You're convinced that you have a unique talent, whether it's writing, singing, acting or some other artistic expression that makes you feel alive. There's only so much time to dream, however, as the hard slap of reality takes its toll every time you manipulate a Slurpee machine, type up a TPS report or play your part in the unending battle of paper versus plastic.
You're tempted to give it all up, to make your day job your real job and trade in your dream for the piece of mind that is a paid telephone bill. But as summer nears and hordes of young people head out looking for a job — any job — it's worth noting that some of the most successful people in Hollywood know exactly how it feels, and they offer one common message: Hold on.
"My first job was working as a cashier at Wendy's," Eva Longoria remembered of her pre-"Housewives" days when she truly was desperate. "Would you like fries with that?"
"I worked as a truck washer," sitcom superstar Ray Romano recalled of the tough times that also had him working as a bank teller and futon deliveryman. "We would go to the truck yard, and a guy in the back of a van had a water-pressure machine. I would have the gun or the brush, and we would go to tractor trailers that were parked so close together that you had to turn your head when you went [between them] because you didn't have enough room — especially with this nose."
At least Ray and Eva were able to hold a job — unlike a leading man who was once reduced to begging for change.
"I actually came up with a scam," Paul Walker said. "I went to Magic Mountain and hit up amusement-park tourists. I went up to them and told them I was short a few bucks and was trying to get in the park, and people were giving me five bucks here and 10 bucks there, and before I knew it I had so much money in my pockets that I had to go empty them. I hit up Knott's Berry Farm and Disneyland and I got shooed out of all of them. I was a desperate kid trying different things."
Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.
|Best Of Times, Crappiest Of Times
Some of Hollywood's hottest stars share their early experiences of failure, destitution and struggle — before things turned around and they hit the big time.
"The worst job I ever had was holding candles at funeral services," said "Troy" and "National Treasure" star Diane Kruger. "That was pretty horrible."
When talking to such stars, one common theme emerges: When things look their darkest, life has a way of offering strange breakthroughs.
"I was still working at a video store," said filmmaker Quentin Tarantino. "After staying up all night long [I was thinking], 'I've gotta quit the store, I've gotta move out of this area, I've gotta move to Hollywood, I can't get lost in another job.' I was up all night thinking about it [until] nine in the morning, and I called up a friend of mine to have breakfast so I could tell him all the stuff that I'd decided to do over the night, so I couldn't take it back."
When Tarantino returned from what he calls his "mission statement" breakfast, he made a discovery that forever altered the course of his life.
"I go back home, and waiting for me in the mailbox was three back years of tax-return refunds," he laughs. "I was so irresponsible that even when I was supposed to get my money back, I wouldn't do my taxes. It was, like, three checks altogether, like, $1,200. You could literally say that that day forward was the beginning of my career."
Even when you're finally on the right path, however, life will test your determination.
"My Jeep got stolen the first day — the first hour — I was in L.A.," said "Van Wilder" star Ryan Reynolds. "I parked it outside the scumbag hotel I was staying at and found it a block down, stripped.
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"I drove around for five months with no doors on the Jeep," he continued. "It was one of the worst El Niño seasons ever, so I would just get these tsunami-like waves of water flying through the car."
"Every job I had before this one sucked," said Zach Braff. "Working as a production assistant on music videos [like] Mariah Carey's 'The Roof' — I did that. And by 'did that,' I mean that I lugged chairs for that."
To get that chance to shine, you have to be willing to endure lousy jobs, lousy bosses and getting fired — a lot.
"I got a call that it wasn't working," remembered one actress of getting canned from "Beverly Hills 90210." "I was, of course, devastated because I thought I wasn't a good enough actor to be on '90210'!"
The actress? Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank.
"Three months later I got 'Boys Don't Cry,' " she grinned. "If I would have been on that show, I wouldn't have been able to do 'Boys Don't Cry.' It's a lesson in trusting fate."
"I was working. I got a job. I was thrilled. I didn't know that it was gonna be ... " Jennifer Aniston trailed off, remembering her less-than-glorious movie debut running away from a homicidal "Leprechaun." "Sometimes [there wasn't] even a Leprechaun because the Leprechaun had to go home that day. You've got some sort of director jumping around and going, 'Oh yeah! I'm the Leprechaun!' Literally."
"There's a great saying from the 12-step program: 'Don't give up five minutes before the miracle,' " said Josh Peck, the 19-year-old star of the show "Drake & Josh" and a voice in "Ice Age: The Meltdown." "It's just so easy to become discouraged and disillusioned.
"Too many people give up on their dreams too soon," Peck continued. "There is honor in everything that anyone does, as long as you put your heart into it. [W]e're at the age where we should be striving for the best, and just see what happens from there. But at least you went for it."
Someday you may even realize another dream: the one of looking back on your salad days with a grin.
"It didn't hit me," explained Derek Luke, the "Antwone Fisher" and "Glory Road" actor who realized while accepting an Independent Spirit Award that he had waited tables at the same event just four years prior. "It didn't really hit me until I was sitting there and they said, 'Best Actor.' I remembered waiting the tables of all the actors sitting at those tables, and packing their [gift] bags."
Following his acceptance speech, Luke was approached by several waiters.
"One of them said, 'Man, listen, I'm a waiter. I'm doing the same [acting] thing. Kudos to you.' I felt so good," Luke beamed. "It was about fulfilling your dream. So if you're out there, and you're waiting tables, don't ever let nobody tell you 'no.'
"And," he said, "don't steal the actors' bags."
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