Here we are, once again, doing something that I truly love: bragging about people we think are not only super talented, but just all-around-wonderful, as well. Today's Featured Artist In Action is someone you better keep your eye on: Amir Arison. I've known Amir for years and always felt that big things were in store for him. With recent stints on two critically-acclaimed shows — FX's American Horror Story and Showtime's Homeland — he's hitting his stride and making things happen. Let's turn it over to Amir.
1) When you first started working with Capes Coaching, what were your goals?
Well, when I first started working with Capes Coaching actually starts with when I first met Betsy, over ten years ago when she was working in casting at MTC and I went to an EPA — she was so receptive to my audition and we just vibed. I remember her saying, “Oh, I wish you came in earlier, we just cast this part, but will definitely keep you in mind.” Next time the role became available for tour, I contacted Betsy through a mutual friend and found out she no longer worked at MTC but she still put in a call for me and helped procure that appointment, which I then got two callbacks for (and helped solidify me with my first NYC agents). It's all connected. Betsy kept her word, but she also had enthusiasm about the work and about me. I identified with her. I don't like to ask for favors — I shy away from it — but Betsy made me feel welcome and it certainly paid off, not in that job, but with that casting office, that agent, that experience, and of course my relationship with Betsy. I attended her first seminar and found that I was organically doing the biz practices she espoused. It wasn't until 3 or 4 years later, when my career got to the next level and I visited LA, that I was at a loss for how to help myself next. I met for a one-on-one with Betsy and she asked the right questions. One other thing I will never forget: ignore the negative voice we all have in our heads.
Jump to two years later: I was doing good but I was craving more from my representation relationship, wanted a manager, and felt trapped in a cycle of thoughts. I met with Betsy and she said, “Talk to your agents. Why not ask them for manager recommendations?” It was so simple and brilliant. I had pitted the two ideas against each other, and when I put them together, it worked. I even wrote all my agents saying the manager is not an obstacle to your work but an asset to our work, and then had a thrust of energy and work afterwards.
Jump ahead a couple years: I booked my first pilot, and then it didn't get picked up. At the same time, I was up for lead in a major feature, and after a long, drawn-out process, that didn't happen. The one-two punch knocked me down more than I realized. And the thing is, I knew what my priorities were, and I knew these were all great experiences. In my head I knew these things. But my heart hurt so much, couldn't deny it, and I knew I was not myself, so I sought out Betsy. That was a very special session, I mark that moment as a turning point in my healing process, and haven't looked back since. We talked not so much about career or strategy, but about how to take care of yourself personally in this biz. It was bizarre; the following week I booked a huge job, and it was like the energy shifted.
So Capes Coaching has been a place I go to reset my thinking when I feel I am heading south, or feel I am at a loss for the tools to take care of my career and, more importantly, myself. Sometimes one needs a vacation, or a workout, or a massage, or to be around love ones; and sometimes, you just need a one-on-one personalized session with Capes Coaching ;)
2) What have you accomplished since then?
Well, when I wanted a manager and a clearer relationship with my agents, I got one. When I wanted to test for a pilot, instead I booked one. When I wanted to heal, I began healing. Recently, I revisited a play I love, not for career benefit, but simply because I love the piece and cast. I also just guest starred on FX's American Horror Story, (where I had a three-page scene opposite Jessica Lange! And she is the real deal — an unforgettable experience!). Also, I recurred on Showtime's Homeland, which will hopefully continue :)
I have a few more projects in the can, coming out soon, as well. Additionally, I directed a few theatre workshops, and continue to audition and hustle when I can. Even though I am based in LA, I stay connected to the theatre. And most importantly, I take care of myself. Health, fun, love. I would encourage everyone to make sure you take care of your personal life and loved ones as much as you do your career, because they feed each other!
3) What has been your biggest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
Well I discussed many of them above, but I would say the biggest impediment to success is negativity. People operate differently: I’m aware of some very successful people who are sticklers, and I know the nicest people in the world who can't get to the next stage. But as I see it, if negativity wins, there is no real possibility, and one can forget to enjoy the fact that they are living out their dreams, passions and goals. It’s just like an acting scene: don't live in the results; have an intention, goals, but be in the moment — you never know where it can go, and that's the exciting part. You might surprise yourself. Be present.
So I guess I would say my biggest challenge is avoiding negativity, wherever it breeds, in oneself and in others. There’s a lot of bitterness and gossip out there. But there is also incredible talent and inspiring people/projects. Seek that out. I’m also lucky in that I have a pretty amazing mom; she’s a constant source of inspiration, joy, and positivity.
4) What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting out?
You know this is a funny question. I actually don't wish I knew then what I know now, because it was my naïveté that allowed me to enjoy paying my dues, if you will. The hard knocks of EPAs and children's theatre are something I really have no interest in now, but at the time, I couldn't believe I was being paid to act or that I could stand in a line and audition for a Broadway show. (And don't listen to the naysayers: I booked two of my first equity gigs from EPAs, and one of them was a Pulitzer finalist, off-Broadway play in 2003.).
I guess one thing I sorta wish I knew, or I know now, was to relax a bit. I was so driven to do the best work possible and move ahead, and if I didn't feel others were doing their best (agents, directors, fellow actors, etc.) it would drive me bonkers. And I think that was probably visible and not helpful to my process or my relationships, and it got in the way of enjoying the art. What's the point then? But that's part of being in your 20's — things are just so much more relaxed and confident in my 30's, but I don't know that I would have gotten to this point without those 20's experiences.
5) What are you currently working on?
Got an audition tomorrow :)
6) Anything else you feel like sharing?
Well, I’m flattered that you asked me to share. I truly believe in the Artists In Action program and private coaching. It's like career therapy! Conan O’Brien gave this incredible commencement speech at Harvard last year about how he thought The Tonight Show was the end-all-be-all of his career goals — he wanted to be Johnny Carson — and after that all fell apart, he realized that he has his own journey. Ever since, he’s been having the best time of his life. This hit me, because I always thought I had to do a sitcom series, and then I booked one and shot another, and neither of them turned into a series. It was incredibly gratifying to touch my goal, but then it didn't fully pan out. Maybe it will happen again, or not, but I realized that along the way I’ve worked with artists like Jessica Lange, Theresa Rebeck, Raven Symone, Richard Jenkins, and Betsy Capes, and I’ve played The Old Vic and The Public Theater. The journey is still being written and these people and experiences are priceless, and I am having a great time :)