by Deborah Mersino
I’m delighted to bring you the second installment in my new Women Living Their Dreams series. My goal is to spotlight authentic women who are impassioned about their work and willing to shed light on their professional journeys. It’s time to chat with Jeri Ryan, who currently stars as Dr. Kate Murphy on the ABC drama series Body of Proof. Perhaps best known for her iconic role as the liberated Borg, Seven of Nine on Star Trek: Voyager, Jeri also has starred as Tara Cole on Leverage and Veronica “Ronnie” Cooke on Boston Public, and has had recurring roles on the science fiction show Dark Skies and the legal drama series Shark. Ryan played opposite Rene Zellweger and Ewan McGregor in the 2003 comedy “Down with Love,” and appeared in “Dracula 2000″ opposite Gerard Butler. She describes herself as “Mom, wife, actress, foodie, Francophile, obsessive gardener, and Twitter-addict.” I would describe her as generous, warm, and wickedly smart.
1. Many youngsters dream of becoming a Hollywood star; however, you’ve actually made that dream a reality. How did it happen?
Honestly, with a combination of preparation and luck. I had some experience acting in community theater, and then I majored in theater at Northwestern University. The education & training I got there was pretty critical in making sure I was prepared for it when I got my “break”. And that’s where a lot of luck comes in…! My Chicago agent had sent my headshot to some LA casting directors before I moved out and one of them called me in for a meeting. I read a scene for them and they called a great agent on the spot and told them they had to sign me. So I was INCREDIBLY lucky to get an agent before I even moved, which is not usually the case!
2. What qualities have served you best throughout the trajectory of your career?
Persistence and a thick skin! It’s a tough industry; there’s a LOT of rejection, and a lot of critique about physical qualities — you’re either too pretty or not pretty enough, too blonde or not blonde enough, too tall or not tall enough, too thin or not thin enough.
3. What has surprised you the most about life as an actor?
I’d have to say — and this is specific to the life of an actor in Hollywood, as opposed to the theater – how much (and how quickly) the industry changes.
4. How did school prepare you – or not?
As I mentioned earlier, the training I received in the craft of acting was invaluable. I learned how to create a character and give them life. But it was (at least at the time) pretty specific to theater. It didn’t prepare me at all for the technicality of acting for the camera, which is a very different beast.
5. Many gifted and talented kids feel “different” and/or “out of sync” with others. Did you ever experience that growing up in Kentucky and/or at Northwestern?
I don’t think there are many people who can say they never experienced that as a kid. But I was an army-brat who moved around a lot. When you’re always the new kid, you learn very quickly how to get the lay of the land and find out how to fit in with your new classmates. I do have one memory that stands out: I lived in a very small town in Western Kentucky from 6th grade – high school (the longest my family had ever lived in one place.) I kept a diary for a couple of years when I was 12 or 13. I was writing in it one day (and I remember this so vividly!) I wrote “…I don’t think he really likes her” — and then went back and crossed out the word “think” and wrote “thank”, even though I knew it was incorrect, because that’s how all my friends wrote it. Pretty sad that I so badly wanted to avoid being different that I’d “correct” my own diary.
6. Did you have any teachers and/or mentors who really “saw you” and impacted you powerfully? Can you share a bit about them?
My middle school music teacher, Gayle McDermott, was an incredibly supportive mentor for me during those years. (As a side note, I was on a talk show many years later and they surprised me by flying Mrs. McDermott out to LA to appear on the show with me!)
7. Do you have any thoughts on how the United States could improve its support of gifted, talented, and creative learners in public schools?
It would be wonderful if schools could offer as many opportunities & challenges — both academic & creative — as we would like. Unfortunately, until our public schools are sufficiently funded to support any of our students… let’s just say we have a long way to go.
8 What are the biggest misconceptions people have about life as a working actor?
That it’s glamorous. There are moments, sure, but that’s not the norm!
9. What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing an acting career?
If there’s anything else that you would be happy doing, DO THAT. If you truly need to act to be fulfilled, then really COMMIT to it. Get trained — really work on your craft. You can’t control when your break will come. What you can control is making sure that you’re prepared when it does. Be persistant. Be confident. Finally, and this is much easier said than done, don’t, don’t, DON’T take the rejections personally. It’s just part of the business.
10. What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned in your career?
That it’s a bit of a numbers game. There will always be many more “no”s than “yes”es.
11. What are you most proud of?
My amazing kids.
12. Can you tell us something about your non-professional life that might surprise people?
I’m a big science geek.
13. What’s the most rewarding part of your life right now?
That I’m able to balance getting paid to do what I love and having a real life with my incredible family. I’m a lucky, lucky lady!
You can catch Jeri Ryan on Body of Proof’s Season Premier on Tuesday, September 20th at 10/9 CST. She’s also currently starring in the live action series for Warner Brothers, “Mortal Kombat: Legacy,” as Sonya Blade. You will find her on Twitter at @JeriLryan and she tweets a lot! Feel free to leave her a comment here too.
And stay tuned for future installments in the Women Living Their Dreams series. #StrongWomenRock