Born and raised in Lyons, Kansas, Kara grew up an athlete, an artist, and a serious tomboy. Her credits include a recurring role on The Red Road, Ivide (a Bollywood film) and Let’s Be Cops. She is represented by AMT Agency in Atlanta. More info at her IMDB page: http://imdb.me/karamichelewilder.
(Rafiq’s note – Kara and I worked together in the play “It’s a Wonderful Life”. I also helped cast her in IVIDE, the Bollywood film that was set and shot in Atlanta.)
When did you know you wanted to be an actor and how did you go about getting started?
I started acting when I was in 8th grade in a small town in Kansas. I watched a movie called ‘Who I am’ and it was about slam poetry and it starred Saul Williams, a well-known spoken word poet. I’d never seen anything like that. I started writing poetry, just for myself. And in high school, a friend of mine got me to join the Debate and Speech team. So freshman year, 14-years-old, I started doing competitive speech and drama, which is really like acting with poetry and prose. I did that my entire high school. And I knew then: Wow, I wanna be an actor.
Did you pursue it?
No. Not beyond doing the competitive national tournaments. I would travel all over the United States competing on the national scale of a high schooler. That was awesome. I did a little bit of theater and spoken word in college too. But I lived in Kansas. There wasn’t really an opportunity to pursue it and I didn’t really believe in myself in that stage. I should’ve done what my friends did. Move to New York.
How did the switch happen that you decided you want to pursue this more professionally and why Atlanta?
I moved to Atlanta after dropping out of college in Kansas City for personal reasons. My sister lived here with her thre kids who I’m very close to. Moved here, finished my degree and then decided to go to Law School. That was a disaster. Every minute of it. I reached a point where I woke up 6 am journaling and asking myself this question: What do I love? What do I want to do? And I was making a list. I love art. I love children. I love animals. I love acting. The next thing that I did was write down the one thing that I could do, that took me less than 5 minutes, to propel me towards that. And I did that. I asked a friend for some headshot help but he said, “… if you are looking for an acting class, speak to Michael Cole.” From there, it spiraled. Within a matter of a week, I was the lead in a play at a community theater. It all happened really fast.
Had you dropped out of law school by that time?
No. I was taking a hiatus from law school. All this happened in October 2012. I took the hiatus after the end of that semester, in December 2012. But I was still working full-time in a law firm as a law clerk and pursuing acting. It wasn’t until February 2013 that I signed with my agency and summer 2013 I started working full-time in a restaurant.
So you quit your law firm job?
Yes. I was no longer employed by them.
Then you started working in the restaurant industry and had time to pursue acting?
I did. I did lots. The restaurant industry is actually very demanding. Most people think that working in a restaurant is flexible. To a degree, it is. Because you’re working shifts and people cover your shifts. But if you aren’t at a restaurant that actually understands and supports you, it’s tough to get a lot of time off. Its an ongoing struggle.
You continue to work in the restaurant and pursue acting right now?
I continued to work at the restaurant until the day that I got fired. It was a Monday. And the same day I booked a commercial, got a call back and I was shooting that Thursday and Friday. I had a call back in North Carolina on Tuesday. There would have been no way I could have made that work if I was at my job. Sometimes you get pushed in the direction you need to go. Since that day, I haven’t had a day job.
How did you get your agent?
I was not one of those lucky ones. I got some headshots by Barbara Beneville and created a resume out of no experience, just followed the format. I made a list of seven agencies, got all my stuff together and sent out headshots. I submitted to AMT three times before they called me. Houghton called me once but it took them six months to call me. J Pervis straight up denied me since I didn’t have enough credits. And I don’t think I ever heard back from People Store. Another agency offered me a contract but I declined it. AMT is a big regional agency. If you are in a category that’s mostly young and white, then good luck because it’s such a competitive category.
What’s your training like? You studied with Michael Cole. Are you doing any classes, have you taken anything else?
I have. But Michael Cole’s class is like: “Introduction to the film and television industry 101” and it’s so crucial to have that. Most recently I trained with Drama Inc., with Jerri Tubbs doing the Chubbuck method. That, plus the book, The Power of the Actor, is what I’m using currently. It’s a practical guide, full of information. I met this guy from L.A. who had trained with Ivana Chubbuck, the author of that book. He trained with her 15 years ago for about 10 years. And he started a class last year in Marietta. We start training next week and I’m excited about that. I did improv at Village Theater and Auditioning by Heart with Crystal Carson. That class was huge for me. It just depends on what you want during your journey. If you feel like you want to be better in auditioning that class is the one to take. If you feel like you want to get better in acting that class isn’t the one to take.
You’ve been focusing pretty much on acting only. No side job?
Right. I do have one little pay. Remember how I mentioned speech and drama in high school? I was looking toward it as a survival job, and started judging tournaments for American schools. Then I started coaching for a private school in Atlanta. And I just came back from a national tournament with them. So next year we’re gonna bring it on to coaching here, just teach acting basically, but it has a beat of its own. This is like the perfect deal, right?
How do you maintain a positive attitude in this industry?
One of the most important things, not just for an actor, but for a person in this world who’s actively seeking a life better than what they have or pursuing their dream, is to manage their stress. It’s a journey. But for me, it’s a combination of eliminating things around me that are unhealthy – bad relationships and bad habits. This year I stopped drinking liquor. And then cut out negative thoughts too. Instead of waking up every day thinking of what you’re not doing and what you don’t look like, doing daily affirmation. I spend most of my free time focusing on just improving myself. So diet is really important to me. I have this app on my phone called Day One. And it’s awesome because it’s a journaling app. It takes all sorts of data, like where you are and what you’re doing and it saves that. And you can open up a journal and you can hashtag it, so you can come back and read something, you can take notes on it. Journaling is very therapeutic for me.
What do you do in terms of marketing and networking?
Not very much. I’m figuring out the marketing thing for myself right now. There’s lots of stuff about what one should do. I find that a lot of it seems just foreign to my character. I’m not opposed to celebrating my successes. But I am really not the person constantly bragging, “I booked a commercial, I had an audition.” So I have an alternative figured out. I have some ideas about what I wanna do. Sending postcards is very simple. That is something that older actors told me is a must. Especially if you’re not being seen by a casting director, you gotta send them a card. I’m on Facebook, of course. Instagram, and then Twitter. I recently got on Twitter. And somebody contacted my agent and asked if I would live tweet during the airing of one of my episodes on The Red Road. Another actor and I were tweeting about everything that happened in the episode. And I went from 15 Twitter followers to a 130. So cool.
Do you plan to move out of Atlanta anytime soon?
I don’t know. Last Fall, I was having an existential crisis about myself as an actor, like where I was headed and what I’m doing in terms of proving. I was going to move to New York but booked a big job so I’m gonna stay for now, I don’t have any plans to move.
Atlanta is booming right now. Hollywood is coming calling with momentum. When the whole industry is moving towards where I am it seems like the dumbest thing to go against that and go in a different direction. However, I wouldn’t be opposed to it if Hollywood or New York starts calling. Isn’t that a dream? If they’re calling, I’m going.
One of the big reasons why I wanted to leave was because I felt I wasn’t getting the quality training. There’s a mindset in Atlanta, in a regional market, people here don’t think that training is important. I don’t know why, what kind of cultural thing that is, if it’s because the market is still evolving. Actors here are planning to make a living off a U5 (“under 5 lines” roles). So that’s another reason why I considered moving. Move for 3-5 months, go live some place, couch surf, whatever, get the training and come back. A few months ago, I looked up every single acting coach in L.A. and in New York. I’m going to save my money, so I can go and get trained in one of those places. Maybe do a workshop or a weeklong program. If I could afford it, I would go. That’s still an option for me. Once I can afford it.
What do you think Atlanta holds in the future for the actor?
From what I’ve heard talking to Craig Fincannon and different acting coaches and my agency, it is only going to get better, as far as the amount of work that’s coming here. For the actor, it’s very neat. We’re going to continue to get the run off. We’re going to continue to get more day player roles. And that’s more opportunity to be on set, get credit for work…an opportunity that actors in New York and L.A. just don’t get.
For a new actor, this is the best place you can possibly be, because they are looking at new people. There are more opportunities now to get guest star roles than when I started. And I was fortunate enough to fall into a recurring role. But I don’t know. It could go either way. They can continue to book out of L.A. or all the L.A. actors are going to come here. I know the big talent agencies: CAA, William Morris are all setting up offices in Atlanta as we speak. If that’s the case, that means they can get easy access to the talent on the market and maybe recruit local talents. But that’s going to shift the entire industry for actors in a way I can’t predict. One thing I’m still afraid of, as an actor, is when larger agencies come in, there’s going to be an immediate interest from every actor in town trying to get into them. But that’s the wrong move. One of our agents at AMT, a former manager in LA, says: The biggest downfall in being with some of the big agencies is getting lost, because you’re just a number. They don’t care about you. But I walk into a smaller agency and they talk to me. They take their time out of their busy day, whether you are booking or not.
Do you have representation outside Atlanta?
I don’t have any…I don’t plan on it, because I was looking into it. Maybe getting represented in New Orleans and L.A. I talked to a few actors who do have representation in other markets. They said if you have the means to get between these locations, do it. If you can afford a plane ticket to get to a call back to LA in 2 days, do it. But only if you are willing to spend the money to go. It’s going to cost you. Getting representation in New Orleans is totally doable. I know people who’ve done that. But I also know that New Orleans is very big on in-person auditions. And I know actors that drive 10 hours for one under-5 audition. Its not just resources in the traditional sense, but how much emotional patience do you have? How much do you want to spend? Of your time and energy and all the effort it takes you to be a good person and to be a good actor. Just to do a 20-hour drive for a one liner. How many times can you do that before you just give up.
Are you SAG?
SAG eligible of course. But I’m considering becoming SAG. First, I am also a stuntwoman. And most of the stunt coordinators will not work with you, unless you are in the Union. And some work pays the same amount day rate as an actor. So good money, it’s fun. It’s hard to get into. But unless you join the Union you’re not getting a whole lot of money. So I’ve done a bit of stunt work outside of my regular acting work.
So there’s potential for me to make more money doing stunts. And whatever reason it is, the Union is being real flexible with their rules. I make my money mostly through non-union industrials. Not even through my agency, it’s all based on relationships. The Union is now allowing Union members to do industrials that are non-union based upon a Union contract.
And you have those relationships with directors and producers and all that. I don’t think it’s that difficult to say: Hey guys, you know, I joined the Union, I can still work for you the same, but you know, you’re going to be paying me a little less potentially or you’re going to pay me a little bit more. And for me, to be a member of the Union, is you get all the benefits of the pension and the health care and it’s almost worth it if you can work it.
How did you get into being able to do stunts?
I was on a film called ‘Let’s Be Cops’ and I started a conversation with the writer on how do you sustain yourself? He suggested stunt work given my athletic build. He even put me in contact with a stunt coordinator on that film. She told me where this stunt gym is here. Believe it or not, that’s how you get into the stunt industry. You go to the gymnastics style gym and you meet people. You put together a headshot and resume, which is way less professional than acting. Then let’s say you find out a production is shooting at Screen Gem Studios. You take your headshot and your resume, go to Screen Gem and ask for the stunt coordinator. Former military people do really well. Former SWAT team members and former gymnasts do really well, for tumbling, flipping, and having awareness.
Any mistakes you’ve made that others should avoid?
One of the mistakes I made was in believing that I needed to be connected to those in higher positions than me to get work. Having relationships with producers, directors, writers, famous actors, that’s not going get you work. And nepotism is not as big a part of the industry the way most people think it is.
The other big mistake that I made was not being myself. I didn’t give much thought about who I am. My first year, professionally, I was trying to fit in this mold of…the first job I ever got was the role of Gorgeous Woman. I tried to fit that mold. I pulled my hair straight. I would wear lots of make up to every audition. All my headshots portrayed somebody like that. And it didn’t get me any more work. I ruined my hair. I had to cut my hair off to get my curls to come back. And ultimately it was hard to be motivated to work towards your goal when you’re being somebody else. Authenticity is so important. I’m at least comfortable with knowing what I’m not. You should stay true to who you are in the core.