Updated: Dec 8, 2019
Sitting in my Hollywood apartment, I can hear helicopters circling over head. I wonder if they’re chasing some new celebrity up on Sunset Blvd or if they’ve spotted a criminal who decided to rob the “Dancing with the Stars” set across the street from me. Either way, I am reminded that with all of the brilliance and opportunity that this town has to offer, it has it’s traps as well. And I consider myself very lucky to have found the secret for thriving here. I’ll give you a hint...it’s about giving back.
I’ve been an actress in television for almost ten years now, and I’m incredibly grateful for the “job” I get to have. I’ve been on shows like “Cold Case,” “CSI:NY,” “Medium,” “Numb3rs,” “All My Children” and even starred in two of my own series on the Hallmark Channel and ABC. I have found myself in situations I never would have imagined possible. For instance, eating pizza between takes with the cast of “E.R.,” getting paired up with my childhood crush, Ricky Schroder, for a network screen test, and chatting with Fabio at an Italian Bistro in Beverly Hills at 2am about God and the nature of the Universe. Who does that happen to? Not the girl from the small town in New Jersey where I grew up (well... maybe the Fabio thing). So you must understand that when these Hollywood moments happen, I am elated by their existence. But what I’ve learned from my years of hard work in this town is that who you really are never comes from outside circumstances. It comes from what you have to give.
For the past 7 years I have been teaching for a nonprofit organization called City Hearts: Kids Say Yes to the Arts. We go into inner city neighborhoods in Los Angeles and bring arts classes to at risk youth. These are important classes that these children would never normally have access to. We bring dance, music, photography, and Shakespeare to pre-gang age children to give them a sense of confidence, before they put their self worth in the hands of gang leaders. This work with children has changed me immensely. I’d like to think it has made me a better actress and a more capable person when it comes to dealing with the egotistic pitfalls of showbiz. But really, I think it has just made me understand that it’s not all about me.
erinWhen I am teaching, my students don’t care that I might be on TV that night. They care that I hold their hand as we walk to class and that I listen to them when they feel small and unappreciated. They’re pretty indifferent to the fact that I’m an actress, but they’re overjoyed that I can teach them the new Miley Cyrus dance. These children show me how to be honest, how to be effective in a room full of 30 screaming voices, and how to persevere with a smile on my face even when my whole day has crumbled down around me. These kids are strong, and they’re seeing things we can only begin to imagine. Just one sentence out of an eight year old’s mouth about the shooting that happened out side of her class room that day will shut me up really fast when I’m complaining about traffic. I love those kids. And hopefully I’ve done enough to make a small difference in their lives.
When I’m not working with CIty Hearts or filming something, I’m usually attending a function for The New Hollywood. This is an all female group that I am proud to be a part of. We are all in the entertainment industry and we’re hell-bent on breaking the stereotypes of women as “botox-filled, overly-competitive, needy divas”. Our group is so very far from that. We are dedicated to creating an environment for each other (and those around us) that is supportive and open to all of us being exactly who we are. We give money to charities and hold each other accountable to the goals we want to achieve. In short, we are women trying to raise the consciousness of the industry, one life at a time....starting with our own.
Well, the helicopters have stopped, so I’ll reiterate my point. If you’re thinking of keeping your sanity and being an actor in tinsel town, you should be shown a new disclaimer upon crossing the LA county line: “Drop your ego at the door and do something for someone else.” I’ve watched friends come and go out here, trying to “make it” as actors. Sadly, I’ve seen many of them give up because they place their self worth in the hands of casting directors. They forget the inherent value of their talent and that it’s the love inside them that’s worth sharing. I think that to truly make it out here, you have to really know yourself and shine your light no matter what the general outside opinion happens to be of you. Trust me, in the grand scheme of things, nobody’s gonna care that you were on prime time TV if you never made a difference in another person’s life. Focus on how you can give, and the light will shine on you ten-fold.
www.erincottrell.com www.cityhearts.org www.thenewhollywood.org