Actors face many challenges, including seemingly endless strings of auditions that may or may not pay off. A new short film starring Lauren Potter, the scrappy cheerleader from “Glee,” spotlights what that can look like for actors with disabilities.
Called “Headshot,” the 5-minute film was produced in partnership with AbilityFirst, a nonprofit dedicated to looking beyond disabilities and expanding possibilities. The film was directed by Eva Ye and in the fall garnered third place in a Big Heart Small Film competition highlighting the work of Pasadena-area nonprofits.
In the film Potter, who has Down syndrome, portrays an actress braving a string of discouraging auditions. When she visits a copy shop for more copies of her headshot, an employee there, who is deaf and played by Khalif Boyd, helps her with her headshots – and a bit of hope.
Ye says the inspiration for the story comes from an experience of her own. “I ran into an employee in Fedex who was deaf,” she says, adding that the two communicated by Post It note just like the characters in her film. That experience fit nicely with what Ye had learned in visits to AbilityFirst, where she worked closely with Senior Director of Communications Rebecca Haussling. “Rebecca reinforced the concept that AbilityFirst is about what you can do,” Ye says.
Potter, who is an ambassador for AbilityFirst, was a perfect fit for her role. “I wanted someone who had the real experience,” Ye says. “She is very fun to work with.”
Potter recently shared a bit about her career and her role in the film.
When did you first know that you wanted to be an actor?
I guess I always wanted to be an actor. When I was little I acted out every movie I saw and put on “shows” for my family. I memorized every line and acted out every part. I started dance classes when I was 3, and loved being on stage. I just always knew that acting was the job for me, and I still love acting.
What role has your family played in supporting you on this journey?
I couldn’t have done it without my family. My mom took a break from her career to take me to set and travel with me when I was filming “Glee” and other projects and when I spoke around the country. My brother Brandon took over from her when she returned to work. They helped me learn my lines and helped me with everything else. My family keep me grounded, which sometimes isn’t easy! My whole family has been there to support me and love me.
How did the “Headshot” project come about?
Rebecca from AbilityFirst emailed us and told us about the project, and that they wanted me to play the lead role. My team read the script and loved it, and so did I! Eva, the writer and director, was amazing and the rest of the cast and crew were too. I was so excited to be in the movie, and to be helping AbilityFirst.
Is the experience of your character in the film in any way similar to your own?
I guess I’ve been pretty lucky with the auditions I’ve had so far. I’ve been treated really well and have had fun experiences with the casting directors, even though I’ve been disappointed not to have gotten some of the parts I’ve auditioned for lately, but that’s all part of being an actor.
All actors face tough times at one point or another. What do you do to keep your spirits up when things are challenging?
It is hard waiting sometimes. I’m really ready for my next role now, so I’m a little frustrated. I just keep telling myself that I can do this, and keep trying. I’m exercising a lot right now!
What do you think is the key to making Hollywood more inclusive – making sure there are good roles available for all sorts of actors?
I think “Glee” was a good start! There needs to be more shows like that, that give all actors a chance. People in Hollywood need to start thinking outside the box, I mean not just a role for a woman with “Down syndrome,” but any role for a young woman who is a really good actor … like me, for instance!
What advice do you have for young aspiring actors hoping to build a career in the business? What advice do you have for their parents?
You have to be ready for a lot of really hard work. It isn’t easy, but it can be really amazing. You have to keep your head up, don’t be shy or nervous, just have fun! You also have to remember who you are, and always help other people. Parents just have to keep supporting their kids and being there for them. It’s a lot of work, but it is worth it in the end.