We have all had dreams of being a TV/Movie star from when we were young. A small percentage of us try to make that dream a reality. An even smaller percentage of those people actually make in front of millions of viewers. I had the opportunity to speak with one of those people who made her dream a reality, the talented Stephanie Rogers, who has appeared in shows like Saturday Night Live, The Blacklist, The Knick, 30 Rock, Law and Order SVU, Smash, and many others. How did she get there, what has her journey been like, who have been the best movie stars to work with, and what advice would she give to anyone else who wants to live the dream. Read on to find out.
Greg: Thanks for agreeing to tell us some of your story Stephanie. You have had quite the career already, appearing on Law and Order, The Knick, Saturday Night Live, amongst many others. Tell us a little bit about your background as an actor, when did you start going into acting??
Stephanie: When I was in high school my mom found out about an apprentice program at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre and she thought I’d be interested in it since I had done a couple of plays in school. From the moment I walked in those doors I really felt “home”. I met some great people and learned so much about all aspects of theatre. I was able to work backstage, concessions, box office, as an usher, an errand girl - you name it I wanted to do it as long as I could be there as much as possible. I was thrilled to also get cast in a couple of children’s shows there. Later I became involved with other local theatre companies as well, where I strived to get better and became more comfortable on stage.
G: How long did it take get your first break? What skills were necessary to get in the door?
S: I started taking acting classes in NY and learned a lot about the business, got headshots and met with various casting directors. That’s when I found out that you can work as a background actor. I got jobs on a couple of soap operas which led to getting my SAG card. It was so exciting but I still struggled to get regular work. I had some “survival” jobs and even moved to LA for a while, where I also gained more knowledge about the business. Back in NY I embraced being a background actor and stand in again.
G: By “survival” jobs, what do you mean?
S: I worked as a receptionist in an office for a few years. They were great because they were willing to be flexible with me if jobs or auditions came up. Of course having a regular paycheck really helps while pursuing an acting career! I also did voice-overs, shoe modeling and worked as a children's birthday party performer.
G: A children’s birthday party performer sounds like a true survival job to me! You mentioned that you embraced being a background actor. Is that something a lot of actors do not embrace at your position?
S: Oftentimes people don’t realize how important we are to a production since we help set the atmosphere for the scene. Even if no one cares if we’re acting back there, we’re still making the world believable to the audience. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to work on tv shows, films and commercials. It may not be always the dream I envisioned but I’m so grateful to be working regularly. Many actors don't want to do background work and I respect their choice, but for me being on a set is an opportunity to learn as much as I can from the principal actors since that's what I aspire to do.
G: What would be your one piece of advice to a struggling actor?
S: One thing I’ve learned is to never give up. Many of my friends have gotten speaking roles while doing this work and It’s so exciting and inspiring. It’s happened for me a few times and it makes the struggle worth it.
G: What is your life like being a background TV actor?
S: I still dream of booking actual acting roles in tv, film and theatre but for now I enjoy what I do because it allows me to be a part of the industry I love as well as pay my bills, get health insurance etc while I continue to audition and take classes. Sometimes it’s a busy week and other times I’m scrambling for work, sometimes I get up very early to get to a studio or random location by 6am, other times I’m getting home at 6am. Sometimes it’s a 16 hour day, other times I’m done in an hour. Any given week can be different and you learn to roll with it.
G: You’ve worked with some A list actors in your career. How long did it take for the aura to wear off and just look at them as simply another actor?
S: I’ve gotten to work with a lot of actors and directors that I admire and that’s definitely a perk of the job! I wouldn’t be able to name them all but some favorites have been Tina Fey, Tom Hanks, Ed Burns and Steven Soderbergh. I'm a fan of a lot people I get to work with so to be honest I don't think the aura ever wears off for me. Even though I may be fan-girling inside, it's important that I'm professional and respectful at all times.
G: Which actor surprised you the most in terms of how nice they were, how funny, sweet, etc.
S: I got to work on a job with Al Pacino once. I expected him to be serious and very intense. I was afraid to even look in his direction but as the day went on, I was happily surprised because he was so kind to everyone around him, including all of us background actors. Sometimes you work with people that are unpleasant too. I’m not naming names but I’m happy to say that in my experience most have been nice.
G: You’ve worked on Saturday Night Live a few times. They are famous for having a crazy work week. Can you give some color as to what it’s like to prepare for an episode?
S: SNL is amazing and I'm always in awe of what they do every week. As a background actor, you usually get the call on a Thursday after they have had read throughs and the casting director knows what they need for various sketches. Then you go to a rehearsal and if your sketch makes the cut you get to be a part of the action all day on Saturday. It's a great experience and of course, because it's live you really feel the excitement you get from doing theatre, Everyone is working together to make it happen and I'm always thrilled when I get to play a small part in that.
G: Ok, I need to ask you about what is my favorite part of your resume…working on Law and Order. Did you get to play a dead person??
S: Never a dull moment! I usually work as an office worker, nurse, mom, teacher type but occasionally it’s something crazy like a Kardashian...or a dead body. It’s part of the adventure. They say you're not really a working actor in NY until you've had a role on Law and Order and I'm still waiting for that to happen but I have been in the background several times so far. One memorable day was when I was a stand in for a dead hooker.
G: And what does the work of a stand-in entail?
S: A stand in is the same height, body type, hair & skin color of the actor who watches rehearsals and then does the blocking while the lighting and camera crew can set up before shooting. On this day, the actress on was off getting her “dead” makeup on so my job was to just lay there on a dock in Red Hook for hours while the crew did their thing. Quite a day at the office Another time I was on camera as a photo double which is also a fun job. You didn’t see my face but my arm was made to look badly burned by a very talented makeup artist. Since the character was dying in a hospital bed, they needed a closeup shot and used me for it. Every once in a while, I’ll flip channels, see my charred hand and say “Hey that’s me!”
G: Was that when you realized you made it?
S: Haha, oh, the glamour!!!
G: What are you working on currently?
S: One of the shows that I’ve been working on lately is "Bull". It’s been a great experience for a lot of reasons and I’m grateful to have a steady job to go to where I’m able to work with some amazing talented people in all departments. I play an office worker and last season I unexpectedly got a chance to say a line on the show- just one line but it was a true gift. The great Michael Weatherly, the other awesome cast members as well as the crew and my fellow bg friends all cheered me on. It was such a highlight and one of those times where you’re reminded to stay positive and enjoy the ride because you never know when you’ll get a break.
G: What would you tell aspiring actors who want to get into show business?
S: If someone wants to be in this business, it's important to remember that there's no one way to do it. We all have different experiences and paths. I would say to take classes, do theatre and be prepared and professional. Learn about the business end of it i.e., headshots, mailings, networking with casting directors and other working actors etc. and like I said earlier, even though there will be rejection and you'll sometimes get discouraged, stay positive and don't give up if it's something you really want to do.
G: Thank you Stephanie for the time!
S: Thank you Greg!