Walking into an audition is a daunting challenge for any performer, but for actors with physical or developmental disabilities, the experience can be even more overwhelming. Not only are roles of characters with disabilities in short supply in film and television, they tend to be highly coveted by actors who do not live with physical challenges in their own lives. So what is a talented actor with a disability to do if he or she wants to “make it” in Hollywood?
The answer, according to a California collective called Performing Arts Studio West (PASW), lies in thorough preparation and expert training. Within the walls of its unassuming brick building in Inglewood, PASW equips its eager actors with dance, voice, and acting training, gearing each of them for the occasionally bitter winds of Tinseltown, and instilling each with the confidence that his or her unique disability is an asset rather than a limitation. The approach has paid off, leading several PASW clients to work on shows like ER, Saving Grace, and The Secret Life of the American Teenager.
PASW’s rigorous training is supplemented by visits from recognizable working actors, as well as questionand-answer sessions aimed at giving the straight scoop to PASW clients. On a recent Wednesday morning, PASW was visited by actors Scott Krinsky and Patricia Rae, both of the cast of NBC’s Chuck. Both actors emphasized the need for perseverance in the face of inevitable setbacks.
“If you don’t get a part, that wasn’t your part to have,” Krinsky said. “You’re just one more audition closer to the part that’s going to be yours.”
Krinsky admitted to periods of frustration in his own career, wryly noting that he was frequently cast as drunks before landing the role of Jeff Barnes, a member of the “Nerd Herd” on Chuck. “I feel like where I am now in my career is really where I am living the dream,” Krinsky said. “It just took some time.”
Rae was quick to point out that Krinsky’s role on Chuck was offered to him because a producer remembered him from a five-episode stint as Daryll on The O.C. “Always be professional, and be courteous to everybody,” Rae told the PASW clients. “It doesn’t matter if you’re an extra or the star. You never know where your next job is coming from.”
Though neither Rae nor Krinsky have disabilities, both find the struggles of actors with disabilities somewhat relatable to their own. “I had an awakening when I was in a casting office at the beginning of my career,” Rae said. “The woman said to me, ‘You’re Latin, you’ll never work.’ I just said, ‘Okay, we’ll see about that.’ And I’m working. For a male Caucasian actor, there are challenges. But add a different gender to it and add any sort of minority aspect to it, and that’s something else. I’ve had to overcome so many obstacles, and I still say it’s possible.”
In addition to the role of Bolonia on Chuck, Rae’s tenacity has landed her work on series such as Law & Order and Malcolm in the Middle, and in feature films such as 2004’s Maria Full of Grace. “Acting feeds my soul,” Rae said. “I’ve played good characters, I’ve played generic characters, and I’ve played stereotypes. I don’t mind playing the stereotypes because a stereotype is a stereotype for a reason. If you give that stereotype a reality, then it’s a real character. But playing a stereotype with no depth is a sad thing to do.”
Rae posited that the best way to beat the film industry at its own game is to create your own material. “I’m not waiting around for Hollywood to tell me I’m worth something,” she told the audience of PASW clients. “If you’re not acting, you should be writing for yourself.” This proactive approach to her career led Rae and some friends to raise $40,000 for the production of Silverlake Video: The Movie, a film for which she also served as costumer and caterer. Now in post-production, the film features Rae and Krinsky, and was written and directed by Rae’s boyfriend, Matteo Ribaudo.
Ribaudo, Rae said, is an actor and “an avid, ferocious writer” who, like many talents in Hollywood, has struggled to break through to visibility. “He’s been so close to getting so many deals together,” Rae said. “I finally said to him, ‘Don’t let Hollywood tell you you’re not a filmmaker. If you have to make a movie on your iPhone, make it.’”
Krinsky found that his own path to success was made easier by pushing himself to do stand-up comedy. “At first it was very frightening,” he says with a laugh. “Now it’s still frightening, but in a different way. It’s become more of an anxiety.”
After majoring in communication and broadcast journalism at Salisbury University, Krinsky landed an internship at CNN and a job in corporate videos before realizing his true aspirations pointed elsewhere. “Acting was something I had studied part-time and it was a dream of mine, but I never thought it would be a viable career,” Krinsky said. “ You really have to look inside yourself, and I did, and I went for it. My head was telling me I was limited, and then all of a sudden, I decided that I wasn’t. I only have one life to live.”
In addition to his role on Chuck, which returns as a midseason replacement this year due to a deluge of fan support, Krinsky can still be seen regularly at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles. “Stand-up is a weird thing,” Krinsky jokes, “because you love it and at the same time you kind of want to kill yourself. But you keep doing it.”
Rae, a single mother who works as a hostess at a high-end restaurant in Hollywood, estimates she has four films currently in post-production as she continues to audition for more work. “Even if I’m not getting paid, I find a way to act. It doesn’t matter if I’m acting for free on a stage, if I’m doing a comedy troupe, if I’m doing a benefit, or if I come to a school and volunteer. If you’re only doing a job because it pays you, then you need to find another career.”
Krinsky and Rae, who performed improv comedy alongside some of the PASW clients, noted they were impressed by the experience and by the performers they worked with that morning. “Everyone has their own challenges, and some are greater than others,” Krinsky said, “but you make the most of your situation and anything is possible. A lot of these guys and girls [at PASW] have been on TV now, so they’re an example to their classmates that you can do whatever you want. Just never say no.”
by David Radcliff