ACTRESS NEXT DOOR. An Interview with Marci Miller.
This interview appears in the just released two-volume book CREATIVE SUCCESS IN SHOW BUSINESS: Conversations with Actors, Musicians, Filmmake and Authors Working in the Entertainment Industry. CLICK FOR DETAILS.
Marci grew up in the town of North Liberty, IN. She moved west in 2010 with her husband, Ryan, and is a proud resident/advocate for downtown Los Angeles. In her spare time, she does yoga, hikes, reads, and helps her husband with his food biz, Sexy Lunch Club.
Her most recent work includes AMERICAN FABLE, FEAR and DOG BOWL (Sundance 2015). Marci was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for her role as Abigail Dimera on DAYS OF OUR LIVES.
Future projects include the upcoming film adaptation of the critically-acclaimed rock show PARALLEL WORLDS: A Rock-n-Roll Love Story. The film is scheduled for release in mid-2022.
Also worthy of note, she will never turn down an opportunity to eat peanut butter. Or chocolate.
I need to start by saying that Marci is one of my favorite people in the whole world! Then again, she's many people's favorite person so I guess we'll all just have to share. And to think that if it weren't for a case of low blood sugar and hunger pains...I never would have had the privilege of knowing her.
I met Marci back in 2015 when she sent in a videotaped audition for the role of ELLA in my rock show PARALLEL WORLDS. I don't envy the job of casting directors because after watching hundreds of audition videos the mind can quickly turn into spaghetti.
However, I had somehow managed to narrow the pool down to three actresses and I asked each of them to come in and read with SHAWN REAVES, the actor playing the lead male role. Marci was one of the three.
And then came the big decision. I was the kid who felt sorry for every Christmas tree or pumpkin that didn't get picked so making decisions has never been my strong suit. In the end, I decided to do a 24-hour fast as I'd heard it would give me the mental clarity needed to make the right decision. And guess what? It worked!
Somewhere around hour 23, the answer became crystal clear - MARCI MARCI MARCI!!
Looking back I can hardly believe I even struggled for a millisecond over the decision because Marci ended up being so absolutely perfect for Ella and the show. Audiences fell head-over-heels in love with her and she was an absolute joy to work with. I'm not sure I've ever worked with someone so talented, sweet, grounded, supportive and all-in as Marci.
She's the kind of person you'd want your daughter to be like when she grows up. In fact, if my daughter turns out anything like Marci I'd consider myself a very successful father!
Thank God for that 24-hour fast!!
Okay, girl, let's get this party started. How did your creative life start?
I have always been interested in all kinds of art. My mother put me in ballet classes at a relatively early age, as well as piano lessons, a stint with the violin, clarinet, guitar. I was always a singer, in advanced art classes, and loved classic old movies/Victorian anything/tea parties.
As a child I wanted the theme of my bedroom to be an old, dark, Catholic church, so I saved up my money to purchase a red glass hanging chandelier, stained glass pieces for my window, and red crystal lamp shades. An old soul/Renaissance gal whose husband today jokingly claims came out of the womb a solid 65 years old.
That's not creepy. Please continue...
(laughs) My mother was (is) a very creative woman, who happened to be a nurse. She got the idea to take us to a production of Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat when I was about 10 years old, and it opened me up to a whole new world.
She purchased the cassette tape with the music from the show, and I recall sitting on our front porch with a boom box and a spiral notebook/pen proceeding to write down all of the lyrics/dialogue so that I could put on a production of it in my 4th-grade class.(Didn't know a script was a thing yet. AND I intended to play Joseph, the male lead because it was a much more interesting role.)
I think the biblical evidence for Joseph's gender is pretty thin.
(laughs) As I got a little older, I fell into playing a lot of sports but attended a small high school, so was able to still be very involved with music/choir. I continued to play the piano and traveled to about 3-4 churches every Sunday (we're talking TINY churches) to play for their services and make a little cash.
I never considered pursuing anything creative as a career because it just seemed a bit unreasonable and irrational for someone from a town of 1500 people, and even remember having a boyfriend who said he wanted to be an actor and thinking, "Ohhhhh boy...".
I auditioned for my first musical in high school (Godspell) and was SHOCKED to have gotten in. I adored it and realized for the first time how much I could enjoy a thing. I was about 15 years old.
And the rest is history?
Not quite. As I graduated high school and went off to college, I still clung to the proclamation that I was going to be a nurse, like my mother. In my first semester of college, I took 'Intro to Nursing' and literally every single other class was related to music or was a general education course.
That continued for about a year and a half before I had a professor (my vocal instructor, Derrick Pennix) who sat me down and told me he thought I could pursue this thing as a career if I wanted. I had truly NEVER had that thought regarding myself in my entire life.
However having someone that I respected who saw me, and gave me "permission" in a sense totally rocked my world. I went and changed my major to Vocal Performance (with a theatre minor) THAT day and began identifying for the first time as a creative at the age of 19-20.
Did you go to school for voice or acting?
I studied Voice Performance in college, and, in all honesty, should've studied theatre. (C'est la vie...) I appreciated that education but spent a lot of time and effort doing something less interesting than I wanted. I love music, and love to perform, but was required to do a lot of classical/foreign language/art pieces (which are GORGEOUS), but don't suit my voice and are not my particular passion.
Had I studied jazz music, that would've made more sense. I still did all of the plays/musicals in college and had a ball. After graduation, I always imagined myself in a very small market, in a very small theatre doing shows for a handful of lovely folks every evening. (There's an aspect of that that I still find appealing.)
However, I decided to pursue ACTING specifically as a career and made the jaunt to Los Angeles (again, as the result of someone speaking into my life and giving me permission to jump/dream) and ended up at a 2 year Meisner school in Santa Monica called the Joanne Baron/D.W. Brown studio.
Yeah, I've heard of that.
This school would be the single greatest thing I've ever done for myself to this day. I discovered for the first time that I had opinions about things. I mucked through the conservative, humble, modest, submissive Midwest foundation that had been laid and was challenged to figure out who I was and what my specific voice (as an actor, not literal voice) looked like.
I couldn't believe and was embarrassed by how challenging it was for me to have an opinion, but my new friends didn't judge each other and loved each other unconditionally regardless of whether we were wonderful that particular evening or fell flat on our faces. The experience was absolutely transformative, and the most terrifying thing I've ever done. I worked incredibly hard and laid my soul bare in front of a group of strangers who became some of the dearest friends of my life.
I also realized all kinds of truths that I had clung to about myself were completely false.
I had throughout my entire childhood/early adulthood told myself and everyone else about a version of me that I thought would be impressive but wasn't me at all. For instance, before moving to LA, I always said that I was very "masculine" in the way that I dealt with things (whatever that means), didn't cry at movies, wasn't sensitive, etc.
Sounds like an ex-girlfriend of mine!
Then one evening I'm in front of the class and crying my eyes out over a bunch of ripped up pieces of notebook paper that are supposed to be recipes from my grandmother. I couldn't believe it, I had never experienced myself in this way before and realized there were many things I'd been identifying with that simply weren't me at all.
It was scary, and I wasn't sure what my friends/family back home would think, but I can say with confidence I am a much more authentic version of myself today, and that journey began twice a week in a tiny acting studio 3 blocks from the Pacific Ocean.
Awesome. Do you have a day job?
I am fortunate to have been making a living at what I love for the last handful of years. However, I waited SO many tables during my pursuit. I also donated plasma for several years to pay for acting classes. I literally have scars on both my arms from doing it so regularly.
I'd wake up at 4:30 am to drive down to a Plasma Bank in Compton to make $70/week. (Probably wasn't the greatest idea for a lot of reasons, but amazing what we do for the things we love, isn't it?) I always worked in restaurants because they were good money and came with little to no emotional baggage. I could clock in, make my money, clock out, and get back to pursuing my dreams.
I was also lucky to work at a swanky joint in the Ritz-Carlton, so got to wait on all kinds of people that had inspired this small-town Indiana gal over the years (ie. Meryl Streep, Jim Carrey, Ryan Gosling, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Cruise, George Clooney, SO many others...).
I never engaged in conversation with them about business, but appreciated getting to be in their space and took several breaths before walking up to Meryl Streep's table to help clean up the martini she (endearingly) spilled after the August Osage County Premiere.
I walked away hoping I'd soaked up some of her good creative juju while simultaneously soaking up her vodka.
Where do you believe creativity comes from?
I feel creativity is such a personal thing, as unique as a person's fingerprint. It's something that evolves and shifts over time and shows up unexpectedly in ways we never could've planned. It's instinctual and limitless and benefits from all of our hardships and most wonderful experiences.
It grows the more perspectives and ideas we are exposed to and can teach us some of the greatest lessons of our lives.
It almost feels like a deep, mystical, religious experience sometimes. It comes from the pit of our stomach and the souls of our feet, something we are born with as human beings.
It's a holy collective of things that spews out of us in ways I think we can't even explain sometimes. (As evidenced by my rambling to try to explain it.) Where does it come from? Who knows. But just like humans are born with a soul and love, we are born with the need to express ourselves creatively, and to deny this thing would never help and only hurt.
It's hard to imagine you making any big boo-boos but maybe there was just an itsy bitsy one somewhere?
You know, this is tough because I kinda feel like things we can see as "setbacks" or "mistakes" are just opportunities for us to learn things we will need to know moving forward. However, I can say there have certainly been times in my life when I've tried to be something I'm not.
There are times when I've thought I needed to look a particular way, especially as a female in this industry, or behave a particular way, and now I say all of that is just bologna. I used to get nervous to go to meetings with potential new agents or casting directors because I wanted to be exactly what they wanted, but I'm finding more and more that people want to genuinely see YOU.
And quite frankly, that's much more manageable for me. So I've left parties/meetings/lunches/auditions feeling like I hadn't been true to myself and those are the times I've left feeling kinda bummed about an experience.
If a starry-eyed youngster asked you for advice what would it be?
I always say get into class. You just graduated? I understand but get into class. Mostly because it helps to have some kind of structure that will require you to engage in this thing you love, but also, you make connections and meet other folks that are at the same stage of the game as you.
In class I found all kinds of folks to collaborate with in all kinds of ways. We made our own projects, got drinks afterward to "talk shop" and share all the industry tidbits we had learned that week. It's so beneficial to start creating a community because there is a lot of truth to folks saying "it's all about who you know."
They say you move to LA to be an actor, you come out here and spin your wheels for 10 years, then all of a sudden all your friends start hiring you. I can say from personal experience that the last 8 months of work I've done, I was asked to do by peers or people I'd already worked with on previous projects. I didn't even audition. One of which being 4 months of work on a new series that was directed by a man I met in my first acting school in Santa Monica.
I don't see you as the giving up type. Ever cross your mind?
Nope. Never once. But I think maybe that's unusual? It used to blow my mind that friends that worked with me at restaurants would talk about "taking some time off from acting" because it just seemed so impossible to me. Storytelling is a part of me, I couldn't physically or emotionally give it up in any way.
I don't know. Even if/when it gets hard, there's no other thing for me than this. I didn't know what to expect when I moved out here, and I'm a pretty realistic gal. I'm not motivated by the idea of money or fame, but I can truly tell you that I've always felt that if you loved a thing, like REALLY loved it, that it could be yours.
And it could take 10 years, or it might take 6 months, who knows why journeys differ from person to person, but I couldn't give it up. It's the lens through which I look at the entire world. Everything I do every day, from the sleep I get to the food I eat, to the conversations I have, to the art/life/people/places I take in has to do with this pursuit.
Art IS LIFE for me and I don't think I could ever separate myself from it. I would figure out a way to make all my own stuff before I could ever think of hanging up my hat. I'd go back to work in a restaurant before I gave it up. This whole thing isn't about arriving at a place or making ALL of my money as a result of it, it's just who I am and that's never going to change.
Do you feel like you've "made it?"
Certainly not. In "making it" I suppose I take that to mean that I've worked enough to be well-enough known to the point that I'll never have to be concerned with "whether or not I work again", because I always will.
In "making it" I take that to mean that I'm solely doing projects that I've CHOSEN to do because I'm moved by the content, or super passionate about it in some way, or working with a genius and/or friends that I can't say no to. I suppose "making it" has to do with your definition of what that is, but I think at every level there are ironically similar concerns.
And the reality is, there are always shifts in this industry. There will be times when I'm working like crazy, and there will be times when I'm twiddling my thumbs eating way too many chocolate covered almonds. There are times when we're financially stable, and times when we're getting concerned.
We say yes to certain projects for varying reasons, and I know there are projects that I've done in the last few years to pay my bills (nothing morally compromising) that I've not been particularly proud of, and while I was still making my living as an ACTOR, it certainly didn't feel as if I'd "made it."
You know Marci, I feel like you've been dogging my questions here so can we finally get real?
(laughs) Fire away.
Are you happy?
I am happy. And I'm content. That doesn't mean that I'm not sometimes disappointed or frustrated. It also doesn't mean that I'm not constantly striving to grow and expand and climb a "ladder" of sorts. I love my job and know that I'm incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunities I've had, whether or not they're the exact ones I'd hoped for, and will always continue to strive and hope for.
I don't think there will ever be such a thing as "arriving" to me.
I'll always have new goals and hopes for new opportunities to work with new people. And as you climb higher on a ladder, you're able to see farther and realize there are SO many more things that you want that you didn't even know existed when you were at the bottom of the ladder.
Also, as I get older, I realize how important it is not to let this whole thing monopolize my entire life. It can't be the place where I place my identity and all of my self-worth. I've picked up other hobbies and learned to develop other aspects of my life, and really try to remember that the whole reason I came to this thing in the first place was because I loved it.
And if the lifestyle I'm living or how I'm encountering the pursuit of my career ever deviates from THAT fact, I know I need to adjust and ground myself. There's absolutely no point in sacrificing all the goodness of life for something that can't love you back.
That's NOT to say we aren't to make sacrifices, because I have made many (#plasma), but I've always felt it important to maintain a relationship with this industry that didn't result in my constant self-involvement and an inability to see the beauty of life being lived around me.
And really, if we close ourselves off from those things, it hinders our ability to be artists. I heard someone say in a speech recently that our responsibility as artists is to look in the direction of people/places that no one else wants to look, and I found that so moving and so true.
So, yes I'm happy, and I'll always want to experience more.
Days of our Lives Photo by Chris Haston/NBC