We had the good fortune of connecting with Jamie Criss and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jamie, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
I’ve been doing some kind of art or creative venture since I was very young. I don’t think I’ve ever seriously considered not being an artist. Growing up I was training to be a professional ballet dancer for many years. I enjoyed writing in school. I was also good at visual art and thought I might do animation. I think at the root of everything I wanted to tell stories. I was in high school when I started to feel burnt out on ballet and fell in love with cinema.
I started undergrad as a film major, but the department was new and not very friendly to women so I moved to the theatre department where it felt like everyone was welcome. I took an acting class to learn how to be a better director but was bit with the “bug” as they say and it’s been my heart and soul ever since. I went to London for my masters in acting and towards the end of that program I wrote a web series that I made with my classmates. It was just for fun and it proved to be a great learning experience and exercise in writing for the screen.
I’ve always been a writer, I loved all kinds of creative writing in school and have written a lot of poetry. I wrote a feature last year that I’m still messing with and also working on a new one. One gift of the pandemic was unemployment checks rolling in and a lot of time on my hands- and so the first draft of my first feature was born. I think the extra time I had on my hands was also a good way to explore other art forms or creative expressions without the needs to monetize them or turn them into a career. A lot of my other artist friends had fun with that too throughout lockdown. Photography, gardening, cooking, everything is art if you let it.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’ve gotten to where I am today by taking a lot of risks. Some paid off and some haven’t, and those so-called “failures” are all a part of the same story. I think going to London for grad school was a big one. I left LA and moved to another country where I didn’t know anyone. I met some of the most wonderful, magical, and loving people while I was there, who are still in my life. I’m a theatre professor now and I always advise my students to take those risks while they can. While you’re young, while you’re single. Go abroad, get a job at Tokyo Disney or go to school, teach English, whatever. It’s incredibly invaluable to get expansive, to see that there is a whole world and artistic community outside of LA and Hollywood. Acting is not just for Hollywood actors. The art of cinema is so much bigger than what we have here. I tell my students to watch foreign films and indies, to read plays by lesser-known writers. There are so many wonderful people contributing to the art of storytelling that is not A list celebrities. Which I think helps ground me into this craft and reminds me that it is just that- a craft and that Hollywood cannot monopolize it and that being successful in this industry can look like a lot of different things.
I’m really proud of writing a feature last year. Screenwriting is incredibly difficult, at least for me. And yet I’m finding that there’s something very intuitive about it as well. Whenever I get in my head and worried it feels really hard, but whenever I let go and trust and just get the idea on the page, it usually turns out that with some editing and tweaking, my instinct is good. I’m proud of that. It’s hard to figure out the process. Anyone can pick up a book on structure and apply the rules. But getting yourself to the blank page can really send you spiraling. The mind games we all play to trick ourselves into writing. It’s wild and I’m still figuring it out. But now it’s more common for me to approach writing by lying on the floor and listening to an old album rather than sitting down at the computer. Writing, for me, doesn’t happen when I sit down to write, it happens when I’m experiencing something special. Or noticing the mundane so that I can pull out why it’s special. It happens when I’m paying close attention. So now I like to keep a journal nearby but otherwise, I’m usually finding ways to feel into my five senses or pay attention to something I haven’t before.
And while it has not been easy thus far, I’m trying to rewrite that narrative. I’m asking myself, what if it was easy? What if writing was easy? And creating my own work was easy? And booking roles was easy? Isn’t that the question all storytellers are asking themselves, what if?
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Hosting visitors to LA is a crash course in holding someone’s hand through our whole driving situation. Blasting them through Hollywood Boulevard is a quick but effective lesson in the magic of movies. We tip our hats to the funny little stretch of town and move on to the east side. Pho Cafe in Silverlake is a must and a hike in Griffith pretty likely. I tend to like to be outdoors so getting outside of LA to the Huntington Library or the LA Arboretum in Arcadia is a good way to show off our good weather. Spending time with friends on porches and backyards with wine and snacks is my favorite way to show off this city. I think it’s a nice reminder that while LA is really special it’s filled with normal people doing normal things. And I think that’s nice to remember.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shout out to Mrs. Scheitlin, my fourth-grade teacher. We had an assignment to write a story about the character we were assigned during our module on the pioneers. We had to paste them into the journals we made. Everyone wrote 1-2 pages. Mine was 15. I had my father die of cholera on the journey. It was very tragic and dark. I remember the look on her face and her telling my mom “she’s going to be a writer.”
I have dear artist friends who provide me with the most comforting and beautiful modes of support in LA and around the world. Brittany D’Amico, Mackenzie Howe, and Zion Estrada, fellow Angelenos, have been some of my chosen family for over a decade. My East 15 family Meg DeBoard, Ainsleigh Brandler, Sam Kamras, Nezar Alderazi, JoJo Ginn, Nick Wakely and so so many more – they are my heart and soul. The generosity of my writing group- Thekla, Elgin, Carla, Laura, and Marion Marlo, my rock of consistency. My acting teachers, Monica Ganas, Bill Alderson, and Robin Sneller, among others, have been huge inspirations to me.
First photo (headshot) is by Rachel Tate.