Tom has appeared on dozens of top shows (Breaking Bad, Bones, CSI, Criminal Minds…), acted in scores of successful national-network commercials, held lead roles in several films (WMD, Alien Raiders, Bricks & Ashes…) and appeared on many stages around the country (Street Car Named Desire, Guys & Dolls, My Three Angels…)
“WHY DO I WANT TO BE AN ACTOR?”
– 1995 essay to Yale Drama School.
WHY DO I WANT TO BE AN ACTOR?
That’s a damn good question. “Why do I want to be an actor?” And I wish I had a damn good answer to it. Problem is I’ve been asking myself that same question, over and over almost every day of my life since my first real experience with acting my senior year of College.
Here’s the scenario; I’m a senior at Trenton State College, three-point-three grade point average in Biology with a minor in Chemistry, and a good foundation in Business and Communications. I’m interviewing with some of the hottest pharmaceutical companies in the world and I’m thinking about scrapping it all and pursuing acting. Only thing is, my professor of the acting class pulls me aside and gives me the facts. Million people all in New York, all waiting tables, all aspiring actors, get a job, train at night, if you want to be an actor in a couple of years, be an actor then, take the money now. So, I did just that. I worked for Eli Lilly and Company as a pharmaceutical sales rep in New Haven Connecticut for two and a half years, and I took classes at night. Also performed in several of the local playhouses (Stony Creek Puppet House, Hamden Community Theatre, Bronson & Hutensky Theatre, Audobon Street Theatre, and many others, even a short improvisational show at the Shubert)
I was performing, writing, improvising, and even started doing stand-up comedy at some of the open mike nights. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be performing six or seven days a week. All the time asking myself “why do I want to be an actor?” I was making a salary in the high forties, with a brand new car every sixty thousand miles, and a sales bonus system that put me easily within the fifties. I’d sit in the doctors’ office waiting to give them the pitch while reading scripts, memorizing lines, and reading books on acting and actors. In the car in between sales calls, I’d either be vocalizing for an upcoming voice lesson, playing dialect tapes in the stereo, listening to my own voice for the purposes of memorizing or scripting jokes or play ideas through the use of a handheld recorder.
My local improvisational comedy team was invited to a competition in New York and although my team did not place. I was recruited by a New York team and asked to join them in New York for future competitions. That started my integration to New York. Every Wednesday night two hours down, three hours there, two hours back.
At the same point of time, my District Manager was pushing me for a promotion that I really didn’t want. A promotion would have meant sixty hour work weeks, and a relocation to Indianapolis. Well, what’s a boy to do? Sell out go for the big money, or live a dream? I wanted to be an actor. I want to be a creative force in the entertainment industry. I wanted it so bad, that as a gift to myself on my twenty-fifth birthday I gave my notice. And four weeks later moved into a small one bedroom apartment in Hells Kitchen with a friend. All the time asking “why?” I went from living in a three-floor condo in Branford Connecticut, a stone throw to the beach, with tennis courts, and a swimming pool, to a roach-infested fifth floor non-air-conditioned, poorly lit, walk up.
I’ve moved a couple of times since then and had more crap survival jobs than I’d care to remember. Have been more frustrated, depressed, and beat up then I ever would have imagined. Yet here I am. Still living in New York City. Still sitting behind the keys of my IBM clone. Still here three years later, still acting, still writing plays, still asking myself the question “Why do I want to be an actor?” Which is basically the same as asking “Why am I doing this to myself?”
Is it because it’s my drug of choice, the only high that ever mattered to me? Is it because I like the way I look on film, on television? Is it because I feel I’m making a difference in the world, I’m making people think, feel, laugh? Is it because of all the praise I get, the applause the pats on the back? Is it because I finally found something that I can be great at? Is it because I love the challenge of it all? Because everyone says it’s impossible? Is it because I’m not able to be true to my feelings anywhere else but on the stage? Yes. Yes. Yes. It’s all those and many more. But the thing the sentence that sums it all up for me isn’t to the question “Why do I want to be an actor?” it’s “Why am I an actor?” And that answer is easy.
There’s nothing else I want to do.