We had the good fortune of connecting with Sue Ann Pien and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sue Ann, what habits do you feel play an important role in your life?
Remember Karate Kid, the movie? Mr. Miyagi the trainer would make Ralph Macchio’s character “wax on” and “wax off” while washing his car, and do all kinds of seemingly irrelevant chores as part of his karate training. The Karate Kid couldn’t figure out how these menial, mindless activities helped him with anything. That’s what I relate to in my own journey towards creating my dreams come true. Many of the more productive habits that put me in a place to succeed came out of the discipline to do things I never really truly wanted to do at times. I’ll list them here: 1. How you do one thing, is how you do everything: When I was younger, I used to think saving up my best behaviors only for the jobs or the people I wanted to impress. When I thought it didn’t matter as much (to me), I’d let myself put in less than my best. I learned the hard way that the only person I’m cutting short is myself when I do that, thanks to a couple of mentors I had early on (life coaches Lisa Kalmin and Lynne Sheridan) who called me out on that behavior and challenged me to show up with my 100% unconditionally. It built in me the habit of giving my best, whether working as a waitress at a diner or whether I’m on set with an Academy Award-winning director. It trained me to show up at my best no matter what is going on around me and who I’m with. 2. Be in gratitude and appreciation for your teammates: Nobody succeeds alone. Without my agents or reps, I’d have no auditions to go to. Without casting directors or production companies, there’d be no acting jobs to book. We are on teams everywhere in life, whether it’s our family or work and it’s important to remember that success is an effort created by many people working towards the same goals together, using their individual talents synergestically. This is an important piece of wisdom to remember as an actor, because so often I hear newer actors lament about their agents or be quick to jump ship for the shiny, bigger glam agency without realizing it was the direct effort and care of their rep investing in them ceaselessly that got them where they are today. It was a hard lesson I learned early on after leaving an agency I’d been successful at for 8 years just to have the new agency drop me when things hit a rough patch. I didn’t know how much loyalty it took for my first agents to stick by me when I wasn’t booking everything, and after those humbling lessons, I will never take my reps’ investment and loyalty to me for granted again. 3. Put the effort in, but let the results go: Being an actor is tough if you’re interested in doing it as a full-time career. The competition looks fierce, the odds are always against you, and 98% of the time you may hear a “no” and have to learn that it’s not personal. The people who don’t understand that, have quit and moved on. It can be taxing emotionally and psychologically if an actor doesn’t understand their self-worth is not tied to how much they can book. The irony is, once you let all that go, the jobs just flow in and find you or chase you down – every actor knows it’s when they’re on vacation that the calls come in, lol! 4. Play, play, play: Life is a game, and acting is the funnest thing to do in the world. Remember just to have fun, enjoy yourself, and don’t let the joy of the dream get lost in the grind of this business. It’s freaking amazing to explore, jump in with your scene partners, and use your imagination in such a creative way and it’s all freaking worth it when the magic comes together! You can do that whether you’re doing background work with other actors or leading a major blockbuster film – and the more you can just play wherever you are whether the stakes are huge or nada, you’ll train yourself to always shine and bring your unique spark of life to every character you inhabit!
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
When I was younger, I thought the “secret” that distinguished me from the rest of the world was a flaw I’d have to keep hidden forever. I’m on the autism spectrum (formerly Asperger’s) and that means I stick out like a sore thumb socially if I’m not pretending to fit in. It made me the target for bullying, for being taken advantage of, and for many other types of unpleasant human experiences. Acting for me was not just a hobby or passion pursuit – it was a matter of life and death. If I couldn’t successfully act my way through a day in school or be appropriately mannered in a social function I felt my entire life was in danger. Most people probably don’t approach acting from a survival standpoint, but that’s what it was like for me to make it through most of life. One thing I became really good at was mimicking other successful girls. It’s a strange and useful skill because I was acting before I consciously chose acting as a career. I picked up accents and mannerisms very easily and was able to copy the “cooler” girls – taking time to practice their facial expressions in the mirror. Also, my mom was worried about my “flat affect” as a child, so she took the time to groom me and show me how she wanted me to behave in public. It made me much more animated and motivated to learn those behaviors because I wanted to be loved and accepted by her. Today, I am so lucky the entire journey has come full circle and I get to bring my full life’s experiences to this upcoming role as “Violet” in showrunner Jason Katims’ adaptation of the Israeli “On the Spectrum” series for Amazon. It is amazing to experience so many people who are caring, kind, and understanding about people being on the spectrum, and it feels so foreign at times to just let myself be uncensored. Sometimes it seems the things which cause us the most suffering in life, is also the place where our soul comes through with light.
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.
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, so the things that are fun about the city to me come from a perspective of a true native! The Griffith Observatory is always a fun hang, along with bike rides at the Venice and Santa Monica beaches – video games and Ferris wheel rides on the boardwalk. I really love our museums too – the old Getty Villa off PCH, LACMA, Descanso Gardens in Pasadena. I’m a foodie, so the best food with the greatest diversity has always been at home in Los Angeles – I forget and take that for granted at times when I’m traveling that I can’t just go out for some good sushi, ramen, or Indian food cause I’m craving it!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
It takes a village to raise an actor and I definitely want to give huge props and shoutout to my management team Spotlight Management (Scott Vandiver), all the freaking casting directors who gave me an opportunity whether it was an audition, callback, or booking, and my newer reps at Kazarian / Measures / Ruskin & Associates and Nava Artists. All the agents that truly believed in me, who ultimately left their jobs but absolutely kept my heart and soul alive when we worked together (Jen @ Q, Remy, Regina Lines, Libby), and the mentors and coaches that gave me so much more than I expected: Lisa Kalmin, Lynne Sheridan, Barry Papick, and new coaches in my life – Margie Haber, and the late Stan Kirsch…
Other: http://www.monolidproductions.com http://thelivinglibraryproject.com/
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