years ago. I had booked an episode of a TV show and became a “must join” for SAG. Which meant that I had to come up with $3,000, and join SAG before the first day of shooting or I couldn’t work. I used all of my savings and maybe had about half of what I needed. I didn’t know what to do and was running out of time, so I reached out to my family for help. I was blown away by all the family that reached out to me. I received so many letters of encouragement, phone calls, and help. In a matter of days, I had enough to pay for my SAG/AFTRA membership and got to shoot that TV show. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without them. It still makes me cry thinking about it!

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

I read Steven Soderberg’s Diary of Sex, Lies, and Videotape when I was 22, and there was this quote: “For those aspiring to a career in the film business, I offer this equation: Talent + Perseverance = Luck. Be ready when it happens.”

The perseverance part of that equation is why most actors fail. It wasn’t until the last two years that I got comfortable with the idea that I could be in my 70s before my “big break” happened. Honestly “big breaks” don’t really exist. It’s a lot of small successes that eventually lead to bigger successes. I try to remind myself that there isn’t a timeline in this industry. Your successes are going to happen when they happen and to just be ready and open for when they come. Also take time to define what success means to you as an actor, not all of us are going to be Tom Cruise, and that’s okay!

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. 🙂

Right now it would be John Voight. I just discovered Ray Donovan, and I am continuously blown away by his performance. He’s so deep into Mickey, his character, and it’s just so enjoyable to watch! Plus I admire the longevity of his career. I’m sure he’s just an endless pool of wisdom.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on Instagram! @becgru

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Thank you!! This was so much fun!

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