Actress Amanda Payton Shares Insider Advice for the World of Acting
From her journey to acting, Amanda Payton shares how she handles rejection and what keeps her grounded.
The door to the studio opens and rays of spring sunlight pour through. In walks actress Amanda Payton, all freckles, curls and smiles. She exudes confidence and has the ability to make everyone around her feel like they’re already friends. She is in Vancouver shooting season two of Trial and Error as Nina Rudolph. I sat down to pick the brain of the Los Angeles native. Landing roles in shows such as Beginners, NCIS and Numb3rs, she’s no newbie to the acting world.
If you haven’t already heard of Trial and Error, it’s a mockumentary-style show that follows a convicted murderer. “It’s a very small cast, there are six of us and we have some very fantastic guest stars…which I can’t talk about – but they’re iconic,” Amanda spills. “ My character is based on Sarah Koenig from Serial. I act as the eyes and ears of the audience, asking questions to reveal what’s going on.”
Her career as an actress dates back to early childhood where her parents encouraged her to dip her toes into commercial work and photo doubling. Amanda vividly recalled an event that sparked her interest in acting at a young age. “I fell in love with acting when I was about four or five years old I think. My mom took me to see a Chekhov play that my dad was acting in. She thought that I would probably sleep through it, but apparently I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. When it was over I couldn’t wait to see my dad. In the play he had grey hair and glasses and I was so intrigued because I knew it was him, but I couldn’t believe the transformation. Apparently after the show I crawled back and forth inspecting the entire stage. I think that was pretty much what started it for me.”
The impact of seeing her father transformed on stage left an intense impression on the young Amanda. “I was a shy kid, but after the play I realized that you could change yourself on stage. So I would put powder in my hair, put glasses on, and go around to neighbors’ houses to see if I could trick them. This was super odd behavior for me because, as a kid I wouldn’t talk to people. I usually hid behind my mom!”
Along with discovering the ability to transform herself, our conversation revealed that Amanda’s parents had a great impact on her life, through their own love of the performing arts .“My dad made his money as a landlord, but his passion was acting. My mom was a dancer, so I grew up in an artistic environment. I don’t know if it’s a nature or nurture kind of thing, but my dad told me that he would read Shakespeare to my mom’s pregnant belly. It was really important to them that I was cultured in the arts in some way.”
It wasn’t only the love of arts they passed down to her. Her parents shared wisdom in navigating an industry that can be very challenging to take on for a lifelong career. “My parents impressed upon me the importance of studying. When I was really young they asked, ‘Do you want to be a star? Do you want to be a child star? Or do you want a career that lasts?’ They didn’t want me to do it I think, but they also taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be. Once I chose to make a career out of it I ended up auditioning for a spot at the LA County Highschool for the Arts. At the school there was a theatre department, a visual arts department, dance and everything you can imagine.” Amanda took the leap and auditioned alongside 500 other kids. She got in.
Being a student in at this school provided insight into the multiple jobs and responsibilities surrounding film and theatre. Having a high school experience different than most teenagers, provided major lessons she would carry with her into the film industry. “While my friends were out partying, I was participating in various study programs at the arts school. Tech week for example, immersed us in different roles and aspects of filmmaking. Up to this day, I have huge respect for lighting people, because I had to do a month’s study on lighting and it was HARD! And working in the props department was HARD! I have so much more appreciation for all of the different roles because of those programs.”
From acting out scenes from Peter Pan as a child to later studying theatre at Carnegie Mellon and carving a career in film and television, Amanda has come a long way. As an experienced, well spoken, confident young actress, it seemed imperative that she share advice for actors who are new or trying to get into the industry. Amanda was happy to oblige.
“First of all, you need to know it’s a long game. If your feet are pointed in the right direction, that’s the direction you’re going to go. If you’re walking in the direction of a film and television career, it doesn’t matter how many rejections get thrown at you. Even though there will be many rejections, if you’re pointed in the right direction, you’ll get there eventually. Even if your life changes and takes you to different places. For years I thought my path was musical theatre and Broadway, but I kept walking in the direction of what made me ultimately happy and now this is where I am, doing a comedy on NBC. It’s so great and beyond what I could have fathomed growing up.”
Rejection can be tough. Amanda shared that when she booked her role on Trial and Error, she received five rejections the same week. But there’s more to making it in this industry aside from weathering rejections. “A lot of people can hide behind the term ‘actor’ while not being proactive. The best advice I was ever given was when I was feeling like things weren’t happening for me and someone said to me, ‘How many hours a day are you putting into this? Every other job is 9 to 5, so what are you doing? Are you just waiting for your phone to ring? Are you putting in the work?’ I think it’s really important to get into a class, create your own stuff. Write, if you can. Go over scenes and break them down. Collaborate with your friends. Get into workshops. Put yourself into it as if it’s your 9 to 5. And if you wake up one day and think, ‘Hmm, I could do something else that would make me just as happy,’ then GO FOR THAT. In Letters to a Young Poet, the poet at one point says, ‘if you wake up in the morning and there’s anything else that you can do, do that. Because it’s so hard to be a poet.’ I’m paraphrasing, but you get my point. I’ve had moments in my own career where I’ve felt miserable and I’ve had to step back and reassess. I have to step back and ask myself if there’s anything else I could do, and so far, the answer has been no every time. Which is why I’m still doing this.”
Even if you are thick skinned and the hardest working person on the planet, Amanda still stresses the importance of your internal foundation being strong, above all else. “You can’t be in it for the money. It can’t be for the fame because let me tell you, even if you get that, you are still yourself at the end of the day. My base of happiness is still going to be the same whether I am working or not. What I build internally is what I am. It doesn’t matter who tells me I’m fantastic because I already think I’m fantastic, and I have a community of people who think I’m fantastic. I am good at things like showing up and being a friend. When I think about why I fell in love with acting when I was three, it wasn’t for fame and money, it was because I saw the power of art, and how you can change lives through art.”
Amanda’s wisdom reminds me of a quote by Russian producer and actor, Constantin Stanislavski, “If you are looking for something, don’t go sit on the seashore and expect it to come and find you. You must search, search, search with all the stubbornness in you!” So, with that, take up your dreams, follow the wonderful advice of Amanda Payton, and search, search, search.
You can catch season one of Trial and Error on Amazon.
Talent: Amanda Payton x Portrait PR
Photographer: Noah Asanias
Article by: Emily Loewen
Makeup Artist: Maxine Munson using NARS cosmetics and Fenty Beauty
Hair Stylist: Jade Kugelman using Davines and GHD
Stylist: Derek Parrot