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Wading Your Way
Through Hollywood

Wading Your Way
Through Hollywood


Reichen Lehmkuhl switches hats for his second column and leaves the activist at the door as he offers some sage advice for Hollywood hopefuls. Whether you're gay or straight, what Reichen has to say about "talent" puts the business that is entertainment into perspective.

Thanks to everyone who read and commented on my last column, covering the current state of the train wreck known as "don't ask, don't tell" within our nation's military ranks. The most common comment I received from readers of was that they had no idea that in 2008 a military member could be taken to court and punished, criminally, for being gay. Yes, it can happen, it does happen, and it's all paid for by your tax dollars.

Switching gears to a lighter subject, but one that draws equally from my experience: the hopes and dreams of so many young people who come to Hollywood with dreams of "making it." What making it in Hollywood actually means is most definitely different for different people. Some want to be a household name so that their memory will live on long after they're gone. Some come from a low- to no-income background, and their hope is to hit the Hollywood financial jackpot with their talent. To these people: I will already shoot some advice your way and let you know that this isn't the most well-liked group in Hollywood. You should brush up on your acting skills early to let others know, at least occasionally, that you're there for "the craft."

I'm here to explain my version of Hollywood and to give you some pointers on making it here if you're considering a move, as so many do on a daily basis. Don't ever say you weren't warned -- just kidding. Well, sort of.

Both Hollywood fame and money are within reach for anyone who has that something that will entertain the masses for any period of time. It's all about being in the right place at the right time with the right talent. Some of us call this scenario "getting struck by lightning," and it seems to be no less rare than such a strike. Less rare, judging by the opinions of those I've worked with in more than 12 years in this town, are those who really are in Hollywood for the love and craft of acting. This group would appreciate being valued for their talent with money and fame, but those aspects could never define these people personally, because they really do appreciate the challenges of performance.

Something that all of these types have in common is a need for or an ability to gain a rush from lots of attention. If you're one of these Hollywood types, get ready for others who may not be getting as much attention as you are to not like you. Los Angeles's unwritten laws of karma tell us that we need to be happy for those who are doing better than we are. So remember that, and don't become bitter at the success of others. Bitterness won't serve you well here.

If you're planning on making the trek to L.A., be honest with yourself as to which type of hopeful you are. The people who are here will be able to discern your intentions immediately. If you own up to your type and can admit to being the person you are, you'll be in a much better position to succeed because, even in L.A., no one wants to work with a faker. If you're learning how to act, admit it, rather than trying to play it off like you're some professional or virtuoso. If you're not in the best financial position, admit it. Hollywood isn't immune to the American spirit and romance of going from rags to riches.

Again, this is intended to be an advice column for anyone who is considering making the drastic move to Tinsel Town to "give their talent a try," as they might say, so let's come to some agreement on the definition of the word "talent." In today's Hollywood, talent has a more broad meaning than ever. Don't fool yourself for a second to think that business (i.e.: making money) isn't the number 1, overarching goal of the Hollywood higher-ups and decision makers.

Also, don't fool yourself into thinking that the amount of money to be made isn't massive. One piece of media, distributed to and bought by a worldwide fan base, generates returns that we suspect not even God thought possible. Therefore, for the purpose of Hollywood-speak, talent would be defined as whatever skill you have that will draw viewers, listeners, readers, or even worshippers your way to bring in the almighty dollar.

Ironically, having the "talent" of a bitchy persona on a reality show that costs less to produce than the lunch I had today at Hugo's could bring more dollars to a studio than a production featuring the talent of a beautiful singing voice that has taken years and years to perfect. Doesn't seem fair? Bingo! Fair doesn't matter here. What matters is giving the buyer of whatever media you're selling exactly what they want.

How do we know what they want? We really don't know, and the crazier part of this not knowing is that the needs of the buyer are constantly changing. Thousands of show, book, and music ideas are pitched to those who run Hollywood on a daily basis. It's up to those higher-ups to figure out what's going to be a hit and make a ton of money, as opposed to what's going to be a waste of money and possibly bankrupt a company. If this sounds like a stressful job to you, then get ready, because the stress only trickles down, all the way to the actors, writers, models, singers, and reality show bitches. You can be canceled at a moment's notice through no fault of your own, only because your talent isn't able to shake the production's moneymaker anymore.

Before I stop pushing harsh realities down your throat, let me address the gay issue for Hollywood hopefuls. There are many talented people who remain in the closet and, I'll be the first to admit, for good reason, according to some individuals. I have been asked so many times about my opinion of in-the-closet actors, musicians, or artists when the questioner obviously wants me to answer that I think everyone should come out of the closet and that they should come out of that closet now.

Sure, in a perfect world, it would be amazing if every gay person in Hollywood's public eye simply admitted that they are gay. Of course, in this scenario, opinions would be changed, most likely, for the better about our community in general. It would help us gain acceptance as loving, valuable, important members of society who deserve equal rights.

But even in a world where Ellen dominates daytime and MTV's Parental Control features the acceptance of the youngest gay couples ever, many entertainers are afraid to come out.

I have auditioned for movie roles, soap opera parts, and other television roles where the final decision of "no" came down to the fact that I'm just "too out." Not "too stereotypically gay," but "too out."

Why is this a problem? I'm told that it's because many viewers out there who become fans of their television show's leading men won't be able to connect to that character if the viewer knows that the actor is really a gay guy. I've been told that conservative-minded companies that sponsor some of these programs wouldn't look kindly on the actor in, say, a leading male role if he were actually gay.

Is there something broken about these ideas? Of course there is! Should we ever pander to the prejudices of others to make them feel more comfortable? No. Should sponsors be able to have a say in the private-life sexuality of one of their actors? No way.

But this is reality -- though it's happening less frequently. The truth remains that the more we are out, ignoring the prejudice and stigma, fewer entertainers will have to worry about their sexuality.

Not all actors and artists have the luxury of being out, however. At first their reasons for being closeted may be financial. A struggling actor or musical artist who is working up the ranks isn't going to divulge their homosexuality for fear of stopping that forward career momentum. Then, after they are rich, famous, and popular, there might be a different type of pressure from the artist's management, lawyers, and agencies to hide who they are for fear of not being picked for that next movie or to record another pop culture-oriented album.

Obviously, there are so many things to consider before making the move to Hollywood. Luckily, I have some solid advice that will serve you well, no matter who you are, what your talent is ... and it works for film, reality television, scripted TV, music, and modeling alike. Make sure you're just a little bit different from the guy or girl next to you. When you show up at an audition and you don't look like, sound like, or seem like any of your competitors, embrace that gift, because you're at a point of opportunity.

Also, hold on to the friends you had before you entered the storm of Hollywood. They will keep you grounded. Should you start to get some notoriety, don't believe your press! The ones who are giving you good press can and will turn on you to write horrible things about you. There is no need to listen to or believe any of it. I'm a really sensitive guy when it comes to this stuff, and I still have trouble keeping my skin thick when I am attacked by those who couldn't possibly know the first thing about the type of person I am. I have let it bother me in the past. Do as I say, not as I do.

Lastly, figure out, before you make your debut, if you're going to be out of the closet or in the closet. Weigh the challenges of living, dating, and normal everyday functioning as a person if you're going to choose to be in the closet. Can you handle that kind of deception, avoidance, and even lying? If not, then make the decision to show the world who you are. This doesn't mean you have to throw the fact that you are gay into everyone's face. You're simply not going to deny it if you're asked. You're going to demand that your talent not be judged according to your sexual identity (unless you're auditioning for a new Queer Eye show, of course).

Either way, if you quit your day job, have a big savings account. Chances are you won't hit the jackpot, but this fact doesn't keep people from playing the weekly lottery, does it? If you have to do it, get your butt to Hollywood. Godspeed and, oh, break a leg.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Reichen Lehmkuhl