I’d love to say I know Jessica Cook from one of her showbiz gigs— commercials for Axe and Mary Kay, music videos, hanging with Toby Turner (watch this or this), MTV’s Awkward, or The Voice Tailgate—but I just know her from our high school algebra class.
She was still awesome back then, though: a helluva voice in the school choir, a counselor for one of my class retreats, and just really nice in general. I’m glad others have taken notice—a lot of others, actually.
I reached out to Jessica over a year ago with these interview questions (note the Leno reference!); and yes, I should have posted our chat sooner. Still, I hope you take her timeless message to heart: get a vision, work really hard for it, and don’t be afraid to stand out.
How have you found success—networking? Sheer force of will? Something else?
When I first had the idea to move to Los Angeles I knew I would have to battle my dad. The idea of moving from my small town of Redding, California to one of the biggest cities in the United States doesn’t seem plausible. It’s a crazy idea to most small town folks.
I wrote out a 10-page plan of what I was going to do: how I was going to get work, where I was going to live, etc. I sealed it in an envelope and just left it for him to read. In the letter, it laid out my goals, what I was going to do for a career and how I would maintain a reasonable living. After he read the letter we had a discussion and I told him that I planned to go into modeling before college. I showed my dad emails that legitimate modeling agencies had sent me but, with proof in hand, he still didn’t like the idea of me moving to the opposite side of the state. I fought hard, told him I’d go to college, and two months later I hit the road and headed down I-5 to Fullerton with the few contacts that I had made.
I can’t tell you how nerve-wracking it was putting all of my chips into a business that I knew nothing about, not having agents and of course the anxiety that comes with driving on the 405 in rush hour traffic. BUT I KNEW WHAT I WANTED and I was going to make it happen. I studied poses out of the fashion editorials in Vogue and practiced in the mirror for 3 hours a day, most of the time ending in laughing fits or face cramps! I would also set up a camera on a tripod to see if I could convey whatever emotion I wanted to summon in front of the lens.
After booking a few jobs, I realized that I was still hungry and modeling wasn’t satisfying to me anymore. Acting was the next venue to really showcase my talents. The contacts that I had made throughout my modeling career helped me jump in the right direction. I will always be striving for more; success is relative and as long as I am striving, to me, I will be successful.
Through all of this, I found my happiness thus far through determination, taking risks, wearing lots of stylish high heels that made my feet hurt, and a good sense of humor. In short, keep laughing.
What job advice would you give to others?
Know what you want to do. Someone once told me, “There are lots of beautiful girls here. Some are more beautiful than you and there are at least 20 working girls that look almost exactly like you. What is going to set you apart from everyone else?”
Talent. That conversation changed the ballgame for me and I started studying and researching directors, doing improv classes, watching movies more often, and going to coffee shops to people watch.
Also, This industry is extremely difficult and you’re going to hear a lot more “no’s” than “yes’s”—so if I were to give advice to anyone who wanted to give this industry a try, don’t take things to heart. Take everything with a grain of salt. Make sure you are doing what you love and if you have a hard time reaching your goal, work even harder and push yourself. Regardless of everything you have to go through—good or bad—you have to believe in yourself, because that long intense journey will make one hell of a couch story for Leno.
What are your big-time career plans? Leave a comment below!
Image: Jessica Cook (used with permission)