My LaLa Land Experience
“Follow your dreams!”
It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? But following your dreams can actually be really, really hard.
I’m going to share my story and my dreams. I hope it will let you see that dreams are often not found on the path first taken.
Growing up in a small town in Devon, my first experience watching a movie on a big screen was life-changing. I can remember it vividly. It was ‘The Secret Garden’ and I must have been around 7 years old.
I didn’t have a clue how the film was made, but I remembered being transfixed from beginning to end. I knew at that moment I wanted to an actor. I had always loved stories, hearing them, telling them and now seeing them on the big screen just blew my mind.
My parents didn’t believe in having a TV in the house, so I had very limited access to TV and Film. This was probably a good thing for me as I was constantly outside playing. Whether I was King Arthur or Robin Hood, I was always immersing myself in my own imaginary world where I could be whoever I wanted.
I was quite a lonely child as my sister left home when I was 8 years old. And I didn’t have many friends. But it didn’t bother me that much as I had multiple characters going on at any given moment in my head.
School was challenging but I excelled in dance and performing arts. As soon as I started dancing at 6 years old I caught “the bug” and my life changed from then on.
I would sometimes sneak to my friends’ home just to watch a little TV. I remember watching a documentary about old Hollywood and Los Angeles. The few films my parents allowed me to watch were often the old Hollywood classics. So watching the documentary finally showed me where the films were getting made.
I knew I had to get to LA, so I went home and told my mother that we should move to LA. I was around 11 years old. To my disappointment she said it wasn’t possible.
I couldn’t get those magical images of palm trees and beaches out of my head. Suddenly where I lived felt so dreary.
I decided very young that I was going to get out of Devon, move to London and then somehow get myself to LA.
I didn’t know how, but I believed I could.
Knowing that LA and the movies was where I wanted to end up gave me the fire to work extremely hard to get there.I never stopped training. It was 7 days a week. Dancing/acting/voice classes 6 days a week and rehearsals on Sundays. I was involved in local shows as well as competing in lots of different dance competitions throughout the UK.
The first musical I ever saw on stage was ‘Fame the Musical’ in the local theatre with my sister. I was 12.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was so excited. I understood every song as I had the same dream.
I couldn’t have done any of this with out the support and belief from my parents. We didn’t have much spare money, but anything they did have went towards my training.
One of the best lessons my parents ever taught me was to believe that “anything is possible.” Not many people have that luck.
On leaving high school at 16 I was lucky to get a scholarship to The Central School of Ballet in London, which was a full-time dance course. I knew deep down I was going to end up being an actor, but I saw this course as a stepping stone to getting there.
Central was extremely tough. We were dancing 7.30am until 7.00pm most days and then doing school work in the evenings. I thrived on the intensity and challenge of it all, but I knew that I didn't want a career in ballet. After two years at Central, I moved colleges to Laine Theatre Arts, a prestigious musical theatre school just outside of London. Laine’s was like the Fame school. You dance, sing and act all day. I fitted in much more there than Central. I graduated with my first job at 19.
Ironically my first professional job was the UK tour of ‘Fame the Musical’. I was cast as a swing, so I understudied for 3 roles and had to learn 4 different dance tracks. I struggled with this and found it tough learning all the parts.
The hardest part for me was waiting in the wings to go on stage for the first three months of the contract.
After Fame, I worked as a back-up dancer and model on a lot of different, exciting jobs and I got to travel the world. I was very lucky to be constantly working. I managed to achieve a lot as a dancer pretty quickly. I think it stemmed from being bullied at school about my dancing. I was fighting for success to prove them all wrong.
I had always dreamed of performing on the West End stage. So when the audition came through for ‘We Will Rock You’, I knew I just had to get it.
I don’t necessarily believe I was the best performer in the room, but I had the fight in me to win the role. Landing my first West End show felt amazing. The hard work was starting to pay off.
All the way through my dance career the dream of LA never left my mind. I felt like I was working up to it. Towards the end of my contact in ‘We Will Rock You’, I decided it was time. I was going to move to LA. I had no idea how. I told my cast mates and friends of my plan, and though some were supportive, I know there were a few who were laughing at my plan behind my back.
My first trip to LA was filled with a ton of drama from the get-go.
The night before my flight to LA, the accommodation I had lined up for my stay there fell through. Luckily a friend of mine knew someone out there, a lovely women called Nancy. He connected us and she said I could stay with her.
I excitedly arrived at Heathrow, but my luggage was over the maximum weight and I had to pay to get it on. I looked, and I couldn’t find my wallet. I had left my wallet at home.
Not letting that get in the way of my dream, I managed to talk them into letting me on the flight. I thought my phone would work in LA, but on landing I found out it didn’t.
With no cash and no phone, I had to borrow money from people to get myself on the bus to Downtown LA. Then borrow more money to call Nancy from a payphone.
Nancy was my fairy god mother. She had recently lost her job at Variety magazine and was a little down. I think having this overly excitable Brit jumping around took her mind off her own situation.
For two weeks, she cooked for me, took me around the sites and did everything for me, whilst I waited for my cards to arrive. I will always be grateful for her generosity.
Nancy lived too far out of the hub of Hollywood, so she connected me to her friend Greg who lived in West Hollywood. He kindly took me in for a month.
I knew in that one month I had to find an agent or manager to sponsor my visa so I could move there. I was introduced to a lovely British actress called Anna-Maria Wayne who kindly introduced me to her manager Jerry Silverhardt.
Jerry had discovered some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, including Tom Cruise.
I managed to get a meeting with Jerry. Despite having had very little acting experience, I was so determined and ambitious, that I didn’t let that get in the way.
When Jerry asked me why he should represent me, I replied “if you don’t represent me, it will be the biggest mistake in your career”!
Jerry both represented me and sponsored my first American visa.
I returned to the UK with a spring in my step, as my dream was beginning. I didn’t realize it would take a whole year to get the visa.
At 24 years old I packed up my things and moved to LA.
Being a hopeless optimist, I don’t think things through sometimes. Having had a consistent dance career in the UK, I never had to worry about money. I just thought it would continue in LA. I was very wrong.
LA - starting over
The first couple of years in LA were a constant rollercoaster. I couldn’t afford a car, so I rented one from a place called Rent-a-Wreck (no joke). I basically had a new wreck each week that would often break down on me. I was constantly moving from place to place, sometimes just sleeping on people’s sofas. I even slept in my car for a few days.
My first years of being in LA, I did whatever jobs I could to stay afloat. Bartending, waiting tables, retail and coat check to name a few. I was also living on my credit cards. It was very stressful and that bundle of confidence I came with was quickly being beaten out of me.
As my career wasn’t going the way I had hoped, I thought it would help going to showbiz events and being in the ‘right’ spots. I spent a lot of nights in clubs and house parties trying to network. I got mixed up in that whole scene, which didn’t get me anywhere but feeling even worse about myself.
Despite things not going my way I hoped, I persisted.
My direction changed when I met my business partner in Richard Lutz. He lived very close to me and had just moved to LA with his daughter who was just getting into the industry as an actress.
Richard Lutz is also dreamer, but brought a strong business brain to the table. I had a lot of contacts, but I didn’t know how to utilize them. So quite fittingly we formed a new firm, “Dream IT Productions,” and got into producing. I never set out to be a producer, but being creative and a collaborator is something I love.
Since forming Dream It Productions 7 years ago we’ve produced four independent feature films, music videos, a web series and a play.
Whilst building Dream IT, I worked on myself, mentally and physically.
I began to like myself again. I began to get a better support system and group of friends around me. The dark energy I had been wrapped up in started to lift.
I had so many adventures in LA. Good, bad and ugly, but they all taught me something: to keep growing and striving for my dream.
LA is a strange place, unless you’re up on a billboard or live in a huge house in the hills, you don’t feel like a success. So despite landing some good roles and making progress in my career, it felt it wasn’t enough.
If I could have told my younger self that by the age of 32 I would have appeared in 5 network TV shows, movies, West End shows etc, he would have been over the moon. But I couldn’t help comparing myself to other actors who had better careers than me. It’s easy to say “it’s your journey, and no one else’s”. I felt empty inside.
I began to wonder- what was the real dream? Last year I had had enough. I felt let down by the place I had always dreamed of living in. It had turned into a toxic relationship. I noticed whenever I left LA, I would be happy and on returning, I quickly became anxious and miserable.
I had become a shell of my former, confident self. I read a book last November called ‘The Magic of Tidying up your Life’. It talks about how we hold on to so many physical things we don’t actually need. But it’s a bigger metaphor for tidying up your entire life.
I finished the book, donated 75% of my wardrobe and I decided I was going to leave LA and, instead, live between London & NY. I woke up the next day, fired all my agents, got a plane ticket to NY and left.
Taking my life by the reins in this way felt empowering to me.
Again, I had no clue what I was going to do or where I was going to live, but I trusted I could figure that out, even with my cat and parrot in tow.
Whether I was running away from my problems or I just needed a break, getting out of LA was one of the best things I did.
When you are there you are wrapped in a bubble, a lot of smoke and mirrors and 95% of the people you meet will be in entertainment, chasing their dreams instead of living their dreams.
That said, I still love LA and I know I will probably live there again at some point in my life. I say LA is a blank canvas. It’s what you make of it.
LA has been the biggest relationship of my life. I discovered who I was there. I had the craziest adventures, some big breaks and met some of my life long friends. And now I am out of the fire, I can see how incredible the ride was.
I truly believe being your authentic self is the key to happiness and success. But, if you’re overwhelmed and paralyzed by fear because a career you so desperately want is not working out, it’s hard to be comfortable in your own skin.
I decided to worry less about my career and enjoy life again. So, I’ve been traveling a lot, meeting new, interesting people and learning to just live in the moment.
I’ve been meditating more and focusing on what is important to me.
Projects I had been pushing for years are now being released.
I believe my true calling in life is to inspire. Whether it’s through my work as an actor, producer, dancer, singer, blogger or whatever. It all leads the same way.
Once I took my ego out of the equation, everything I do is now is about what can I do to help inspire others. I feel less concerned about what people think of me or where I am at. It’s now about what can I bring to the table.
Following my dreams has lead me down a path with so many different twists and turns. Most didn't make sense at the time. On reflection each path I went down has taught me a lesson or given me an experience that will help further my dream.
I’m writing this blog as I fly back to LA after a seven month break. I am about to film what could be my biggest acting role to date: playing the lead role in the remake of Nosferatu.
The time away has let me recognise how far I have come, but also how much further I’ve got to go.
Does anyone really know what the dream is? I no longer think of it is as the ultimate goal but rather a belief in yourself to live the life you want every day. Your experiences will mold what that ultimate dream is when you reach it. So, never forget to enjoy the journey.
Here are my tips for following your dreams:
Take a risk
The first step is to try. Gamble on yourself. Ask: What is the worst that can happen? It’s not about the end result, it’s the ride getting there that’s the most interesting part. Enjoy the twists and turns and pick up the lessons that are handed to you along the way.
Attitude is crucial. There’s often a gap between point A, where you start and point B, your dream. In that gap is the opportunity to change your mental approach. Trust the process. It takes time. If you stick to your dream, you will keep gaining experiences and lessons that will help you get into the right mind set.
Persistence pays off. They say “theres no such thing as an overnight success, but 10 years of preparation.” Keep at it. A lot of the time when you first start following your dreams, you experience the exact opposite of your dreams. This is because we don’t have the experience or the right mindset to achieve the dream. This can throw you off course and make you question your dreams. And that why it takes patience.
This blog forms the basis of a series I’m currently developing called Trophy Boys, which I hope to start filming towards the end of the year.
The series is about the challenges of following your dreams, the darkness you can encounter along the way and persistence it needs to achieve your longed-for dream. It will cover topics such as mental health, the issues of a split personality and the sacrifices required to fulfil your destiny.
Some of my personal experiences in LA form the basis of much of the narrative.