What Writers Can Learn From an Underdog Actress

by Abby on November 12, 2012

I love a good underdog story. People who defied the odds, did what they said couldn’t be done – whoever “they” are. Since I spend a lot of time at the gym reading Entertainment Weekly while I pretend to work out, I find a lot of these unlikely success stories come from the entertainment industry. When you think about it, acting has a lot in common with professional writing. A lot of people THINK they can do it, a lot of people like to tell people who ARE doing it that they suck at it, and very few become huge successes. The Meryl Streeps and the J.K. Rowlings are the exceptions, not the rule.

Actress Rebel Wilson

Actress Rebel Wilson

So it warms the cockles of my jaded writers’ heart to read about people like Australian actress Rebel Wilson. I first saw her in Bridesmaids, where she played Kristen Wiig’s annoying roommate, and then in Pitch Perfect, which I saw this weekend and loved! Loved! Loved! The rom-com about collegiate a cappella groups is like Bring It On meets Glee meets Bridesmaids.

Anyway, this article about Rebel Wilson in EW describes how she got into acting after being bitten by a mosquito in Africa, contracting malaria, and having a feverish dream about winning an Oscar. I kid you not. So the law school grad ditched her plans to become a lawyer and moved to L.A., even though she was a) inexperienced, b) Australian, and c) overweight. “It’s hard enough to break into Hollywood for any woman who’s not from America and doesn’t look like Angelina Jolie,” notes a fellow actor. Talk about having the odds stacked against you.

But here’s where it really gets interesting:

Spend a little time with Wilson and you’ll be surprised at how utterly unsurprised she is by her own success — not in an arrogant, entitled way but simply a cheerfully matter-of-fact one. ”My agents say, ‘Rebel, no one moves this quickly,”’ she says. ”But to me it doesn’t feel quick. Sometimes when they tell me I got a movie, I’m just like, ‘Oh, yeah? Cool.’ Because in my mind I already thought it would happen.”

And get this: “After some 30 auditions failed to pan out, she went in to read for the part of a bridesmaid in an R-rated female-centric comedy — and something clicked.” The part went to Melissa McCarthy, but the director was so impressed by Wilson’s audition that he CREATED A PART for her that wasn’t in the original script.

It had a snowball effect on the career of this unknown 32yo. Wilson had 5 films come out in 2012, and shot a pilot for a CBS sitcom that she created, wrote, and stars in called Super Fun Night — executive-produced by Conan O’Brien.

So, let’s see. Wilson could have been told that she didn’t have enough experience, that because of Melissa McCarthy there was already a “funny fat chick,” that because of her weight/accent/gender/insert-negative-adjective here, she could never make it in Hollywood. But damned if she didn’t.

I can’t help but think there’s a lesson in there for us writers. No one makes any money at writing? Print publishing is dead? Memoirs/humor/essay anthologies don’t sell? You’ll never be a successful author without a huge platform? Oh, yeah? I’m channeling Rebel Wilson and saying: watch me.

Who’s with me?

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Lou Mello November 12, 2012 at 12:06 pm

Trying is 95% of anything worth doing.


Malia Jacobson November 12, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Thanks for sharing more about Rebel. She’s hilarious and magnetic, and I didn’t know much about her.


Angie Mizzell November 12, 2012 at 4:34 pm

I feel terrible, but I don’t remember her in Bridesmaids? That’s gonna drive me crazy. But that’s not the point… I really like how she’s not surprised by her success, because she already imagined it would happen. That to me, is the law of attraction at its best. It’s not hokus pokus, and it’s not arrogance. We have to see it, we have to want it and we have to believe it. As she proved, you don’t have to keep molding and shaping and transforming what we see, what we want and what we believe in order to fit the latest marketing trends. We don’t. We don’t. (Angie do you hear yourself?) We don’t.


Abby November 14, 2012 at 9:58 am

She was Kristen Wiig’s weird roommate who lived with her equally weird bald brother. They kicked Kristen out and she had to go live with her mom. You don’t remember the tattoo scene with the frozen peas?


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