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The Actor's Life: A Survival Guide

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Jenna Fischer’s Hollywood journey began at the age of 22 when she moved to Los Angeles from her hometown of St. Louis. With a theater degree in hand, she was certain everything would fall easily into place. Never mind that she didn’t know a single person in the entertainment industry. She was determined, she was confident, she was ready to work hard. So, what could go wrong?

Uh, basically everything. It would be eight long years before she landed her Emmy-nominated role of Pam Beesley on The Office—nearly a decade of failure, struggle, rejection and doubt.

The path to professional acting was more competitive than she’d ever imagined. Headshots, agents, classes, auditions . . . there was a lot to learn. And with so many obstacles to navigate, it wasn’t always easy to fight off discouragement.

If only she’d had a handbook for the struggling actor. Or, better yet, someone to show her the way—an established actor who could manage her expectations, educate her about the business, and reassure her in those moments of despair.

Jenna Fischer wants to be that person for you.

With candor and wit, Fischer lays out what it takes to establish yourself in the profession. Based on her own memorable and hilarious experiences, she provides invaluable advice on how to get the right head shot, what to look for in representation, and the importance of getting out there and just doing something. She also provides helpful hints on how to be gutsy and take risks, the tricks to good auditioning and callbacks, and how not to fall for certain scams. (Auditions in a guy’s apartment are probably not legit—or at least not for the kind of part you’re looking for!)

Fischer’s inspiring guidance will make you feel like you have a trusted friend who’s made the journey and has now returned to walk beside you, pointing out the pitfalls as you blaze your own path toward the life of a professional actor.

252 pages, Paperback

First published November 14, 2017

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About the author

Jenna Fischer

7 books333 followers
Former receptionist, Mom of two, coffee mug collector, loves to travel.

Jenna Fischer is best known for playing Pam Beesly on the acclaimed television show The Office for which she received an Emmy nomination for Best Supporting Actress and two SAG Awards for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble Comedy.
She's also starred in a variety of films, including 'Blades of Glory' and 'Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.'

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,058 reviews
Profile Image for Miranda Reads.
1,589 reviews154k followers
April 16, 2021

When Pam came along, my particular set of attributes and talents aligned perfectly for the character. I was the right person at the right time for the right job.
Jenna Fischer began her Hollywood career eight years before finally found success as Pam on The Office.

When she first moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream, she didn't expect a golden-paved road to success, but certainly didn't expect... THAT.
Here I was, six months into my big Hollywood move, and nobody knew I existed.
But still, what could go wrong?

Turns out...a lot. From failed auditions to outright scams, Jenna Fischer has seen (and lived through) it all.

Because of that, she's put together a handbook for the up-and-coming author - one of which gives perspective, advice and a strict set of guidelines for what to do (and NOT to do) when seeking an actor's life.

And, remember - when in doubt:
Having a box of kittens put things in perspective.
This was so not what I expected from Jenna's book but all thing's said and done - it was pretty dang good!

I thought this was going to be more of a celebrity memoir but it really, truly was a survival guide to becoming an actor.

And let me tell you - it's fascinating.

While I have absolutely NO desire to become an actor (and this book certainly solidified it), I still really enjoyed this book.

I was always under the impression that actors had agents and then they went out and auditioned for various roles.

And...technically, yes, that's what you gotta do...I learned from Jenna's book that there is SOOO much more to it.

I think this book fits really well for someone who is questioning or curious about acting life. It was definitely an interesting read and certainly one I won't forget!

YouTube | Blog | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | Snapchat @miranda_reads
Profile Image for Danielle.
792 reviews388 followers
December 14, 2022
More of a “how to” guide for acting- not something I’m personally aspiring for 😉 But I love the office- love Pam Beasley… 🤗 So it was fun to hear her backstory leading up to the role.
Profile Image for Miatta.
134 reviews17 followers
November 29, 2017
This book is basically an actors textbook. Please, please, please know this. It was perfect for me cause, hey, I'm an actor. Jenna has been giving out amazing information like this for years, via blog posts and podcasts, and I have been waiting for her to publish it.

But if you aren't an actor and/or have no interest in being an actor and/or have no interest in the art/business/mechanics of acting...it's not gonna be for you. This is not about the celebrity aspect of acting. Or even Jenna's biography, really. While parts of her life story end up in the pages, by and large this book is a guide for people wanting to act in Los Angeles. And before this book ends up with tons of unhappy reviews based on expectations, rather than on the actual content, I want to let everyone know that right now.

For the book itself, its great. Again, I had read a lot of her information on the interwebs already, so nothing was super super new. Also, if you have been acting for a while and living in LA for a while, then this also might be nothing new. But it is always nice to read about another successful actors journey and the tactics they used. And Jenna is one of the very, very few actors who will actually talk about the hustle and how much work they had to put in to succeed. Very often PR firms advise their actors to act as if they moved to LA and POOF! Fame! And that's just not how it works. And it is advice like that that keeps thousands of hopefuls moving to town and thousands of dejected souls moving back home. Jenna wants people to know that, yeah, this shit can be really hard, but also, if its what you are meant to do, so so so worth it.
Profile Image for John Lamb.
537 reviews25 followers
December 20, 2017
Being an actor is not something I ever wanted to pursue, so I am not the intended audience for this book, but I still loved learning about the behind-the-scenes details of trying to make a profession out of acting.
Profile Image for Yoda.
569 reviews110 followers
January 19, 2020
I have to start this by saying I have literally NO plan on becoming an actress and I´m not really that interesting in the field.

However what I do have interest in is celebrity biographies etc. I find it relaxing to read or listen to a celebrity telling me something about their life that´s not gossip.
If I had plans on becoming an actress this book would have been really useful. Its informative, well written and has a lot of useful examples. Its motivating as well, knowing that everyone doesn´t succeed right away and that things take time.
I really enjoyed it.
Profile Image for Scott.
1,711 reviews118 followers
May 30, 2022
"Okay, it's my turn to get vulnerable. And when you see my first headshots [the often professional -grade photographs taken for casting purposes], you'll see why. I wasn't lying when I said it took me years to figure this stuff out. Ready to see some mistakes? Let's have a look!" -- page 40

Although not meant to be a biography per se, actress Jenna Fischer (best known as receptionist Pam Beesly on American TV's The Office) has crafted a memoir-ish volume with her cautionary tale of sorts titled The Actor's Life: A Survival Guide. When this wholesome-seeming Midwestern native arrived in Hollywood circa the late 90's to be an actress it took her 'only' eight years to become an overnight success via her role in the (somewhat belatedly) beloved sitcom. So what exactly took place during that time before her big break into mainstream success? She cheerfully gives readers - especially those with an interest in being a full-time professional performer on TV or film - a glimpse behind the La-La Land curtain to give advice (beware those casting scams!), clarify some industry terminology (agents vs. managers), and describe various other facets like craft services, wardrobe fittings, and tips for proper conduct at auditions and guest-starring roles. While I don't personally harbor any dreams of stardom I liked Ms. Fischer's casual but informed writing style on this subject - and if you've ever listened to her verbally volleying with former co-star / BFF Angela Kinsey on their Office Ladies podcast then you'll be able to imagine her narrating the text here - and enjoyed her many anecdotes and humorous asides, such as the full-page photo-collage "How to Deal with Being Fired" (note - it involves some comfort food, a stiff drink, and two upraised middle fingers).
Profile Image for Ari.
104 reviews40 followers
July 7, 2022
A great book for anyone who is, or plans to get in the brutal world of the entertainment industry. Very eye-opening, raw, and insightful.
Profile Image for Valerity (Val).
941 reviews2,736 followers
October 27, 2017
This is written by Jenna Fischer who played on the hit show "Office" for years. I was hooked on that show for a long time which gave me an interest in reading her book. It's written mainly as a guide for those who are bitten by the acting bug and really as a way to help them with tips and ideas on how to get started and keep going in a career in acting. It seems like it would really be helpful for someone with that seriously in mind for their life too if they really have the drive and ambition to do it and are willing to sacrifice and make it their life's goal as she did. Just as thousands do every year, and work hard at other jobs while they struggle and take classes and continue to hone their skill at acting. And of course, right now with all of the hype about the Weinstein case, you can't help but wonder about how many go through the added indignity of being subjected to sexual harassment too, as part of the struggle of making it as an actor. Hopefully, the light being shined on the subject will help some, but it seems it's been around as long as acting has been. Thanks for reading. An ARC was provided by NetGalley for an unbiased review.
Profile Image for ConfusedKyra.
36 reviews1 follower
March 18, 2020
New favorite book! No joke. Jenna Fischer is my biggest inspiration. (And you mom, she’s on here and I don’t want to hurt her feelings) She made it so she didn’t sugarcoat everything about being an actor. She talked about struggle and heartbreak. It took her so long to jumpstart her career! And I love how honest she was. I may or may not have shed a tear. It was just so inspiring! If I could give it 100 stars, I would.
Profile Image for Candice.
124 reviews
May 29, 2018
This book is up there with Tina Fey's Bossypants. What I appreciate about Jenna Fischer is the way she looks out for those up and comers who don't have "connections" in NY, LA or Chicago. This is a great read for aspiring actors but also for those who love television, film and pop culture. I love reading about the ins and outs of the entertainment industry. Bottom line: Jenna says you can make it with lots of hard work, patience, and determination as long as you stay teachable and be sure to create your own stuff along the way!

Oh, hey! BTW! Aren't you proud of me...? I read a book! LOL I've been reading only social work textbooks for the past year as I get my MSW...now as I near the end of my last class I'm able to read books again ;-) stay tuned for more soon! :)
Profile Image for Deb.
1,220 reviews56 followers
April 26, 2018
I'm between 3 and 4 stars but rounding up because I read it as a Jenna Fischer fan and not an aspiring actor--the audience it is intended for.

I adore Jenna Fischer and I knew going in it was mainly a book about career advice for beginning actors. I loved her stories about her start, missteps, The Office, etc. and didn't mind the advice pieces for the most part.

I actually listened to the audio book and since it was Jenna narrating, it was as charming and funny as she is.🤗I'm going to need to find the pictures to see her bad headshots though--my library audiobook didn't have the download.
Profile Image for Chantal .
335 reviews825 followers
December 15, 2018
An incredible book for anyone who wants to get into, or is already into, acting. Particularly recommend to actors in Los Angeles as some of the advice is quite location specific.

Note: this book is no way an autobiography, but an actor's manual.
Profile Image for Shelby.
33 reviews37 followers
January 30, 2018
I love Jenna Fischer! I only picked this book up because I love her so much, so, obviously, none of the information pertained to me. However, she writes beautifully and conversationally without condescending to you. If you were an aspiring actor, this would be the book for you!
Profile Image for Kat.
704 reviews7 followers
August 5, 2018
Funny and honest, Jenna Fischer provides aspiring actors with practical advice and ample encouragement. I am not an aspiring actor, but I still found the book enjoyable and some of the advice felt applicable to anyone with creative pursuits.
Profile Image for PATRICK.
286 reviews23 followers
October 30, 2021
I can't believe I underestimated the charm that is Jenna Fischer. To think that I had doubts when I bought the audiobook, the nerve that I had! I am known to love celebrity memoirs in audio form and I usually know IF I'm going to enjoy the book from a mile away because we can always assume that the book because of the reputation of the celebrity. But for some reason, only because she's not in any high-profile shows recently because that's how I USED TO wrongly judge actors (by their recent work), I just didn't think it was going to be anything substantial. But it was everything SUBSTANTIAL.

This book is a guide for actors point-blank-period. What I love about Jenna is that she doesn't claim that "this is the secret to being an actor and everyone has been doing it wrong." She claims, "this is my experience with it, it's up to you if you want to take my advice." And she has experienced a lot. I only know her because of The Office and that Splitting Up Show so I didn't have a clue that she had decades of dealing with the rough side of showbusiness even presently. This book is recommended for actors who wants a single person's story about Hollywood and how she navigated years of rejection and agents and headshots.

When I first saw her in The Office a decade ago, I thought she looked so plain on a TV show without laugh tracks. But seasons later, we realize that Pam and the rest of the cast are so ordinary that it becomes so extraordinary. And this is what this book is. A simple book on the surface but it's actually one of the most charming and endearing voices in celebrity memoirs. You can't help it but to fall in love.
Profile Image for Maddy.
42 reviews16 followers
July 7, 2020
I was initially a little hesitant to pick up this book because I am not an actor, but I'm so glad that I did! I'm a fan of Jenna Fischer from her role as Pam Beesly in The Office, and Jenna shows the frustrating, funny and often discouraging journey it took to land her breakout role and become a successful working actress. The Actor's Life is full of anecdotes of what mistakes Jenna made when she got to Hollywood. The advice she gives on everything from acquiring an agent to finding a collaborative creative outlet provides a fascinating peek at the challenges actors face. I love that Jenna emphasized the importance of continually honing her craft by taking acting classes in L.A. It sometimes seems that professions like acting are devalued as effortless, but Jenna's experience shows that putting oneself out there in auditions often to be rejected is difficult.

This book left me with a greater appreciation for the struggles creative people go through to establish careers. I appreciate the interviews Jenna conducted with fellow working actors at the end of the book. Reed Birney's account of finding success as an actor later in life and the disappointment he faced early in his career was particularly moving. Reed's deep love of acting comes through in the interview, as does the uncertainty and occasional instability that comes with pursuing acting.

I recommend listening to The Actor's Life as an audiobook if available. Jenna is a really engaging and open narrator. Highly recommend this book to actors and non-actors alike!
Profile Image for Scottsdale Public Library.
3,184 reviews197 followers
March 4, 2018
Pam Beesly wrote a book, ya’ll! Well, that’s not entirely true; Jenna Fischer, actress extraordinaire, wrote a book and it is super informative for the novice actor and enlightening for the day dreamers like me.
How in the world do you get a start in Tinseltown? Lovable Jenna, right out of college with a theatre degree, hit the road and rented out a windowless apartment in Hollywood and expected the roles to roll right on in. Isn’t that how all actors expect their big breaks other than being discovered at a local Los Angeles soda shop, a la Lana Turner?
Jenna explains how actors must have a dedication, passion and an extremely strong worth ethic to get a start in this industry. Networking with other actors is a must not only to possibly find accepting agents but also to jump into creative endeavors to hone the craft and to be seen. She provides helpful guidelines and contact information for actors along with adorable and amusing anecdotes of her trials and triumphs of finding her way into auditions, working day jobs, becoming traumatized by extra work (darn you Jurassic Park ride!) and nabbing a role in one of the best ensemble comedy casts recreated for this side of the pond.
Inspiring, revealing and downright enjoyable, this part-instructional guide and part-memoir is an ideal read for aspiring actors, those curious about the profession and those who adore Pam, I mean, Jenna Fischer. -Sara G.
Profile Image for Melissa.
110 reviews
December 8, 2017
As the parent of an actor attending his junior year of a university theatre program, I have questions. So many questions... Actually “had”, as Jenna just answered nearly all of them over the past two days. Jenna covered much of what Joe can anticipate after graduation. I just ordered the paper version of the book which will be waiting for him on his nightstand when he arrives home next week for winter break. Bonus: I know he’ll open it because he’s a fan of The Office and Jenna is a known commodity. I know he’ll continue reading because every page offers something relevant to his future.
Thank you for this, Jenna. (And no, Joe will NOT be eating salt sandwiches; I plan to mail him peanut butter AND any residual ketchup packets we find when we clean out the car. You saved a life!)
Profile Image for Randee.
815 reviews32 followers
May 6, 2019
This was so interesting. I don't want to be an actor, but if I did, I would certainly use this as a guide for getting started and moral support. Jenna gives a plethora of information on everything a fledgling actor needs to know. She's also a cheerleader for keeping one's spirits up despite being rejected over and over. Along the way, she tells stories and gives examples from her own career trajectory. It takes a lot of passion, self confidence and persistence to live the life of an artist and Jenna gives the aspiring artist inspiration and hope. She sounds like one in a million of authentic, nice people that are in show business.
Profile Image for Lauren.
599 reviews75 followers
March 29, 2018
This was a surprise! I’m not an actor. I don’t really know any actors. I would actively discourage anyone I knew from becoming an actor. And yet, I really enjoyed this.

Fischer tells the story of of her own Hollywood journey while giving advice and behind-the-scenes information all the while. It was a great mix of personal info and general info. I loved hearing about the complex processes behind auditions, networking, and seeking management. Her advice is reasonable and she adorable. Like most actors, she rocked the audio as well.
Profile Image for Flannery.
326 reviews
January 1, 2019
Do I have any interest in becoming an actor? No.
Did I think this was going to be a memoir because I’m an idiot who didn’t read the blurb? Yes.
Did I learn tons of factoids about what the actor’s life is like? Heck yes.

No regrets at all about my mistake.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
21 reviews13 followers
August 31, 2020
The book is the gift that keeps on giving!!! If you are an actor this is the book for you. I listened to it as an audio and I’m going to buy it just so I can highlight and write in the margins. Much love!!!!
Profile Image for Rachel Holtzclaw.
653 reviews11 followers
February 2, 2019
i have no plans (now or ever) to be an actor, but i love jenna fischer. she's great. i hold her and her advice in high regard.
Profile Image for Christine.
1,255 reviews13 followers
July 20, 2022
Even though I'm not an aspiring actress, I heard about this book and was curoius about it. I liked it so much more than I thought I would. Jenna's humorous but straightforward method of writing was entertaining and gives an insightful, interesting look at the hard work involved in becoming a working actor. For someone thinking of making acting their career, the advice would be invaluable.
Profile Image for Jillian.
39 reviews4 followers
January 27, 2021
I really don’t know why I finished this book 🤷🏻‍♀️
Profile Image for Nicole✨.
55 reviews11 followers
August 13, 2022
I didn’t pick this book because I want to get into acting. I listened to it because it’s written and narrated but the lovely Jenner Fischer!

I really enjoyed learning about how the industry works and was fascinated to hear how real the struggle is. I really appreciate that the life of an actor is not for the faint hearted - you do it for the love of the job and not in the hopes of becoming famous!

Would definitely recommend this book to any fan of Jenner Fischer or someone who is genuinely interested in acting ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Profile Image for Joey.
348 reviews4 followers
March 11, 2018
Jenna Fischer's The Actor's Life: A Survival Guide provides wonderful insight into a world that many aspire to be part of, but few have the drive, determination, and luck to make it in.

It took Jenna eight grueling years before she landed her polarizing role of Pam Beasley. The thing that most successful actors all share in common is luck! What is luck and how do you attain it?

If you want to be a professional actor, it is important that you live in LA or New York. About 20% of SAG actors' annual gross income goes to agent and manager commissions. Fischer spent $8,000 of her "nest egg" in just her first six months after moving to LA.

In order to be a successful actor, it is important to be a good liar, have a professional headshot that exemplifies who you are, and have proper representation to land auditions.

"Gone are the days of buying stamps and mailing audition submissions. Today we have the internet. No more post office." (69)

Making "your own luck" requires making the type of choices that put you in the right place at the right time.

Practice and the ability to move forward after countless rejections is easier said than done.

Fischer's background knowledge on set etiquette is invaluable. It was fascinating to discover that Fisher always brings "a nude bra, black bra, nude undies, black undies, and a thong" (140) and has a no nudity clause in her SAG contract. It is also a good idea to bring a few pairs of your own shoes and a favorite pair of jeans.

John C. Reilly gave Jenna his penis pouch as a wrap gift at the end of the movie Walk Hard. What a guy!

It is interesting to note that Fischer never mentions her indie film, LolliLove by name, though describes her experience making it briefly in three paragraphs (192-193). Her ex-husband, James Gunn, is mentioned by name only once in a photo caption and her current husband, Lee Kirk, was James' brother, Sean Gunn's first manager.

"The single best thing an actor can do, both professionally and personally, is to create their own work." (190)

A $200 pilot episode shot with a single camera was picked up and became the extremely successful and hilarious show, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

"Every project you finish has value." (194)
Profile Image for debbicat *made of stardust*.
723 reviews107 followers
March 12, 2018
Enjoyable. Jenna is probably best known for her character on the hit tv series, The Office. I thought this interesting and informative. A light readand helpful to anyone who would like to pursue acting as a career. I requested this title on NG because I was listening to a podcast and Jenna was being interviewed about her new book. Jenna states that she wanted to write a book to help anyone else who is interested in making acting a career. She gave a lot of information about navigating the journey to stardom (or if you just want to be an extra). I feel this would be extremely helpful to anyone who would like to be an actor on any level. She has done all the hard work and put it here for anyone to gain insights from, so I do believe she did what she set out to do.

I highly recommend the book for anyone who wants to pursue acting...Kind of a survival guide.
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital copy to read in exchange for a review.
Profile Image for Kandice.
1,516 reviews232 followers
August 22, 2019
I ended up really, really enjoying this book. I picked it up because Jenna Fischer was Pam Beesly for me and I love The Office. I loved the BBC The Office first, but fell even deeper into our American version. Now that I’ve read the book I feel I was doing a disservice to Fischer (and many other actors!) by seeing them as a character they played.

I went in expecting inside information or funny stories about the set and there was a little of that, but this was really not a book about The Office. This wasn’t even a book about Jenna. This was a book of advice. Really, really good advice. I am not an actor and I don’t have any aspirations to be, but this book left me with a healthy respect for the craft and those that practice it.

If I ever know anyone really contemplating show biz I will direct them to this little gem.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
377 reviews40 followers
December 27, 2020
So I didn't read the back of this book well enough and somehow missed that it is a book that provides advice on how to become an actor. I picked this book up because I love the office, and I really like Jenna Fischer. However, even though I'm not the target audience for this book, I really enjoyed it. She provides a lot of practical advice, but my favourite parts were the stories she shares about her career. There's a great mix of personal anecdotes of bad auditions, embarrassing moments, etc. You can also tell what a genuinely good person Jenna is by reading this book. I also liked the quotes on the sides of the pages and it was also cool to read about her friendship with Sean Gunn (Kirk from Gilmore Girls!)

With that being said, some of the technical parts of this book were a bit boring to me, but again that is my fault for not realizing this book was for aspiring actors.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,058 reviews

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