Posted January 6, 2009 by Adam Toren in Blogs

The Road to Hollywood with Actor Graham Shiels

graham-shiels-1-retouched-copyHollywood! One of the most competitive cities in the world, it attracts thousands of starry-eyed actors every year to try their hand at making it big in the film and television industry. Only a small fraction of them can ever make a living in La-La Land, however. A small three-storey apartment building near popular Sunset Boulevard in the middle of Hollywood serves as a prime example-the cars parked at this complex have license plates from all over North America, and according to the landlord they change every six months because a majority of them return home. Having staying power in Hollywood requires more than great acting skills and the perfect look.

For actor Graham Shiels, the road to Hollywood has been anything but glitzy and glamorous. Fresh out of the Yale School of Drama, Shiels headed for Hollywood almost eight years ago and quickly learned being Canadian was one of the biggest challenges, and that it takes more than just a few months or even a few years to make it.

“And by making it, that means not having to work as a bartender or waiter to supplement your income but as a full time actor. In Hollywood there is no middle class actor-either you’re struggling, making millions or are a trust fund baby, which means you were born with lots of money and don’t have to work.”

Shiels spent years waiting tables and bartending but at the same time worked on television series and movies. Shiels now has a very impressive resume that includes roles in dozens of big hits: True Blood, Saving Grace, The Closer, The Agency, The West Wing and Charmed.

Currently, Shiels plays the role of Cody Paul on one of the biggest soap operas, General Hospital. He also managed to nab a role in the Jim Carrey flick Yes Man. With a recurring role on television and a new movie featuring a wide-release in theatres last month, it looks like Shiels is finally filling his schedule. He took a break to sit down with Vancouver View Magazine in Hollywood to share some laughs and reveal the truth about being an actor in LA.

graham-shiels-2-copyVancouver View Magazine:  How has the road from Vancouver to LA been for you?

Graham Shiels: “Wow. Big question. I think it is a big journey because you’re crossing the 49th parallel and the first thing you notice is culture shock. I went from suburban West Coast Canada to East Coast Ivy League USA. It was a trip. People made fun of my dialect. But the most notable change now that I’m planted in LA is this: most of the new friends I’ve met here know other people from here. Whether they know them from high school, college or through family, and even if you’re not originally from LA and from lets say, Arkansas, chances are you still know someone here. Whereas when you’re coming here from Canada, that remote support network is most likely not there because of the legality of crossing that darn 49th parallel. So you’re really going out on your own and working without a net if you choose to come to a new country like the U.S. and make a go of your career. Very different than if you were just to move to Toronto where, if you’re from Vancouver, you probably already know a handful of friends, business contacts, and family.”

VV: What led you to your decision to make the big move to LA?

GS: “I’m sure every actor in the world, even Al Pacino, has felt ‘If they would just let me read!’ One of the hardest steps as an actor, as we all know, is just getting the bloody audition. Back when I was in Vancouver there became just one too many times I couldn’t even get in the audition room. It was like a boxer training and not getting to fight. Very frustrating. So instead of hanging around, waiting, hoping that the few casting directors in Vancouver somehow took a ‘gamble’ on giving me an audition, I bounced. I just knew that if I got around more opportunities I’d have greater opportunities to let my work speak for itself. So it became clear very early that I had to get out of Vancouver to foster my career. And that feeling of just wishing you could ‘show them’ made me feel that I wanted to do what I could to make the issue of getting in the room never an issue again. That led me to want to classically train. So I prepared with the greatest teacher I’ve ever worked with in my life, Vancouver’s very own Scott Swan, and was accepted to the Yale School of Drama. And I was off to New Haven for three years. Scott is amazing and I’ve also worked with some other legendary contemporary teachers.”

VV: What have been the biggest challenges or fears you faced in making the move?

GS: “The biggest challenge is the INS. Now called the Department of Homeland Security. That is a long, uphill, expensive battle requiring you to arm yourself with a team of lawyers. I have advice to anyone wishing to try-get married to an American! It’d be a lot less work and less heartache. The other thing wasn’t that big of a challenge, yet I cannot stress enough how important it is to lose your regional Canadian dialect. You just won’t work if you sound like you’re from Canada. People here think we sound like hicks from Minnesota.”

VV: What advice would you give to others, especially Canadians, about making such a move?

GS: “Don’t kid yourself and think you’re gonna come down here for three months during pilot season (which doesn’t exist anymore) and just crush it. You’re gonna have to commit to staying here for at least two years. It will take you that long to get your life in order. But, hey, if you think you’ll be the next Ashton Kutcher, go for it. But the more you investigate you learn that the stars who are now only 18 years old have been in LA and working since they were 10. Also, get married your first day here. And try to squeeze your contacts in Vancouver for as many contacts as they might have in LA, even if your neighbor’s cousin is a plumber down here. Chances are he’s making a film that’ll be at Sundance next year. Basically, bring your A-game because anything less and you may as well save yourself and your pocketbook the heartache.”

VV: What do you love about LA and what do you miss about home?

GS: “LA is a world of mythology. The longer you live here the closer you’ve been to someone who’s ‘blown up’ overnight. Nine times out of ten these people have been here five to ten years, but the point is-it happens. For better or for worse, you really are  ‘living the dream’ here. As for what I miss about Vancouver, I miss my family and my friends from elementary school. But I do not miss the rain!”

Adam Toren

Adam Toren
Adam Toren is born and raised in Vancouver BC and loves everything Vancouver BC has to offer. He loves traveling and exploring new and unique restaurants and places around the world.