Ep. 4 - GRATITUDE FOR OPPORTUNITY: Commercial Actor Leonard Jackson
If you've ever watched TV, you've seen this guy. Why? He's a booker! If any body knows what it takes to be a CONSISTENTLY booking commercial actor Leonard Jackson does. He is one of the guys who are constantly getting called in, constantly getting called back and consistently booking. WHAT IS HIS SECRET?? In this conversation, we dive into what that secret is.
- How enjoying auditions delivers results
- Gratitude for opportunity
- A terrible Starbucks re-inactment
- How introducing yourself to Sam Jackson can help your slate
Leonard also has an amazing program to help actors get moving in the industry. You can find that program here:
A little about Leonard:
Leonard Jackson was born in Hollywood, CA ready for the big screen. He started his career with a recurring role on "In the Heat of the Night" and has since starred in several films including: "Love and War II", "Young Hollywood", "Snow Job", "Bug Night", "The Pact", Just Another Day in the Neighborhood and P.O.V: The Camera's Eye. He has made many Television appearances on "In the House", Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction, and several others. He is now performing live stand up comedy at many LA clubs around and is negotiating several new projects.
Toby: Ayo buccaneers it's me Toby lawless with the next episode of the lawless crowd, the place where I cut deep to exact the secrets of the crazy business and craft of commercial acting. As you know, my goal with the lawless crowd is simple, to help actor succeed by sharing the inside perspectives of commercial industry professionals. In this episode, I sit down with prolific commercial actor and comedian Leonard Jackson. If you've ever watched TV, and I know you, you have seen this guy, why? Well, he's a Booker, if anybody knows what it takes to be a consistently booking commercial actor Leonard Jackson does. He is one of the guys who's constantly getting called in. He's constantly getting called back and he's consistently bookings.
So how does he do it? Well, in this conversation, we dive into what his secret is. We cover things like how enjoying your auditions delivers the results we're after, the value of having gratitude for the opportunities that you get. There's a terrible Starbucks reenactment, and how introducing yourself to celebrity Sam Jackson can help your slate. Leonard also has an amazing program to help actors get moving in the industry. You can find that program in the podcast notes but for now, let's walk the plank and jump in. Here we go, timber, that's not pirates but you know what I mean? Leonard Jackson, welcome my friend.
Leonard: Hey, Toby. What's up, man? Thanks for having me.
Toby: Hey, dude, thank you for letting me have you. We know each other from casting Leonard's book. How many commercials do you think you booked, man?
Leonard: I think I'm right at a little bit over 150, I kind of stopped counting at that point.
Toby: Yes, once you get to, you know, 100, I think you could just start adding zeros and stop counting.
Leonard: Yes, like adding zeros.
Toby: How long have you been doing this commercially?
Leonard: See, now you starting trouble. I've been doing this since 1997, so yes, [inaudible 02:06] we're 20 years already, oh, my goodness,
Toby: There you go. 20 years man. Briefly, you know, this for me is as much for me just because I like chatting with people about the industry. But I really sort of set out, I'll kind of want this one between you and me to be for people who are just starting and kind of can use some motivation for the process. But also for actors who are in the grind, and who are looking to get up to the next level. Actors who are booking better, like, I know I can be doing better and I know there's things that I can be adjusting and so if you're listening, that's really who I'm targeting this towards. People, there may be stuff that you already know that we cover but there's also going to be some stuff in there for me really as an actor, too, but for actors as well, who are just looking to get an edge. So that's what we're aiming for. So you and I sort of shared a similar history of being child actors. Leonard has a book, which we'll be talking about a little bit later, but I'm going to be referencing it because I just read it and you talk a lot about sort of starting, you know, being a performer from birth. You want to talk a little bit about that.
Leonard: Absolutely. I started off man, just my grandma actually told me this because I don't even remember, you know, you only start remembering stuff at what four years old, three or four years old. My grandma told me when I was just able to walk I was going into her closet and throwing on her outfits and stuff. You know, I wasn't cross-dressing or anything like that.
Toby: Nothing wrong with that.
Leonard: Yes, yes, no. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, back in the 70s, I don't know they might have looked at me funny. But she said I would dorn these hats and all these weird things and come on to start acting a fool. You know, fast forward a few more years and then I remember this very clearly watching TV at 10 years old, I'll never forget this day, and I was watching this show. And I remember not being entertained by these actors and I was like, man, I can knock the socks off the guy so I literally went and grab the paper. I grabbed my dad's newspaper and started looking for acting jobs.[inaudible 04:08]
Toby: And you lived in Pasadena right?
Leonard: No I lived in Carson.
Toby: Oh, in Carson.
Leonard: Yes. Right when the Bloods and Crips were getting started.
Toby: Oh, that's cool.
Leonard: Yes. No, they're very nice. So anyway, it was a kind of a shady outfit, but it was acting, they said, become an actor. And I said, Dad, you got to take me to this place. So the bug really bit me then because we were working on scenes and all that kind of stuff. And I said, man, this is where I can really have fun being a fool and getting to explore my funny side and be funny and not get in trouble for the most part. Because usually when I'm being funny, I'm getting in trouble all the time.
Toby: Yes, because you're distracting people, man. You're in class and the teachers get mad at you, says Toby, get off the table. Stop singing the temptations. [inaudible 04:54] it's just class time.
Leonard: Yes, you had similar experiences, exactly.
Toby: Then your teacher says, hey, you got to get this kid into something. He's too distracting.
Leonard: Exactly, no, seriously, I was in the principal office all the time, it was bad. But that was a great way for me to let that muscle work.
Toby: So, you took classes as a kid, the guy ended up shafting you, running away with your money, but you were enjoying the classes, but you weren't really auditioning or booking. But you're just a kid.
Leonard: Exactly. I wasn't auditioning, I wasn't doing anything. I was just loving going to the classes and the reason why I knew I got shafted because we went to class one day, and the place is boarded up and I couldn't get the guy on the phone. So that's what happened with that.
Toby: And then you go off to college, right?
Leonard: Yes, I go off, and I started college and I started taking the drama classes and started performing. And this was in Georgia, I use to live in Georgia, I'm from LA but I use to live in Georgia for a little while. And then I started, they had a couple of shows out there not a lot, but a couple of shows. So I started doing research, how do I get into the show? So I found out they had this thing called the Georgia film connection--
Leonard: Commission, that's right. And they gave us a list of agents, so I sent letters to, now listen for you newcomers, this is good for you to know, you don't have to be in LA to get started. You don't have to be in LA to get started, you can be pretty much anywhere to get started. So I sent letters out to all the little agents out there. I literally sit, this is back before email, I sent handwritten letters to everyone and no one responded to me. And then I don't know maybe a month later, some guy called me out of nowhere, say hey, you sent me a letter about three weeks ago, I want you to go to this audition right now and then come to my office. And I like whoa, holy smoke, okay. I'd never been happier in my life I don't think, besides when I kissed the girl for the first time but other than that, that was the happiest time.
So I went to this audition, then book it nothing and I went to his office. And he said, Alright, man we'll give me a shot and that's when it all started, that's when I started going out to auditions and I book. And this is another thing you newcomers need to know, it took. I mean, I can't even count how many auditions before I booked my first job. And I was very glad that they hung in there with me because I thought they were going to drop me because I can't booked. But once I booked that first one, I got some confidence and I was you know, it just took off.
Toby: Yes, I want to stay here for just one second. Because I do like to kind of get people's backgrounds. But also, your story has two things that really interest me as far as we've covered, which is one you loved doing what you did, from the get-go you weren't out to make money, per say, although that's always nice, but you just loved performing. You had a love of performance and there's a real through-line in your book talking about like the value of enjoying the act of performing and how much that can help you get the results that you want. So that's one and two is how much sort of struggle and rejection and failure you who is a very successful commercial actor had prior to even getting your first job. You caught you send out a million headshots, no one responded, you called a bunch of people then it go, you went auditions you didn't get them and it can be hard, I think, especially for actors in LA where they feel like they want to become a booking actor immediately. But to recognize A the work that it takes and B that there's an approach that we can have and an attitude that sort of doesn't let that rejection and failure destroy us, you know.
Leonard: Exactly. No, you know that man, let me just start with the first one because I think it's critical, I think it's the most important thing, if anything else I talked about, which is, do not get into this business, I mean, look, you could probably get in this business and make it just fine. But I don't know if it's going to be for a long time and I don't know if how successful you're going to be. But I will stress don't get in it for the money and the fame. Don't do it for those reasons, do it because you love performing. Whether you love performing as any kind of actor or any type of live performer or even film or whatever, you have to love the art, because I'm telling you right now, this business can be so brutal. Look, you always got your one-off, you always got that one actor who just can't fail, you get that one out of a million, I think you know, there's always some random situation that you can't generalize off of it.
But what I can say is if you have the love for the performing, a few things are going to happen. Number one, the casting director and the producers and the directors, they're going to see it, they're going to see it, man, that's the first thing they're going to notice is that this guy has got passion, this guy's got real true talent. Second as brutal as this business is, all these auditions you're going to go to and that book, you got to have something that's going to want to keep you in the game and the passion and the love for performing and for the artist is what going to keep you in it. I'm telling you, I know you probably heard it before, said different ways but I can't stress to you how true that is. I mean, that's the most true thing.
Now moving on to not booking and discouragement. I'm going to be honest with you, I haven't told many people this, but I guess I'm going to tell a lot of people right now. I went through a period where I was having real anxiety about this business because you can book a few jobs and then all of a sudden you figured, oh, man, what have I done wrong or what have I change? Am I the same person, you start really internalizing it, and it starts eating at your whole core and it starts really affecting who you are. Let me tell you right now, don't do that.
Toby: I feel like that's easy to say. But I feel like that happens to everyone, which is just the doubt seeps in, so it's one thing to say, don't do that but I feel like it's almost more something that happens to people. And so maybe this is where you're going with it but having had that happen to you what can we do to help with that? Is it a choice simply or is it something where, where does the focus of our attention go when we want to deal with that?
Leonard: You're absolutely right, I will definitely tell you exactly what I did to overcome that. One is you never quit performing, whether it's doing improv, what you could do just sign up at iOS or Second City, or any of these places out there, or it's doing standup comedy, or place. Classes are great, don't get me wrong, classes are huge. I think classes are, you know, very important but I think live performances are amazing, for a lot of reasons. But one reason as far as your confidence, it keeps your confidence up, a lot of stuff is confidence. I got a good buddy, Ryan Seacrest, everybody knows who he is now, but he and I are out here together and struggling. And when he started making it a little bit, everybody was like, man, you can't have a cocky dude. He's always telling me, he said Leonard people think I am cocky and conceited and all that. He said, let me tell you something, it's confidence, if I don't have this confidence, I couldn't do this. I just could not do it and that stuff--
Toby: [inaudible 12:06] is a hustler man.
Leonard: He is a real hustler, dude.
Toby: He hustles. I mean, even after he made it, he's still you know, doing his radio show at 5 am and then going on to American Idol. And then going on to his clothing line and then his skincare product. not I'm just making stuff up now, but you know what I'm saying.
Leonard: No, listen, you know that he is a hustler. Since I have known him, I've known him since 96 and he's always just worked his butt off, he just can't stop, it's almost like he has a problem. He's got so much energy he can't even chill himself out. But he's using that energy in good part, he dropped out of college after one semester, like he's, he just wants to get straight to work. He was interning at Star 97 at 14 years old, like he's really a go-getter. But anyway, so confidence is the key and if you're doing live performances, that'll keep your head in the game. And you know, one thing I had to tell myself is, just get out, I know it's easier said than done but you got to get out of your head and if you keep doing live performances, and staying active, it will help enormously. And I talked about that a lot in my book, live performances.
Toby: Yes, you do.
Leonard: It saved me, even if you can't afford to do stuff, get a few friends together and just have little group classes that you guys do together just to keep working your muscle.
Toby: So you're saying when the doubt starts to seep in, which is what am I doing wrong? I'm not good anymore. I'm not able to be at my best in the room. You saying one thing that really helps you get back to where you want to be, which is being confident is performing live.
Leonard: I think live performances is absolutely [inaudible 13:43].
Toby: And you talk a lot about sort of not only just live performance but sort of specifically comedy, standup, improv. Why do you think comedy for commercials is so relevant?
Leonard: Commercials seem to always keep people smiling and happy, they want to happiness with their product so therefore they went comedic actors. If you read a lot of the breakdowns it says strong comedic skills, strong improv skills [inaudible 14:11] looking for comedy and improv. They're looking for spokespeople or they looking for good looking people or funny looking--
Toby: Or weird looking people too?
Leonard: Yes, they call them character.
Toby: We're interesting faces, that's what I get interesting faces, not too modelly.
Toby: Not too good looking, that's me.
Leonard: You are too good looking man, you too good looking. Or they say not too dark, I've seen those two and I never get those I don't know why.
Toby: Not anymore.
Leonard: Oh is it?
Toby: Oh, yes, that was a huge, huge ordeal, you remember that.
Toby: With that up, there's a whole thing about how a casting went out for not too dark and then Hollywood, her TMC got a hold of it, actually and--
Toby: Yes, it wasn't good.
Leonard: Well, listen, man, I don't get offended I mean, look, I've done casting for my projects, and if you look too light, too dark or, I don't care, I guess I can't say it anymore. But I don't get offended by that stuff, man, we're a little too touchy now, I think nowadays, but--
Toby: But let me just go back really quick. So yes, I mean, I totally agree, I always tell my students like, we're in the business of creating positive experiences. Why? Because it's associated with the product, like you said, they don't want to be creating negative associations. The same reason brands will dump athletes at the first sign of trouble just because they just can't risk being associated with someone who may or may not have stolen some crab legs from the local [inaudible 15:42], you know what I mean? But specifically, like, so sort of on that tip, because I feel like one more sort of doubting and just not feeling good there's also becoming part of what feeds into that. And you call this the work, which is the driving, the waiting in the lobby, the dealing with parking and all that stuff, which is just the grind man.
Like, I always tell my actors when you're in the room, we want to see you play. That's what we've talked about already sort of the value of enjoying the performance. Don't stress it out, this is something that should be fun for you. But that can be tough, man, you like, you going to these audition, you got drive Santa Monica to Glendale traffic, you had plans, your parents are in town. Tell me about a time when you were just kind of burned out by that? And how do you stay enjoying the actual audition when there's so much work like that, that goes into it?
Leonard: Everybody has their moment and I have one that fits that question perfectly. I got a buddy, name is Damien Shannon and he's a big-time writer, he just wrote that new Baywatch movie that is coming out right now. He and I've been friends for a very long time and I remember about 10 years ago, maybe about 15 years ago, I went to his house after an audition. I drove from Santa Monica back to them my house in Sherman Oaks and I remember getting to his place, we're going to hang out watch the game. And the first thing I said is man, I just don't know, man, I just don't know how much longer I can do these audition, man.
Toby: No, you're going to say I hate it. I hate these auditions, man.
Leonard: Oh, yes. I said, I hate these auditions, man, I can't do it anymore. And I start tell him the traffic, everything you just said, the traffic, the waiting, the. And he looked at me and he said, man, you need to embrace those additions. You need to embrace all of that. Just embrace it. And it didn't hit me until maybe a couple of days later, I thought about it and I said, he's right, man, there are thousands of people trying to get this one damn audition. And you know this because you work in casting or you working casting. There are thousand people, or maybe even more that don't even live in LA, they would love to have the opportunity just to get that audition, dude.
Toby: I'm telling you, on average per roll for commercials, agents submit 2,000 to 4,000 people per roll, okay. How many people get called in, 30 to 45 per day, so those numbers right there, that's the hardest math that you have to contend with. One out of 45 is much better than one out of 4,000.
Leonard: Yes, everybody who's listening, you need to listen, put down your phone right now listen to this. And people who've been doing this a long time that might even know who I am. And you guys know it, remember, we are fortunate, man to get this opportunity because you booked that spot that could be 20, 30, 40 grand, or maybe five or 10 depending on--
Toby: if they air it or not but--
Leonard: If they air it or not but we are the select few that get this opportunity. So anyway, I just started embracing like, yes, man, this is an opportunity and thank you, Lord, or thank you, whatever you believe in for this opportunity. Wow, Alright, let me go in there and have a blast. And then go see some friends like Toby and everybody and check and see how they're doing? How their kids are doing this? Yes, you have to look at it differently.
Toby: You have to make that choice to have that attitude, and that's not easy but I mean, that happens to everyone. I mean, it happens to people who are just starting, it happens to people who are working regularly, it happens to me, where the doubt starts to sneak in and negativity starts to sneak in and that is really just a choice. Like you have a little thing in there about how you were, what was this where you were like down on your luck, you'd lost a bunch of money or something and you just didn't want to go to this audition. You're in a bad mood and then you go to the audition, right.
Leonard: Yes, I lost--
Toby: That was after you gambled everything away, right?
Leonard: Yes, I owned another business and I just, it was, I cried, man, I was a grown man with a wife and kids, my wife had to sit there and embrace me because I was crying. I lost this big contract and I got a wife and kids and a mortgage so I was devastated, I cried and then I get an audition for an enterprise, when I cried I was like, man, I am not going that. I am not going to go in there with tears in my eyes. And then I think my wife with myself. I just said you know what, I probably need to just, that'll help me get out of my funk, so let me just go. So I picked myself up and I went, and you know, I mean, I got in that room, and I got to forget all my problems for a minute, I just got to think about that car commercial, like, whatever I had to do in that spot. I got to say, it's not expensive Mom, you know, pickup's free mom. And I just enjoy doing that. And guess what, I got a call back and went to the callback and I was excited about it because my grandma actually got called into. And it just helped me forget this tragedy I was going through. And guess what, man, I booked that sucker. And not only did I book it, but that thing ran for five, about four or five years, and I made probably close to 200 grand on that sucker.
Toby: How and that's so funny that you probably lost less than that on that deal you were talking about?
Toby: I mean, that's a classic example of just like that little decision like you could have just been like, you know what, no, I'm not going to. And that's not to say sometimes, maybe you shouldn't go I don't know if you can't do what you did, which is let it go and be present in the room. I talked a lot about being present and really another way that that's talked about is just have fun, and have fun with it. Because when you're having fun, you're not judging, you're not thinking, you're just playing. And I mean, I've audition you a million times and you always bring just a playful, fun energy and it's really nice to know that that's intentional. That you're doing you know what, I'm here to enjoy this and you know what because trusting that trusting the process of enjoying it, I know that the results will come. And I think you were sort of the one who's saying that like after you had had that conversation with Damien, guess what, I started working more.
Leonard: I sure as heck did, man, I sure as heck did. And I went in there and like you said playing if you've [inaudible 22:16] when improv is what they're doing they're playing. And I go in there, you know, I guess generally, I'm a pretty happy guy, happy go lucky guy but I just enjoy people, I enjoy being silly. So when I go in the room, yes, that's genuine what you see, I actually, have a good time with that stuff. And one thing I will say is I interviewed some folks, some other casting people, I don't want to say who they are, but I interview them and I said what is the key to people that you see that book a lot. And maybe you're going to go to this later, but you just you know, bringing that up being in a room made me think about it. They said you know what, actors that make a choice, whether it's what they're looking for, what they think they're look for, just don't do all that just make a choice, and run with it. And that's another thing I do. If I think that this family is happy to go on vacation, but the dad's worried about the transmission going out, I'm going to make that choice and I'm going to run with that. And you know, what, you know what I noticed sometimes the producers say, I rather go that way than what I had in--
Toby: Man, especially in commercials, because so much is fluid, but just to go back quickly, as something you said, [inaudible 23:20], so you said, yes, man, I have fun and guess what, it's genuine. And I talk a lot about authenticity. You know, the important that like, I'm not looking at a performer, it doesn't feel fake to me, it feels real, especially with sort of you've been doing this 20 years. But the trend now is like all these performances need to feel like pretty real, they need to be believable, a lot of the director and the producers sort of coming off like the 80s and the 90s of like, the Sunny D where it feels super fake. So you sort of talk about producing your movie, Sucker Punch, great title, by the way, talk a little bit about going through those headshots for the submissions that you got and like, what stood out.
Leonard: You know, the biggest thing that stood out, I'm going to tell you the biggest, biggest thing was people not putting anything like, well, let me start off with the first thing I noticed when I saw the headshots. The ones that tossed aside were the ones that look just extremely unprofessional like they just did not care. There's a part of this business, you have to be professional, you can be very talented, but you got to have some professionalism involved and you know what, that's sad because some people are very, very talented, but they just don't have any type of professionalism in them. And that's kind of a sad thing, I'm not going to say that's a good thing but you have to have some professionalism. So we could pick headshots and they look like you just took a picture in your living room, that's getting past I'm sorry. The second biggest thing is when people came in, and they look nothing like the picture like that picture was 10, 15 years old or different hair, whatever, that threw me off, man, because that picture is a person I want to cast for that role. If you look totally different then your performance could be pretty good, and if it's amazing, I might still consider you but if it's a pretty good performance, I'm going to probably toss it, man.
Toby: Yes. And also, I think pictures that look too performery or kind of fake, you know when they look, you know what I'm talking about, right.
Leonard: Yes, let me say that too, that was another big one. If they are in there, you know, the big eyes and the teeth, they look like they really, no, no, because that's not how you're going to look. Look, man, one thing a guy told me when I first got in this business, he's a director, he did a lot of big commercials. He said, listen, one thing we look at, is a slate and when you slate, you act like, he said, who's your favorite actor, I couldn't think of anybody so I said Denzel Washington. He said, okay, if you met Denzel for the first time, how would you greet him? How would you greet him? And I thought about that and I said, you know, I probably shake his hand with a big smile and say, hey, how you doing, man, nice to meet you. So I take that when I slate every time.
Toby: I like that.
Leonard: It worked. It worked for me, dude. The last time booking almost ran away after that. So what I meant by that is if on your headshot have that type of smile like [inaudible 26:14] how nice to meet you, it's not a fake. I'm not trying to because you can tell when you meet somebody for the first time and they're like, overly nice you're like, okay, this guy's phony, fake, you know? But they come up to you with a genuine hey, how you doing, Toby, nice to meet you, man. alright, yes, that's what people like to see in these headshots and when you walk in the room.
Toby: Yes. So the authenticity is really important. I mean, especially for me, I'm in the room constantly and, like, if we feel that a performance is, we call it going too big, being put on, it's a little just jarring and I was sort of talking the same way. I'm like, if you're talking to someone at a cocktail party, you could use the same analogy with like, let's say you just met Denzel Washington at a cocktail party, and you're talking to him, and you're going, hey, what's up, I'm Leonard Jackson, how? How would that feel? It would feel weird, it would feel fake, like, what is this too? And you talking about sort of to loop these two things together because you were talking about making choices but you talk about like, you do you. And that has to be with like, the value and like the necessity of bringing yourself like at your personality, your take, you know, and I think this has to do with making the choices as well to the audition. But can you talk a little bit about how you do that? Because you do have a big, you have a big personality, but it's very particular and you let us see that. And I'm not saying for everyone out there, like oh, go big and go crazy, because that's not everybody. But what I'm saying is be authentic to who you are, and I think you sort of use it as saying, you do you.
Leonard: One thing I learned is, you know, I use to watch a lot of comedians, I love Richard Pryor and Robin Harris. And, you know, yes, I love Louis CK, and George Carlin, all these guys, I love them but I remember there was a time when I was trying to emulate them when I go to auditions, and it never worked, man, it just never worked. So I said, well shoot, man, I have fun just hanging out my friends, being myself and they laugh at all my jokes. I'm just going in there with that work like a charm. Look, one thing people got to remember is that we have a huge edge on everybody on planet Earth, because there's only one me. There's only one me and I got that edge over everyone. So as long as I stay true to me and do me in that room, I'm always going to, I always think about it like this, hey, man, this is me and this is what I do right here. What you see this is it, I'm giving it to you 100%. And if this is not what you want or this is not what you like, then [inaudible 28:43] hey, we'll catch you on the next one baby because this is me right here and this is what I do.
Now, why is that important? Because you go in that room you try to sell yourself as somebody else or something else you get on the set and I've seen this happen, you get on the set, and they make you change a few different things and you can't do that fake you because they make you change a lot on the set.
Toby: The adjustments, yes.
Leonard: Yes, those adjustments. Guess what, baby, they going remember that and they are not going call you in anymore? So, do you, have fun being you, be comfortable in your own shoes and just let that shine, man because I'm telling that look, whenever you watch a Denzel Washington movies, since we've been talking about him or any actor, you see that same guy in every movie, don't you? Matt Damon, I don't care who it is, you see that same actor in every role because he's doing him he's not trying to be Pacino or De Niro. He's doing, De Niro is a great example, every single movie, I don't care if he's doing a comedy, or tough guys, he's the same guy. Do you, that's how you get branded, that's how you get, you know, hey, I want to see, you don't get breakdowns that say we're looking for Ryan Seacrest type, because that's him.
Toby: Not for me, you know. I get more like Thomas Middleditch or Quasimodo depends?
Toby: Here's a question for you, man. So, even for people who have been doing this forever, and there's plenty of documented examples of famous actors who work constantly. We all still deal with nerves and it's something that I think is real, it can be unnerving and distracting for a lot of people's, especially prior to the callback but prior to shooting, prior to the callback, can be prior to the first call as well. Can you talk a little bit about for you, nerves jitters how you deal with that energy? And do you have an approach that works? And how are you able to maintain giving your best performance every time when you sort of there goes, oh, that guy always works and he's before me and he'll probably get it. And I probably won't do that well, and I'm so nervous or whatever, whatever you know, doubt and nerves.
Leonard: You know, it's funny, I got a few answers on this one, because it kind of changes for me, I sometimes struggle with OCD, I've gotten a lot better but you know that anxiety brings that on. If whoever doesn't know OCD, it is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder that comes, you know, you see a lot of baseball players, it's something that happens a lot when you don't know what the outcome of something is going to be. But one thing I've learned is, and this is what I use to this day, I say I'm going to worry about it when I get there, like in other words, you know, so I used to have a whole day worried about this call back and think about how I'm going to do it, and this and that. And finally, I get to the point where I was like, hey, right now I'm just live in the moment, when I get to the audition then I'll deal with it then. But another thing I do as well is I just said, hey, I'm going to go in there and have a good time.
And I get comfortable Now I will say this, you can't just blow it off completely. You got to say look, I got to make sure I'm prepared. I make a few choices before I even get in there, like, what do I feel most comfortable doing? What do I think they're looking for? And then I try to just make sure I have a good idea, you don't want to be because you want to improv, you don't want to have it all spelled out, just want to have a good idea. So it comes up [inaudible 32:18].
Toby: A couple of options.
Leonard: A couple of options, exactly. And then I also tell myself, hey, I'm going to book it or I'm not going to book it, I mean it's that simple. I'm really going to book it. But one thing I want to make sure I do, Toby, one thing I want to make sure I do is when I walk out that room, hey man I gave it to them, I couldn't have done it that much better. I gave it to them and I feel good and if you call me great if you don't, hey, I know I gave it my best shot.
Toby: Okay, great. There's a couple of things in there that I want to drill down into because that was a lot of good stuff. One was you saying, I'll deal with that when I get there. And I'm just going to live in the moment that to me is the value of being present. You know what, I'm not going to be anxious about a hypothetical in the future and kind of get my energy wrapped up in what may or may not happen. I'm just going to stay focused on me because as same stuff happens to me, man, I'm like, you get the call, you start worrying about what should I wear? Or how am I going to do it, blah, blah, blah and it can eat you up, it can really just kind of burn your energy and you can arrive in a mess. And I think just knowing that you know what, I don't have to think about this right now. it's going to be fine.
And then, as you said, getting there, I'm constantly preaching preparation as a way to confidence because we both agree that confidence is what we're after. And confidence is just feeling good, the lack of doubt, being present, having fun, and feeling good about it. And I think you really hit the nail on the head was like, okay, so I get there and I make sure that I've sort of cross my T's and dot my I's, I do what I need to do to prep myself. There's a line for everybody I think I'm like over-preparing, over thinking and doing exactly the right amount to where you can go, okay, I'm good. And now I'm going to address my nerves because you're right, these nerves exist. And we don't want to just pretend that they don't, we want to acknowledge that they do. And I read it, there was a recent study done, about how they did a study with people and nerves and how like, reframing your nerves as being excited can be helpful, where you say, you know what, I don't need to label this as a bad thing, necessarily, this is excitement.
I can use this energy to help me be at my best and in fact, we really kind of need that inner energy to a certain degree.
Leonard: You got that, right--
Toby: We don't want it to be fully engaged somewhere, we're, like, completely distracted and paralyzed. But if we can kind of say, you know what, this isn't a bad thing, nerves don't have to be a bad thing. I'm glad that I have them, it's keeping me sharp, it's keeping me alert. And then--
Leonard: It's true.
Toby: I think the last thing you said was just setting the intention of really being at your best every time giving, leaving, putting it all out there, as you said, and just like, that's so important like, what else are we trying to do if not that? If not just give our best performance every time and from there, I kind of would like to go into how can you know, like, what are the things or what's the approach to knowing you've won the audition, even when you don't book it?
Leonard: All right. Well, just before we go there, I just want to say this real quick. One thing I also used to do is, you know, hey listen, I'm a people person, but sometimes I don't feel like talking when I get there, you know what I mean?
Leonard: And I used to bring, instead of using my phone, this is interesting. Instead of using my phone, I would bring a paper or something to read, something else to read. And I will sit down read that and it would I don't know what man but it always do wonders for me. Because that's if I wasn't in the mood to be talking and chatting it up. But I would always bring a paper something, something to read and they would just work wonders for me, take my mind off everything. Now there's a lot of dialogue in the audition, then I would definitely spend my time reading that thinking about different options, different scenarios, I would definitely spend more time reading this side. But I just want to say that real quick, now you're saying, how do I deal with when I leave the room what we're saying this [inaudible 36:09]?
Toby: Yes, like so I'm telling my actors like, like having booking, as your metric for success as a person or as an actor is not great, because there's too many variables. And you want to create a process where you can know if you audition well or not, you don't need their approval for that. Because there's plenty of examples every day where someone gives an amazing audition and they don't get it for reasons outside of their own control. And so what's your approach to knowing like, you know what, Leonard, I kicked that audition's ass, that was awesome. And, I booked it or I don't but I know that I left it all out there and I did what I needed to do.
Leonard: Well, a couple of things, you know, with these commercials it's funny. Sometimes they're not even looking for a lot of dialogue, they just want to ask you a couple of questions and what do you like to do for fun, blah, blah, blah. So with the auditions, where I don't have a lot of dialogue, I go in there and just kind of be one of the guys, with the producers and directors I don't know if everybody else does this but it's kind of just show them a little bit about who I am. I could be an easy guy to work with, I'm a nice guy, whatever and that's helped me out a lot, and I usually crack jokes too. I do, do that.
Toby: I think you always do.
Leonard: But it's not forced.
Toby: No, it's always authentic.
Leonard: You know what I mean? But you have seen in class like you see a job like I just can't let that go, I got to crack a joke on. It's that type of thing and I use that. But anyway, to answer your question, brother, there's two additions right now that leave like, good lord, that was horrific, oh, my god. I've ever gone to some auditions recently and I was like, I almost stopped it and said, look, man, don't even worry about this one, don't even worry. Thanks for having me but don't even worry about it.
Toby: No, I have one of those recently, too.
Leonard: Yes. So those are going to happen. But when I walk into auditions, and I go in, and I have a callback, I go and I have a blast. I know I nailed it and I don't get a call it doesn't bother me one bit.
Toby: Why not?
Leonard: It doesn't bother me because I know hey, it's out of my hands. And I know and see, this is another thing, I know people like you, I know people that were actually and I've done this myself where I have done casting. I've had people come in, and rock the room, I mean, kill it but they just didn't [inaudible 38:30] with the look. They weren't the look I was looking for or he didn't match up well with the wife I liked or the kids didn't, you know, he's a little bit too heavy, a little too skinny or we need somebody with longer hair. I mean, there's so many different things.
Toby: Yes. So you're saying you know, and this is sort of what I'm getting at. And I really encourage everyone to sort of develop these benchmarks for themselves where you know, when you've done well, and then the question is, well, how do I know? Well, this is the value of taking class, right? We can kind of transition into this, but having sort of metrics where it's like, did I check my boxes? Did I prepare? Was I relaxed? Was I playful? Was I having fun? And if you can say yes to those things, did I make a choice or it's different for everyone. But if you can then say yes to those things, whatever those things are, that you need to be at your best.
And everyone has been at their best at some point in time, where they in any especially performance, you know when you give a performance or call back when you were just, man you were in the zone, you were doing you, you know that feeling and that's your aim. So if you're leaving being like, damn, I didn't know those lines, that's my bad, you know, or I was distracted, too many people out there and to my work. I could have done that better, that's one thing. But if you say, you know what, I was relaxed, I prepped everything that was awesome. And then you're good if you don't get a call, you're like, hey, it was for some other reason. And that's really why you want to do that.
Leonard: Yes, and you know what, these we're all adults you know, if there are little kids watching this, I'd say something different. But we're all adults and I'm going to be honest with you, bro. I mean, you know if you prepared, you know if you did, if you listen to direction, you know if you asked the right question. So, if you did all those things, and but listen, man, there's a chance that they could give you some direction, look, some of these directors, they'll give you some adjustments, and they only know what the hell they're saying half the time.
Toby: That's true.
Leonard: You're doing your best trying to accommodate their requests and there's confusion, and you do it anyway. I've walked out of the room a lot of times saying what the hell was that? Like, I don't even know if he knew what he wanted. So, you know, and you walk out feeling like, man, maybe he meant this and maybe he meant that there's nothing you can do about that. So on the whole theme of knowing when you kick butt or whatever, you can't read into stuff and Toby you know this too there's a lot of stuff you book where you walked out going damn, I sucked ass.
Leonard: And you booked it. So what you said about preparing and asking the right questions. And you know, even when they're giving you direction, right before your audition, they say okay, we got two people on [inaudible 41:05] if you have questions, ask the questions, man. I don't mean be annoying, like asking micro questions like really, you know, but just get a real good general idea what they're going for before you do your thing. Because if you go off on the wrong tangent that doesn't look good at all.
Toby: No, I'm always encouraging people. I'm like, yes, ask questions. You get what you need to do your job. If you don't understand something, make sure you clarify it because if you're just guessing, you're already at a disadvantage. So I'm glad to hear you say that.
Leonard: Don't be annoying though.
Toby: No, I was thinking this is my analogy, I was thinking about this yesterday, okay. It's like if you're ordering a drink at Starbucks, okay? This is a good analogy if you're because people are like, well, how many is too many questions? So like, how should I ask the question? You'd be the barista, okay, I'm the guy ordering.
Toby: So I'm going to be, you're the barista, I'm going to be the guy who's like, overly it's the sort of the same with like, actors when they're like, the equivalent be like shaking the director's hand. Oh, like, hey, oh, thanks, oh, nice to meet you. Oh, thanks so much, oh, where are you from? Oh, cool, yes, like just being like weird like you were saying. So I'm being the weird actor you being a normal person. Okay, here we go. Starbucks. Go ahead.
Leonard: Hey, good afternoon. Welcome to Starbucks. How can I help you?
Toby: Hey, can I have a double tall cappuccino, please?
Leonard: Double tall cappuccino. Is that all?
Toby: Thank you. And I'll say thank you so much for making this cappuccino for me. It's just so great. Such a great opportunity.
Leonard: Oh, no. That's what we do, no problem.
Toby: Hey, listen, let me ask you a double tall is that like, two cups right on top of each other? Is it just ha, is that what that means or is it like, doubly double meant tall?
Leonard: Yes, sir. I'm not sure I just a [inaudible 42:49] making coffee.
Toby: Okay, cool and the, so when I say like, I say I want the whipped cream are you guys actually whipping or is it coming from a can? I'm just curious because I just want to make sure I'm knowing what I drink
Toby: Yes, so that didn't take long. But I was more just because I wanted to do that. But--
Leonard: That's it.
Toby: You get the picture of like, there's a line where you ask, the questions are not reasonable. But one [inaudible 43:16] reasonable is like, oh, hey, man is the do you guys add the sugar or do we add the sugar, I forget. Oh no we add the sugar, okay, cool. Just trying to get the information to do your job, but not like to ask questions, to ask questions.
Leonard: No, that's an excellent example. That's an excellent example. You know, like, is the mom more of a nice mom or she a mean mama or she really cared about the kids or is she just, are they adopted kids or does she have them by birth? Are the parents still together? Like, that's too much, man. So yes, exactly. Exactly.
Toby: Yes, I was, whenever someone sort of starts asking me those questions, I create very elaborate back stories for their character. I'll be like, I'm so glad, I'm so glad you asked that. Yes, the mother, she is a nice mom but it's only because her mom was very abusive. She would beat her but not with her hands with a coat. She beat it with a coat, it was a leather coat with a whip so she is afraid of leather now. And if there's any leather and the other, you know, just it could just go on and on.
Leonard: Yes. And then you delete the tape.
Toby: Yes, but I record my explanation and so I can watch it later and [inaudible 44:26] myself. That's funny, man. Yes, no, but you're right in like but asked questions, but keep it reasonable. And that if you think about, like, what's reasonable, when you're ordering a lot it's sort of the same idea. It's like, yes, if you need to know something, do your job. But like, there's many actors, not many, but it happens where actors just like, dude, just stop, you don't need to know that to do your job. You know, it's fine.
Leonard: Excellent, excellent, excellent example.
Toby: And, you know I teach classes, and there's a ton of class out there. And I don't even really this, I don't make these to pitch my classes. It really is because I want actors to sort of get different perspectives. But you had a nice little piece on the value of taking classes. And it's nice to hear from someone who's been booking, because I think there's a lot of actors who are working who feel like, oh, only people who feel like they need help are taking classes. And so I'd love to hear your perspective on the value or the lack of value of studying and we've heard the piece on sort of the value of performing live, which I totally agree with. But I think also there is this value for classes and I'd love for you to speak on that a little?
Leonard: Well, here's what I will say about that. When I wrote the book, the first people I interviewed were casting directors. And why did I do that? Because if anybody can give you insight how to book because that's what we're trying to do, how to be successful as a casting director. Now, as far as taking classes, I don't know if I recommend taking classes from another actor, maybe so that does a lot. I mean, I could probably help. But I think taking classes from someone in casting is paramount, taking classes from someone in casting or an actual commercial director, I think it's huge. Because like I said, the stuff that I learned, I learned so much writing this book, and a lot of it I learned from interviewing the casting directors. And it's just what you guys see that works and what you see that doesn't work is huge, huge.
So I think you could cut a lot off the learning curve, look, I've been in this business for 15 years before I wrote the book or 16 years before I wrote the book. And I learned, probably, you know, I learned so much more from interviewing the casting director. So whoever's taking the class from you, or anybody in casting are going to be leaps and bounds ahead of anyone else who hasn't or who isn't. And, even actors that are currently in the game, like I said, I was in the game 16 years before I wrote the book so I learned a lot from the cast and directors. So I think anybody who's currently an actor, that's not writing a book, or even that's written a book can learn a lot. Hell I can go to your classes and learn a lot.
Toby: Yes, and I think that we all have something to improve. And I agree with you, I mean, this is sort of we teach what we need to learn and I agree with that, I mean, I've learned so much teaching. And there are a lot of great classes in LA. And I've always told my students like, look, this is just perspective and there's a lot of different people out there with different perspectives and it's really valuable. And I love what you put in there, where you are like, how do you find the right class? Well, now, you can get a lot of information, but I think getting referrals from your friends is just such a great way to start. Just like talk to people who have taken the classes and see do they like them? What's the vibe? And agent referrals are good, too but it's really like, you're someone who's like-minded with the same temperament as you and did they like these teachers or didn't they?
Leonard: Well you also now look, and see if it's working for them, that's big, too. If they're not really booking anything at all, and they've been taking this class for five years, then that can tell you that's probably not that effective.
Toby: Yes, but from a teaching perspective, I mean, that is true. But from a teaching perspective, it also has so much to do with the person, like each person's approach and attitude.
Leonard: That's true, that's true.
Toby: Because it is true that there are people who sort of take classes as sort of an excuse to not working, because they're like, oh, I need to be working. I have to learn all this stuff, before I can do what I need to do, but there's people out there who in my best students, I think, are the ones who come in being like, open-minded. I'm not looking for the answer, I'm just looking for perspective, and anything that will help me. And often they find it when you have that attitude, and I think that matters,
Leonard: You know, I have to agree with you on that I had to but I know if that I'm taking a Toby lawless class, he's going to make sure I book something quick.
Toby: Oh yes, real quick. That's funny, man. And also, there's the value of getting practice in the actual environment. I think that that just that hey that helps with nerves. And it gets you used to it when you slated 20 times in a row, and it's just like, okay, you can kind of start to work out the kinks and practice, you know, really, anything, just helps you get better.
Leonard: Anything, anything. I think, it's impossible to practice something a lot and not do well at it. I just think it's impossible, but go ahead.
Toby: No, I agree. Tell me a little bit just where people can find you and what you're up to because I know you have your book, which is awesome. Leonard Jackson's How to Become a Successful Commercial Actor. And like you said, you interviewed in addition to having booked 150 plus commercials you also interviewed cast directors, there's a lot of great info and approach stuff. Like I'm constantly talking about that like how our mindset and our attitude really matters, and that you clearly have sort of a positive leaning, make things happen approach. And I think it's really throughout the book, and it's kind of infectious. So where can people find you best.
Leonard: Black people meet dot com. I'm kidding. I'm kidding. I'm kidding. Those commercials [inaudible 50:29]. Well, don't tell anybody, especially my wife, you tell her it's write you know, the kids had to visit me on the weekend. But so, you can find me if you go to leonardjackson.com, LEONARD leonardjackson.com, click on get into commercials, that's a great way. You can also find my stuff on Amazon. Yes, you go to Amazon type in Leonard Jackson's it's kind of long but do you just type in be a commercial actor or Leonard Jackson's commercial acting. I know, that's long I'm sorry but I need to show it. But it's on Amazon [inaudible 51:07] just type in my name and probably come up.
Toby: And you got that whole action guide, right? That's like, it's a combo of the book and like a workbook that people can use to sort of get themselves going.
Leonard: Yes, I went over and above with this man, I really went hard because I always get you know, whenever my commercials run, people say, hey, man, how do you get into that? How do you get into that? And one of my buddies is actually a public speaker and he writes books and all that kind of stuff. He said, Leonard, Leonard, write a book. People keep you know, because even when we're hanging out, people walk up to me, while we're talking. And they're like, hey, man, how to get in the business. So he helped me put this together and basically, it's a full book, obviously. Then we have a CD set where I interview my agent, I interviewed actors, I interviewed casting directors, I got interviewed, like right now. So that's on a CD set, which is awesome to listen to in the car, whatever.
Toby: The script.
Leonard: And then I have an action guide, which I think, is phenomenal. I wish I had this when I started. It gives you the best ways to find a good photographer, a good agent, a good manager, the questions that you ask them, How do you answer their questions, how to be prepared for the meetings, like it's, oh, my goodness, it's really good. And you get them all as a package deal or you get one at a time or whatever. And I've made it very reasonable, because I know us actors don't have a lot of money. But I'm telling you right now, and I'm not even saying this, I've given this to about four people I know off the top of my head that called me and thanked me and said that they were able to book a lot quicker, because it cuts about two or three years off the learning curve, I really think so. Because all the insight like, you know what I mean, all the insight that people get from your classes, or any type of insight you can get, it could cut a lot off the learning curve.
Toby: That's what I say, I mean, it's like we learn a lot by experience. But when we have these things that going to help us it just sort of fast forwards it, gives a little jumpstart, you can compress that learning from doing 18 auditions over the course of six months to in my case, a weekend or in your case, however long it takes to read your book or whatever.
Leonard: Yes, there's only 100 pages. But listen, man, one thing that people got to remember, some people come on here said I'm going to try to make it in two years, I'm going to go home and, you know, say I gave it a shot. You know, people who have limited budgets or their pants and they don't, you know, this can really be a big deal-breaker. If they could get into the business and start seeing some, some success early versus five, man, look, you know people been here five years is finally starting to make some progress it could take a while. If he get in your class or get this book or whatever. I mean, you could be here and after six months to a year, he could be already having an agent going out on some big audition.
Toby: That's true. really briefly, because we didn't touch on this and I wanted to talk about the agent. Can you tell me a little bit about how your relationship with your agent, you have a section in there talking about making your agent work for you. And I thought there was some interesting stuff because actors talk to me a lot about like, should I visit my agent? Do I talk to them? How do I talk to them? How do we make that work? And as someone who's been doing this a long time, I'm interested in knowing sort of what your relationship with your agent is like?
Leonard: Well, I'm going to tell you something. My agent was [inaudible 54:16] but I used to be with Abrams Artist years ago. And what happened was, for some reason, I always end up going in there. I can't remember what it was but I had to drop off headshots or something. I would always make an excuse basically, I would make an excuse to show up. And you know, them seeing my face and them talking to me. Guess what, man is human nature I'm in their head, now, you know what I mean? I'm into your head now. Phone calls kind of can get annoying, like, oh god, who's that guy again? And then caller ID they can see you calling and they you know but if you show up, they're open, right? They got to you know, it's not like you go to someone's house it's a business. You can walk in, hey, I just thought I'd drop off a card or drop off some headshots or drop off a bottle of wine or whatever.
Toby: Yes, lunch, smoothies.
Leonard: No, seriously.
Toby: I'm serious too. I'm just saying that because it's nice, I mean, and this is coming directly from an agent where they're like, it's nice if they're coming, not just like, hey, what's up, can we just chat. It's like, hey, I'm in the neighborhood, I'm at this movie place down the street, you guys want anything cool, just pop in. And aside from just sort of being in your agents, have them kind of being on the radar, which is very important, I think it's great that they see you, that they see what you look like. And they kind of get a better feel because I know with my agent, especially when I first moved out here, I met her the day I signed and then I didn't see her for three years, because I'm not that type of guy. But she didn't really know my style, she didn't know how I was and who, she wasn't my friend so there's a lot of value to your agent really knowing you and who you are because then they're like, oh oops, you know Leonard's great for this and then they can pitch you better too because they know what your [inaudible 56:00] are, you know.
Leonard: That right? And you know, check the breakdowns if you can get your hands on them and ask your agent to submit you for some stuff, maybe with an email or something. But what you said was huge, you know, this is where professionalism comes in, you got to still be professional in what's going to make your agent work for you even more is if you go to all your auditions. You get there on time, you carry yourself professionally when you get there and when you leave. And you know, you make an impression because that makes their job easier because they're probably submitting you was it just doesn't happens.
But these casting directors, they get to the, look Toby you see me all the time. I go to all these other agents all the time, I mean, casting houses all the time, they know me, they know I'm professional and they know, you know? But sometimes it takes a little while to get into the rotation. I see the same people all the time. So they get into having rotation like that, it takes a little while but what's going to help you is if you've been in very professional, you do a good job, you leave an impression right off the bat it may not work out so quickly. But eventually, you start getting into the rotation that you'll see the same faces all the time.
Toby: It takes time, though. You're right. Cool, man. Well, I want to just kind of wrap up I like to do this little thing it's like a little free association. I'm going to just kind of throw some words that you and I just want you to say the first thing that comes to mind, okay, with relation to all the things we've been talking about. Here we go, confidence is?
Leonard: I know this sounds cliché, but being yourself.
Toby: Great preparation is?
Leonard: Practice, practice and can I just add something to that I forgot to say about earlier.
Toby: Of course.
Leonard: What going to sleep on time and eating a good breakfast is huge. Whenever I got call back I make sure I go to bed on time, I eat a good breakfast. Anyway go ahead.
Toby: I constantly am talking to my actors about that with the preparation like this. We're not just talking about a lines, I'm talking about you being at your best. So you need to eat, you need to sleep. You need to be relaxed, get there early, you know, this is all combined. And like for me and since I wouldn't drink coffee it would crack me out too much with the adrenaline. Okay, anyway, that was preparation. Authenticity is?
Leonard: There's only one you baby.
Toby: Being consistent is?
Leonard: Taking responsibility discipline.
Toby: Comedy is?
Leonard: Leonard Jackson.
Toby: There we go. Alright, dude, thank you so much, man. I appreciate you jumping on here with me.
Leonard: Alright, Toby make sure things are happening, brother.