Life as a Series Regular

Last week’s Your Turn kicked off with the following email from a reader:

The question I have found myself wondering about lately is what the actual day-to-day life of an actor who is a star or series regular on a television show is like. We hear so much all the time about what life is like while chasing work but what about once you have gotten a really great job? I know it is hard to generalize because no two jobs are the same and each show is different, each role is different, each actor is different, but is there any way to get a good sense of what a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly schedule is like?

Well, just like we did with the popular On the Set column, I’m turning things over to the experts in this area: some of the most amazing actors I know — all of whom were willing to take the time to share a bit about what the series regular life is like. In addition to acknowledging the expertise from a few anonymously-participating network and cable series regulars, I need to extend a huge thanks to Twink Caplan (Clueless), Bob Clendenin (10 Items or Less), Sean Hankinson (Prom Queen), Camille Mana (One on One), Valery M. Ortiz (South of Nowhere), Brian Palermo (Thank God You’re Here), Faith Salie (Significant Others), Anna Vocino (Free Radio), and Victor Williams (The King of Queens). Also, I’m ever grateful to Lindsay Hollister and Kathryn Joosten, whose contributions on regularly working in support of the series regulars rounds out this week’s Your Turn. All of you, THANKS for bringing together such a wonderful collection of first-hand information and practical advice for actors everywhere!

Interestingly, when I did my initial outreach to some of my favorite series regulars, I received reply emails alerting me to the fact that these actors actually were “heavily recurring guest stars” rather than series regulars. Honestly, I know nothing should shock me anymore, but there were a few instances in which I was truly baffled by the amount of screen time and notoriety some of these recurring guests were getting (so much that I was certain they were series regulars). Sure, for currently-airing shows, I could watch the opening credits for verification, but in the case of shows I’m remembering from my past, I guess it never occurred to me that some of these awesome actors who did 30 episodes over three seasons were simply recurring guest stars. (Lucky them, huh?)

Pros and cons, of course. Job security, for sure. But then there’s also a loss of a certain measure of autonomy and flexibility for other work. And, regarding that “job security” thing, as Sean mentioned: “We don’t know if the next season is going to be greenlit. I don’t know if it is going to be greenlit, but my character is going to die in the first episode. Being a regular comes with a false since of security.”

Camille mentioned that her first order of business was buying a house. “You don’t know when that series regular money is going to go away, so you have to invest during that first season (but not to such an extent that you can’t afford the mortgage if the show gets cancelled or you get written out).”

“I’ve only had one gig as a regular and that pilot did not get picked up. But I’ve done tons of heavy recurring and I’ve been close to regs over several shows. Here is the number one: You work like hell. Number two: They own much of you.” — Kathryn

Pre-Show

“Your contract is signed before you go into one of the final auditions, usually the network audition. Now, if you’re lucky, the show will shoot in LA where your home is. I was up for a series reg on Everwood, which shot in Canada, which meant I would have to rent a house or apartment up there and leave my pets behind… and who would take care of my house? My car?” — Kathryn

“The first thing that happens is the night before is we get a callsheet and calltime. It normally arrives 12 hours before your calltime. I learned really quick that if I got a voicemail from the AD at 2pm, it was an early night for me (and same thing goes for later in the evening). They are really good to us and give us an advance callsheet that would be TBA, but it’s all very unpredictable and dependent on wrapping the night previous.” — Sean

“I have no sense of direction outside of Hollywood so I always have the emergency number of the AD, especially if it’s an early call. When we lie about our measurements and weight then get the job the costumers inherit double the work because at the same time you are getting the call they’ve got people out in the field finding clothes for you!” — Twink

In General

Best hours going seem to be in the half-hour, live-audience sitcom gig. The amount of time spent on the show seems to grow with fewer spectators and fewer cameras, regardless of the style (comedy, drama, dramedy) or destination (network, cable, Internet). Pilots are a whole different ballgame. Almost like little films. But with more pressure. Camille explained, there are power struggles and tension-filled days, “’cause everyone is scared for their job and making the show ‘work.’ Honestly, I don’t think it lends itself to creativity, productivity, or success. I think that’s why so many pilots turn out crappy, ’cause everyone is too scared to go wrong and is wondering what will be successful rather than working on a good product.”

“Your constant presence on the same sets will give you both an extreme level of comfort and maybe a confusing amount of déjà vu. Practice your new blocking on set. Because though you’ve entered through that kitchen door 100 times, sometimes you cross to the fridge, sometimes to the table, sometimes to another room, etc.” — Brian

Live-Audience Sitcom

“I have been a regular (essentially) on several sitcoms and you can’t beat that schedule. The first day is a table read and usually that’s it. Next day read, rehearse, and then a producer’s run-through. Day three is read, rehearse, and network run-through. Day four is camera blocking and day five is some fine-tuning, camera blocking, and then studio audience. The schedule is embarrassingly easy time-wise, but the run-throughs can be stressful — if you don’t nail a moment, it will be gone, gone, gone the next day — and constant rewrites can be frustrating to some. Some actors love a studio audience and some don’t.” — Bob

“I enjoy a live audience though it isn’t as magic as a stage. When you are in a play the audience gives you energy. I find it stressful to have a live audience because I know if I flub my lines and have to do it again they’ve already heard the joke and sometimes laugh too soon.” — Twink

My anonymously-participating network sitcom friend has told me about receiving the script at 2am the day of the table read. (So, those of you who think you’re gonna have plenty of time to prep your lines before being judged by someone — “cast, crew, and network producers,” my friend tells me — be aware that being a quick study is going to help you a great deal.) “You have to be funny at the table read, otherwise they start changing your jokes and butchering everything. Every night we get a new script at 2am, so the script is constantly evolving.”

Some sitcoms do a day of pre-taping “in front of laughers, which are people who are paid to laugh in the audience. Day five, we have a full audience. You still get a script at 2am. There are new jokes. You have to learn to think on your feet and be flexible. You have to learn to land the jokes.”

“At the dress rehearsal, 25 different executives and writers are sitting in the bleachers changing your lines and the way you say them, which is difficult for the rhythm of the actor. But never complain. Do it and try to give them what they want even if they aren’t sure themselves!” — Twink

Another few notes from my off-the-record friend: “The writers and producers are completely in charge. Everyone has an opinion on things and then there are censors. It’s constantly evolving. You may have an awesome joke on the first day and then it’s completely gone on the second day. It’s all about being flexible. They change jokes. You always have to be on your toes. A sitcom is constantly changing. It’s not like a play. It’s kind of intimidating at first when you are not used to that format.”

Single-Camera Sitcom

“I was a series regular on two television shows — Fast Times and Clueless — and both were filmed. I loved it. The hours are longer but it’s worth it. You have a lot more locations and set-ups to dress and a cinematographer that is working hard to light them. When you get to set, the first AD takes you to the set where they are setting up the first shot. You rehearse in your own clothes (don’t wear turtlenecks or anything you can’t take off easily since you are in hair and makeup with your own clothes). After you rehearse, you go back to your trailer and get into your outfit, shoes, and jewelry. Perhaps a touch-up of hair and makeup. Then you go back to the set on time and do your scene. Sometimes your scenes are spread out. You do one in the morning then another at 6pm. By then your makeup is making the pores in your face so deep you could plant shrubs. You’ll get a touch-up, do your scene, and then come home and take a hot bath. When the director yells: ‘Cut!’ don’t put the piece of jewelry you loved in your purse, they know everything! Also, hang up your clothes and leave the way you found them. This enables the costume designer’s assistants to get home earlier and they really appreciate it.” — Twink

Internet Series

Prom Queen is shot like a feature film. We don’t shoot on a studio lot; we shoot at several different locations. Ben’s house is in Beverly Hills, the exterior of the high school is in Los Feliz, the interior of the school is shot at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita. I wake up, take a shower, brush my teeth, and drive to location. You don’t have to do anything to your appearance. Girls (and guys) arrive with no makeup and looking pretty rough seeing that they are beautiful on screen. Half the magic happens in makeup. During that process, the stylist is picking wardrobe and checking her continuity book and I always get revisions. I am a quick study, so it is not a huge deal for me, but one thing to keep in mind is memorize but keep it flexible. I get made-up and dressed, and I find my first scene partner. If they are working, I will run the scene. I don’t want to be thinking about lines during the scene, so going over it a few times without emotion gets the lines to set in and become second nature. Since we shoot like a movie, we shoot several partial episodes in one day. This means our director could change hour to hour or stay the same all day. There are four directors on Prom Queen. At this point, I am usually asked to do a ‘vlog’ or photo session. Since our show is on the Internet, we are constantly asked to grab a partner, grab a camera, and go off during the downtime. We create histories for our characters at all times. Not only are we documenting our character lives at all time, but an ‘off-duty’ director will be looming around with still photography snapping away, capturing natural moments that are not canned or processed. Selections of this are available on MySpace for the fans that want to go deeper. Lunch is always good, but better with less people. If they are only shooting two actors all day, they break out the really good menus. I tend not to have any food in my fridge at home when I am shooting. All my food comes from craft service on set. At wrap, we get callsheets for the next day. Sometimes we go out and decompress from the day and sometimes we each go straight home to hit the hay. After shooting the prom sequence into the wee hours of the morning, we still went out and drank. We needed it! I was still emotional and it was amazing to have such a supportive cast and crew (family) there to help me deal with its after effects.” — Sean

Hour-Long Drama

“On a one-hour show, the days can be very long. A really heavy ensemble show, like The West Wing, meant most everyone who was a reg was there every day. On something a little less ensemble, you are off some days, or work part of the day.” — Kathryn

“I’ve only guest-starred on hour-long episodics. For supporting series regs, you can be blessed with several days off, but days on can be extremely long. You will also work with a wide array of directors, which can be good and bad.” — Bob

Improvised Multi-Camera

“I’m currently a series reg on a half-hour largely improvised comedy on TBS called 10 Items or Less. This is unlike any show I’ve worked on, although the format has increased in popularity over the last few years. We shoot in a working supermarket and shoot each episode in three days. We have a four-day work week (most Fridays off) and due to the deal with the supermarket, we are on a very regular schedule of 6:30am to 7pm. Because the show is improvised, we often have no idea what the scene is until we arrive on set and the director gives us an overview. We learn what plot points we need to know and what information we need to get out in the course of the scene and then within minutes someone is slating. We shoot with three cameras and within a few takes the scene starts to take shape, although very rarely is any dialogue locked. Personally I love, love, love the job, but I know many actors for whom this routine would be maddening. I’m called almost every day, but there are plenty of breaks throughout.” — Bob

Half-Hour Drama

“It’s a dream come true being a series regular and finishing our third season of South of Nowhere, but with every success comes a lot of hard work! A usual day on set begins at about 6:20am in Whittier (meaning I have to make time for the drive). Although it is early, all I have to do on a working day is wake up, brush my teeth, and go! On set, I can eat breakfast (Catering is fantastic!), they provide me with wardrobe for Madison, and of course I get the works in hair and makeup! Every day is different, which is something I enjoy. Some days I may have one scene and be in and out. Other days, I might be in three or four, so I’ll stay on set all day. Of course, I’ve found times to nap in my trailer if my scenes are spread out during the day! The only big downfall to having a long day is being done by 5pm or 6pm. Meaning traffic on the way home! And depending on the day, when I get home, I just usually relax and get ready to do it all over again the next day. Sometimes we will have night shoots. That means we arrive on set by 4pm or 5pm and could leave as late as 4am! That’s rare but it did happen when we shot the prom scene of the season two finale. It felt like a really, really long party!” — Valery

Improvised Single-Camera

“Right now I’m shooting my second series regular role, this time, a new single-camera comedy for VH-1 called Free Radio. I play a morning talk show DJ and the foil to my co-star (and creator) Lance Krall’s charming moron character. We are shooting eight episodes in five weeks and the show will air in February 2008. The radio talk show is fictional and we have celeb guests on as themselves promoting in real time what they have going on in their careers. The episodes are outlined, but the dialogue is improvised. It’s the most fun I’ve had on a show and every day is completely different. I’m usually working daily from 8am to 6:30pm, but that’s really a pretty easy schedule compared to my friends who are regularly called at 5am or on night schedules or on location in a place like San Pedro. Every night, I’m prepping like crazy reading everything I can about our guests so I can interview them without a snag. Then when the interview happens, I’m freed up to have fun with the person and improvise a fun interview. At the end of the day, I’m exhausted, not realizing that I’ve used all my energy to be on. Our show has a tight budget, so I’m always mindful of where I can help speed things along. My hair is going to be the same style the entire eight episodes since we don’t have time to spare on huge hair/makeup changes. We need to get the shots off quickly and move on, and I don’t ever want to be the one to blow a take.” — Anna

The Waiting Game

“Working for weeks on a project as opposed to a few days gives you proportionately more downtime. Now, you will need some of this time to learn the new blocking and constantly changing script. And the rest? You’ll quickly tire of small talk at crafty which consists entirely of trying to hook up if you’re single and trying to get your next job if you’re married. I had to learn to stay at least somewhat focused for when I got called back to the set to work. So, in between the endless hours on PlayStation, writing your own screenplay, and surfing the ‘net, you might want throw in a little stretching or meditation for balance. You’ll be in your dressing room or trailer for weeks at a time so you can bring in more personal items to make you more comfortable and inspire you. I travel with lots of pix of my wife.” — Brian

“Life of a series regular: Hurry! Hurry! Wait…. When I worked on The King of Queens, there was a lot of down time. One of the reasons I miss theatre so much is because on stage — with the exception of tech rehearsal — it is all about the actor. You spend every minute rehearsing. In film and television, it is much more about the technical aspect. It’s about the lighting, the cameras, the blue screen, the green screen, the rewrites, the producers, the network, and — finally — the actor. There is a ton of waiting, while your crew is busting their collective asses to set up the perfect shot. But when you’re called to set after sitting around for an hour, you have to be on and ready to go. Then you’re done with that shot and you sit around and wait some more. So the challenge is to stay ready, stay focused, and avoid craft services. Personally, I suck at avoiding craft services!” — Victor

Days Off

“On my off days, I love to sleep in! I usually use those days to run errands, clean, catch up with friends, just relax! Some days I’ll sneak in an audition or two when I don’t have work. That’s an actors way to make sure we can pay the bills post-season! 😉 But all in all, booking in general makes any struggling actor feel blessed and actually being a series regular on a show that you really respect makes what we might consider ‘harder days’ all worth it!” — Valery

“Technically, series regulars do 25 episodes a year. Even when you’re a working actor, more often than not, you’re not working. I would work 25 weeks out of the year, but I would still have 27 weeks to try to find other work. I’m still out of work half the year!” — Victor

Relationships

“Life on the set as a series regular is much like life. You have to be a mensch. When I’m in the makeup room with one of the stars when I am a guest — and not a regular — I don’t talk to them until they speak to me. When I’m a series regular, I introduce myself and try to make every actor coming in welcomed and comfortable. I love being a series regular. It’s a family. When I did Clueless and Fast Times the cast and crew always had close relationships. The crew are the people I depended on.” — Twink

“Learn everyone’s name! It is hard because there are so many people involved. But it’s common decency and a sign of respect to the crew who also work very hard.” — Brian

“For me one of the greatest pluses of being a regular is that you develop a real rapport with not only the other cast, but also the crew and director. It really becomes like family (however dysfunctional).” — Bob

“The great thing about being a series regular is that my costars and I have become so close year after year that long days/nights together is a great excuse to be silly!” — Valery

Your Responsibility to Your Character

“The day-in, day-out familiarity with everyone from the EPs to the interns may embolden you to suggest new lines, actions, and even plot lines for your character. I’ve found that writers and producers are either genuinely receptive of this or will at least humor you. Everyone is keen to make every character as strong as possible. But don’t abuse this. If the bulk of your suggestions include you jockeying for more sex scenes with hot leads, you’ll quickly earn the reputation of one to be ignored (not that I know from experience).” — Brian

“Whether or not you have any input into your character, lines, appearance, etc., depends on the relationship between you and the exec producer who is usually a writer/director.” — Kathryn

Your Responsibility to the Series

Several series regulars I asked to contribute to this piece had to check with their network representative, their show’s publicist, their production company’s point-person. “All interviews must be cleared through us” is the rule, for many series regulars. So, while it’s a bonus that you have a built-in publicist through which to run many things, it’s also quite restricting, if you’re used to being your own hype machine.

“Your life becomes less your own and very much more beholden to a schedule dictated by the show. Here’s a perfect example: On Desperate Housewives, we’ve been given a calendar for the year. There are two hiatus periods this year. Four days off — but each has a table read right in the middle and the leads have to be there. As a series regular, you are expected to participate in PR events and photo events on your days off. You may or may not get two days off in a row each week. Sure, you get a really nice trailer, some get a decorating budget for the trailer, and other special perks (parking your car at the set, etc.), but the hours can be brutal. If you are a ‘name,’ salary can be $100,000 to $300,000 a show. For an unknown (to the general public but not to the networks), a starting salary can be $35,000 to $50,000 a show.” — Kathryn

“As far as how much we’re ‘owned’ by our network… to someone else it may seem like we are but honestly, in respect to your character and the production, most of the ‘rules’ are about things you just wouldn’t do anyway. For instance, I couldn’t just cut my hair or randomly get all tan if it hasn’t been approved by my producers. Most of it should be common sense to begin with. Now, as far as auditions (when you have time to go on them during season), there are a lot of contractual things you can’t do if it competes with the network or production you’re working on. I just leave the specifics to my agent and managers. Honestly, it’s all very fair and because our season lasts about three and a half months of the year, I have plenty of time to do ‘me’ the rest of the year!” — Valery

Closing Thoughts

“After wrapping, it is back to the grindstone. Auditioning when you can get the auditions. Hope that your work is getting noticed, and hope that it will help secure the next job. All and all, Prom Queen took me out of the state, out of the country, to my hometown, etc., so I am very grateful. The show getting nominated for an Emmy, a Teen Choice Award, and a TV Guide Award just makes it that much cooler and exciting to be a part of.” — Sean

“Since this is a new show, I’m looking forward to seeing how it will be received. Once we’re done shooting, the rest of the process is out of my hands, so watching how a show is marketed and publicized — plus seeing how the ratings are — is much like having to let an audition go when you walk out the door. I do the best job I can, and the rest is out of my control!” — Anna

“There is nothing better than being a series regular in town! Even with long hours, you sleep in your own bed at night and get your mail on time and can talk with your friends. When you’re finished shooting for a season, you can’t wait for it to be over… and when it’s over you can’t wait for it to start.” — Twink

“In today’s landscape, there are so many types of product being shot that there are no rules anymore. But I still think that getting a series reg is really the golden ring and every actor should remember how lucky they are to have grabbed it.” — Bob

“For better or for worse, getting a series regular gig is outside legitimacy. The funny thing about having any sort of success is it just means you’ve climbed a mountain and then you have a view of all the mountains around you. If you had told me two years ago, ‘You’re going to be a lead on a TV series,’ I would’ve thought, ‘Oh, my life’s going to be amazing! I’m going to have a house in the Palisades and I’m going to be on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno every night.’ But all it means is I go to the set every week.” — Faith

So… what did you learn about life as a series regular, thanks to this edition of The Actors Voice? 😀 Let’s jam in the comments below!


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!


Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000780.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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6 Comments

  1. Raquel R. October 8, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Loved this blog!So informational and insightful!Thank you!

    Reply
  2. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie October 8, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    Thank you, Raquel. I’m so glad this info is useful to you. I really love these SHARES from so many wonderful, working actors. Rock on!

    Reply
  3. Briana Cap October 18, 2013 at 8:34 am

    This was really informative. As always, thank you, Bon!

    Reply
  4. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie October 19, 2013 at 1:21 am

    Of course, darlin’! Lemmeknow if you have any requests for future topics. 🙂

    Reply
  5. Cara Saunders October 23, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    Wow, this was so eye-opening! Thanks, Bonnie, lots of food for thought…

    Reply
    1. Bonnie Gillespie Bonnie Gillespie October 23, 2013 at 9:56 pm

      Hooray! So glad you’ve found this info useful. I love these shares from those who know the deal!

      Reply

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