Self Care in the Creative Industries with Ely Henry
After being in the industry for nearly a decade and a half, Ely Henry has had to develop a resilience towards rejection, learn how to motivate himself during times of drought and keep himself propelled towards the next role. It isn’t an easy task to master the art of patience and perseverance, all the while, minimizing the self doubt that saturates our society. A pervasive aspect of the creative industries especially. He credits meditation, practicing mindfulness and genuinely believing there is always something more out there for you, in staying hopeful in times of difficulty. Acknowledging, that while time may make things easier, “no matter how use to rejection you get, there will always be something that will stick. Every once in awhile you're going to get one of those things [that makes] you go, ‘I thought I was over this, I thought I got used to this!’”.
His advice to fellow creatives is to take care of yourself from day one, learning your boundaries within this industry will take your work further while producing longevity in your career, “if you're in the creative industries, you've got to prioritize your mental health. Sometimes there will be a moment when you think, I’ve got to do this, [knowing] it will drive you nuts. Don't, don’t worry, there is no golden ticket… I think some people obsess over the magic moment, of being discovered walking down the street, but it's just a job like any other and you’ve got to keep your head on your shoulders.”
He offers guidance to those of us who are desperate to find a healthy balance between focusing on work goals and finding time to enjoy the innate moments of life. “Prioritize yourself as a human being first. Think of yourself as a living, breathing person and not just as an actor, or a writer, or director. There are so many people who think they need to make that their identity. It should be a big part of you, of course, but I like music, seeing the world, talking to people, I like to be a person and that informs my work.”
In his role in the animated hit Smallfoot starring alongside Danny Devito, James Corden, Channing Tatum, and Lebron James among others, he gets his break as the voice of the self centered, yet loyal and ridiculous friend Fleem. Calling Lebron James your coworker is no small feat, and Henry brims with excitement as he explains the process of flying to Cleveland to work on the film together, including sitting courtside at a game versus his hometown Toronto Raptors. Perks aside, climbing his way to success in Hollywood, has put Henry in positions adept for growth, proving it pays to stick it out and pay your dues. His first credit, a small role earned in Tina Fey’s Mean Girls lead to a leading role in the Fox pilot project ‘Cabot College’, executive produced by Fey and Robert Carlock nearly ten years later. Working on animation projects such as Smallfoot often take a large portion of your life. Henry was originally attached to the project four years ago as a scratch vocalist, who are often replaced with big name stars towards the end of production, however was eventually brought onto the main cast keeping his role as Fleem.
Success stories like Ely’s are often overshadowed by the instant fame we see deemed as easy, fun, and entitled; however he credits hard work and persistence instead. Pushing past his competitors by developing his identity and using that uniqueness to connect to a character.
“The most useful thing for me when it comes to acting and preparing for roles is studying psychology. I find that's really what it comes down to.” Attending an art school, he developed techniques by using creative exercises helping him dive deeper into a role. Understanding the complexity of human beings has ultimately left him with a toolkit for creating characters while gaining insight into handling the industry as a whole.
Henry attributes acting classes with a heavy emphasis on theatre training to his unique process of character breakdown. With a brief shift from acting towards film school, Ely gained insight into the creative process from a different vantage point, even writing for Warners Brothers Animation and Titmouse Inc. Opening up about his process he explains, “when it comes to an audition, I like to get the script and figure out what my gut instinct is. What's the first thing everyone else is going to do? What's the most obvious choice here? Then I kind of curveball that, [uncovering] the weirdest version and then finding something in the middle.” Setting himself apart from the competition while forcing himself to look at things in a different way and broadening the perspective of the role noting, even the smallest change can shift the scene entirely.
Confronting the obstacles he's overcome, “dealing with the curveballs, the mental flips, and ups and downs of this industry”, as well as, addressing his own privilege in this world, speaks of Henry’s character; an open, honest and genuine guy. He understands the need for diversity and does whatever he can to support people of colour, “Im glad were getting more inclusive and we’re seeing more representation. I’m so happy we're getting to hear [different stories and perspectives], it's been so boring. How long can we hear the same thing over and over again.” Henry discusses a notable shift in the industry that has been long overdue and celebrates the inclusion of all types of people, “one thing I kept hearing from other actors, was [casting] went ethnic, they would say it as if it was a bad thing. That is the best reason to lose a role! I’d rather lose to a role to find out the world is moving forward and progressing. The best thing we can do is to be conscious and aware of our privilege in this world, it's so easy to be ignorant of others.”
In dealing with the hardships that come along with the creative industry, Ely does his best to not compare himself to other actors, to stay grounded with the things he loves and to not lose sight of how far he has come. “On a more practical level, therapy is great, meditation is fantastic, anything that helps you roll with the punches and just kind of understand that life is flux. I was extremely resistant to meditation for a very long time, it just didn't fit with what I imagined of myself. The idea of sitting down in silence for fifteen minutes, terrified me. It's been one of the best decisions I've ever made, to start meditating.” He recommends an app he uses, ‘10% Happier, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics’ and anything you can do to, “understand that everything shifts and moves along and all you can do is observe and manage.”
In a time of constant chaos, it is central to develop an understanding of yourself, and find ways to manage the stress of this industry before allowing the desire for success to consume you. Ely’s story of determination demonstrates the importance of self care as a tool for creative growth. A Canadian on the rise, with another animated title in the works, a spin off based on the classic Flintstones, voicing Bam Bam,” the writing is smart and clever and comes out early 2019. I can’t wait for everyone to see it!” and starring as Gary in Zeroes.