For this installment of ‘Advice From the Experts’, we met up in Los Angeles with a woman who really puts the ‘multi’ in multi-talented. Ellen Abrams, or Ellie as her friends call her, is a Casting Director, Acting Coach, Actress and Writer, splitting her time between Los Angeles and her home state of Minnesota. After many years navigating the whirlwind that is Hollywood, Ellie opted to return to her home state, opening a successful business in Minneapolis, MN where she coaches actors on how to build their resume, their brand and their skills set in order to more greatly develop themselves as their own business product. Ellie now travels between the two cities, continuing her personal film career in Los Angeles as well as hosting actors visiting Los Angeles in a seminar, she developed to introduce actors to Hollywood professionals, as well as the basic ins and outs of the Los Angeles film community.
Ellie has a fiery ‘red-head’ personality and an infections laugh that disarms nearly anyone sitting down with her. We had a wonderful time with Ellie, discussing her passion for acting and actors, and the advice she enthusiastically shares with new actors starting out. Here are words of wisdom from Ellen Abrams, answering our series questionnaire:
What is 1 golden piece of advice you have for an actor starting out today?
I think my number one piece of advice is that you CAN become a working actor and there are many ways to approach that. It is most necessary to start out with a great headshot, put yourself on tape and do this through a great acting class that connects you with those who have the ability to help you truly expand your career, because they are connected to the casting or agency side or a working actor themselves. Do not just take advice from fellow actors, because one size does not fit all, and it is important to not buy into any limiting beliefs from peers. Always ask those ahead of you in the field, producers, directors, coaches, agents and those who truly are in the know and seeing the day to day!
How can an actor best create a “Unique Character”?
I think it is important that every actor, just by being human and being themselves first and foremost, is unique. Because we all are. I have found that most of my acting students/clients actually think they have to do more on camera for a character than they actually do. Because if we are casting you for a role, it is because we like YOU in that role. There is no one else like you. Starting out, I think it is best for actors to play roles that are close to who they actually are, for casting purposes especially, because until you really continue to expand your career and your clout, you will be cast closely to your type, even theatrically. Work with a coach who is willing to get you out of your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to play. A lot of my work with actors is just getting them back to feeling like they can play and try new things without self judgement. Just like they did when they were kids!
What are the most important elements on an actors resume to you?
Honestly, I was just having a funny conversation about this with another Casting Director recently. And we said that ultimately, until you have major credits, our eyes really just go to the section that shows whom you’ve trained with, who has directed you, what production companies. Because we KNOW those things. We know if those people and companies have a good reputation, so we can trust that overall, you know what you’re doing. Also, a great agency never hurts, because we trust that they have partially done the work vetting you for us. But also, not a great agency can actually hurt you, so make sure they are a worthy agency to expand your career!
What are your picks of the best actors working today?
OHHHH…this is a tough one for me. So many great ones out there. Fortunately we still have his work, but I know he would have had so much more to give us, Chadwick Boseman [was] incredible. And if an actor hasn’t seen “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”, he has a magnificent monologue especially. One of my absolute favorite actresses is Leslie Mann, her ability to be both heartbreakingly vulnerable and hysterically funny at the same time are beautiful. Helen Mirren is a legend and I love her Masterclass. I adore Paul Rudd in pretty much anything he does. And I always love a great villain or anti-hero, so Billy Crudup on “The Morning Show” is fantastic. I have a true love of actors who have complete disregard for punctuation in a script (I know, controversial) and he just delivers it every time! Emily Blunt is also a fave! Loving Brett Goldstein on “Tedd Lasso”. From the moment he arrives onscreen, we know exactly what he is committed to in the character, his anger and he just soars with it!
What is your list of self-taping essential practices?
Well, self-tapes, they aren’t going away now, are they? I truly miss in person auditions, but I know a lot of Casting Directors are using self-tapes, for the first call at least. The basics, and easiest, is to set up a permanent corner of your place for a self-tape studio so you don’t have to struggle with it every time. It can be frustrating for the actor to be so preoccupied with all the equipment etc…, that it can take away from your performance and you certainly don’t want that showing, so as much as you can streamline it every time so it doesn’t create extra stress will be worth it. Also, I think the easiest thing to do is just bite the bullet and invest in a whole self-tape set up kit from Amazon. You’ll quickly have everything you need. Make sure the wall behind you is blank and there aren’t family members in the background! Do not look directly at the camera unless it is for a hosting spot. Have enough room to get that wide shot head to toe that is required for many slates. Submit tape as often as possible and definitely open yourself up to Casting Director tutorials, often on Instagram these days. I seriously am still learning the best ways to do these myself and I commend actors who are so great at them!
Ellie’s prescription for how to become a working actor, is based on the many years she explored her own successes and occasional misses, sharing pearls of wisdom for actors coming up behind her. Ellie’s goal is that actors from all backgrounds are able to find their place in this business of acting and thrive as they pursue their goals and dreams.
Thank you Ellie for sharing your words of advice and your candor!