We had the good fortune of connecting with Emily Pokora and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Emily, how do you think about risk?
Risk taking has played a huge role in my life and made pursuing my passion for acting possible. After earning two business undergraduate degrees, an M.B.A., law degree, practicing law as a trial lawyer and serving on the bench as a judge pro tem, I left it all behind to pursue my dream of being a professional actor in Los Angeles and never looked back. As you can find painted on the wall of the Lee Strasberg Theatre in West Hollywood, I “came to the theatre [aka Hollywood] on the wings of a dream.” Leaving the life I knew as a lawyer was one of the toughest decisions of my life, but as I weighed the pros and cons, I thought back to a quote by Geena Davis, “If you risk nothing, then you risk everything.” I ultimately decided that living life wondering, “what if,” was not acceptable, the timing would never be perfect, and I wanted more. Every morning I now sit on my balcony drinking coffee while gazing out at the Hollywood sign feeling immense gratitude for mustering up the courage to take the leap of faith, realizing that without risking it all, I would not be living the life of an actress that I am today.
In any aspect of life, playing it safe will not lead you to greatness. This is particularly true in acting. It is the only job with no guarantees of success or job security, and you experience daily rejection despite having performed at your best. You truly cannot succeed without enduring the daily risk of failure lurking at every corner. It forces you to be brave. This unique profession has taught me to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Acting is an exercise in getting up each day, working hard and realizing that even an audition you do not book is a chance to perform and do what you love.
My success, motivation and competitiveness in acting are undoubtedly attributable to my former professional life as a lawyer. Like the legal profession, the entertainment industry is a business. Basic professionalism, punctuality, communication and reliability in acting goes a long way. My strategy in acting is to out work and out prepare the competition just like I did before entering the courtroom. There is simply no substitute for hard work and no easy path to any place worth going. I do not shy away from putting myself in positions that force me to be my best and am unrelenting in chasing my goals. As an actor I try to fight as hard for myself as I always did for my litigation clients.
Please tell us more about your work. We’d love to hear what sets you apart from others, what you are most proud of or excited about. How did you get to where you are today professionally. Was it easy? If not, how did you overcome the challenges? What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story?
It is difficult to put into words what acting has meant to me in my life and career. It has been my one true passion since I was a child. I would take any chance I could to perform, from acting in school plays, to performing The Parent Trap scenes with my twin sister at family gatherings and choreographing dance routines to every song on the Beach Boys’ album. After college, I attended law school and began practicing as a lawyer, yet never forgot my love of performing. Litigating in court before judges and juries only reinforced my love for the stage, leading to my decision to leave my legal career behind to pursue acting full time in Los Angeles.
Although it was many years ago, I’ll still never forget the day I booked my first paying roll as an actress for a supporting role in a feature film. I was paid in cash, a single $50 bill. I was so proud, motivated and thrilled I was truly a working actor! I held onto it intending to hang it on my wall as a momento to look back on for years to come. Soon thereafter, like many actors, I found myself quickly cashing it to put towards headshots and acting class. In this journey I have always been willing to do whatever it takes to keep acting my number one priority even if that meant leaving a lucrative legal job and assuming the LA actor life “side-hustling” my way between acting jobs. Acting has not only taught me so much about myself but it gave me more humility than I could have ever thought was possible.
Today as a SAG-AFTRA actress, my professional acting work has been on-camera consisting of films, commercials, and TV shows. I also enjoy improv, writing, hosting and stand-up comedy. I have always held the position that no matter how successful or talented you become there is always room for improvement. If I’m not in acting class I can be found reading books on acting theory or plays, attending theater performances or stand up shows, film screenings and festivals or even writing, directing and producing my own SAG-AFTRA films.
Living in L.A. pursuing my dream always appears very glamorous and like a dream life to those with similar ambitions. This adventure has taught me that like anything else, it is not without its challenges . Being an actor, you are faced with forks in the road and opportunities that are both good and bad. I have lived my acting career by a quote I heard from Jonah Hill when asked how he knows which projects to choose to steer his acting career. He said, “Your heart knows what’s up.” It is so simple, yet very true. I have trusted my intuition since the beginning to stay on brand and stay true to myself to guide my career. In acting, vulnerability and individuality are not just helpful but are imperative to growth and success. Trusting who you are and having the confidence to know that you are enough will get you further than you ever imagined.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
There are countless great restaurants and cool hangouts to experience the amazing Los Angeles weather, cuisine, landscape, music and the entertainment scene. Even though I live in L.A., I always find myself checking out new spots being as excited as all the tourists on the Walk of Fame.
On weekends, I enjoy taking day trips to the coast! Malibu or Santa Monica are the best! In Malibu you have to try Paradise Cove Beach Café or Malibu Farm for a lunch or brunch, they are both right on the ocean! I also love the hike to the Malibu Rock Pools, especially when it is hot so you can swim and cool off on the hike! There are also cute wineries at Cielo and the Cornell Tasting Room. Pro tip, go to the end of the Malibu Farm pier for drinks at sunset! In Santa Monica, after walking the pier, check out The Proper Hotel! The Calabra Restaurant on the rooftop is beautiful with amazing food and drinks.
There is no shortage of great spots to eat or grab a cocktail! I will always love PUMP for weekend brunch, the food and vibes of West Hollywood are hard to beat! I’m also a big fan of patios which is a staple in L.A. Mama Shelter in Hollywood and Perch downtown have beautiful patios and a fun atmosphere. For dinner you can find me at La Mesa or Ka’teen in Hollywood or I may venture to Burbank for the best date spot around, Castaway! You cannot beat the view! The ambiance at any of the restaurants speaks for itself!
Going out I love Good Time at Davey Wayne’s where you are transported to the ‘70’s with great remixes of all the hits and you can dance the night away. Because I never want the night to end, I’ll sneak into the best Hollywood speakeasys: Sunset & Vinyl, The Manager’s Office or Laurel Hardware.
It is hard to come to Los Angeles and not go for a hike! I frequent the Hollywood Sign, Griffith and Runyon trails. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you can see beautiful parrots hanging out and flying around the canyon with Chan “The Birdman” Quach at the top of Runyon!
For events I love catching a show at The Groundlings or any of the amazing stand-up comedy venues, The Comedy Store is my favorite. Both venues have comedic legends and hilarious up-and-comers sure to make you laugh! If at this point you have any time left at all, I’d recommend going to LACMA to see the light installation, Skyspace downtown for the best view of all of Los Angeles or try to hop in for a hip hop class at the Playground on Melrose!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
In every aspect of my life, including my acting career, I would not have achieved the milestones I have without guidance from others. As in any profession, you cannot learn everything in books. Amazing mentors and people in my life encouraging me has allowed me to determine the right path to navigate this multifaceted industry. I dedicate much of my career to the many supportive people in my life including my family, friends, acting coaches, agent and manager. I would not be able to grow without their continued support.
Growing up in a small suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, my parents supported my professional and creative pursuits in life since day one. They took me to my very first audition when I was eight years old for the original Mighty Ducks movie and my mom sewed my first theatre costume when I was in kindergarten. When I was a child they sat in the karate school after hours each night helping me practice to get my black belt in karate when I was seven and attended every swim meet cheering me on through college where I swam collegiately Division I for Arizona State University. Their support has been unwavering even now in my acting career. Most importantly they taught me to stay humble and never forget where I came from. That mentality has stuck with me and made me grateful for the opportunities in my life, big and small.
I would be remiss not to mention my fellow actors and artists who inspire me every day. In Los Angeles you can find people from all walks of life who gave up so much to follow their dreams. Everywhere you turn people are willing to do whatever it takes to become great. Being immersed in the Los Angeles culture surrounded by others who understand what it takes to pursue your passion is beyond inspiring.
Peter Konerko Andrew Cruz Film stills/screen grabs: Elephants Don’t Forget; Re-Fresh; Blind Justice