Not-So 9-5 with Iman Karram: What it's Like to be an Actress in L.A. and the Advice That Matters

Welcome to our first piece in our new series "Not-So 9-to-5" which will give you a behind-the-scenes look to what it's like to work jobs other than a typical 9-5 desk job. We'll feature people who pursue side-passions outside of their regular 9-5, those who have managed to turn their passions into their income source and left their 9-5 completely, and those who have jobs you might not even know exist. We'll interview entrepreneurs, singers, bloggers, freelancers, artists, actors, chefs, pilots, and more from around the world.

Our first piece features the beautiful, Iman Karram, an actress, model, and ex-professional dancer. She also works as a workout instructor at L.A.'s Rise Nation, a fitness studio sweeping the nation and a favorite to the likes of Lebron James, who once told Iman she killed him after his class with her, as well as a personal trainer at Rise Movement which is a personal training facility frequented by Emmy- and Academy Award-winning actors, producers, writers and directors. Iman and I went to high school together so we go way back, but I've always been impressed by her go-getter and down-to-earth attitude so I wasn't at all surprised when I saw all that she was getting into in L.A.

This piece is going to work a little differently than most "Not-So 9-5" pieces as instead of a Q&A, I asked Iman to write this piece herself. Since she's studying to be an actress, Iman knows how to story-tell and is even working on screenplay writing, so I decided to hand this one over to her so she could explain her whole story from start to finish. Get ready for a great read and an insider look into what it's like being an actress in L.A.

It has been a crazy and exciting five years since I moved to Los Angeles from northern Virginia to pursue acting. When I reflect back on the last few years, I think the most significant thing that would surprise my 18-year-old self, who had just graduated from an intense all girls private boarding school, would be how untraditional my journey has been thus far.

The truth behind what it is like to be an actor in Los Angeles is that truly everyone’s story is different. There is no one “way” one is supposed to pursue this craft in order to make it in this exciting industry. When people first move out to LA, they seek the magical class to take, party to go to, person to know, etc, but this purely result- oriented view, especially early on, is not going to get you there faster. Something I have realized is that it is impossible to try to recreate someone’s journey and make it work for you. However, I do believe there is great value in hearing the experiences of others as they pave their way to pursue the liberating art of telling stories.

From my experience, I think growing up in a really competitive academic environment, while it obviously has its benefits, sometimes asks you to narrow your focus so much so that sometimes it leads one (me) to think that there is one linear or particular way to obtain a goal. I know that when I first moved here, I was resistant to taking opportunity that I felt didn’t fall directly in line with the path I thought I needed to take to achieve progress in my acting career. I think, if I could talk to a younger version of myself, the biggest piece of advice I would give her, is to truly be open to the opportunities presented to her and trust the process because in order to make it out here, you have to be okay with the fact that your journey will not be like anyone else’s.

My journey started like this: I first moved to LA in the fall of 2014 after graduating from high school. I had gotten signed by a great dance agency out here in LA before making the move, so it was reassuring to know that I would be auditioning for dance jobs when I got out here; however, I knew that somehow I wanted dancing professionally to lead to getting signed theatrically so I could truly pursue acting. My first year out here, I got to work a few exciting dance jobs and I took my fair share of acting classes, exploring different techniques before I found a teacher that really worked for me, who trained with Stella Adler. About a year later, I worked a Disney job as a dancer that provided the opportunity to get signed theatrically.

The next year I attended UCLA and studied film and anthropology after taking a gap year while continuing to dance and study acting. I didn’t even know what anthropology was when I signed up for a GE cultural anthropology course, but I quickly realized I loved it and it would be a great compliment to acting because anthropology is all about the study of people and culture. Over the next two years, I made school my focus and took heavy course loads so I could complete my degree early in the fall of 2017 so I could completely focus on acting.

As I transitioned out of the dance world and college and shifted my focus on making my acting career happen, I also found a fitness studio I became obsessed with, called Rise Nation. During this time, I got to know the owner of the company, Jason Walsh, after spending a lot of my free time at the studio for a few months. I remember one night when taking classes back to back, he asked me about becoming an instructor. I remember being so flattered, but thinking I really wasn’t cut out for it and feeling a little concerned about taking on a job with strict time commitments that might distract me or conflict with my ability to audition. I went back and forth for a few days, but after having a conversation with my mom about it, she helped convince me that I needed to take advantage of this unique opportunity that was presented to me.

In retrospect, Rise Nation came into my life at such an important time. It has allowed me to come into my own in a way that truly made me feel confident and comfortable in my own skin and gave me the platform to engage and share that confidence with others on a daily basis. It’s also really put my ability to perform to the test, especially when having certain people like Lebron James in my classes who I could really be intimidated by. This environment has encouraged me to truly be confident in who I am, what I’m capable of, and what I bring to the table. I remember when preparing for Lebron James to take my class, I made sure I felt comfortable and confident with my playlist and felt confident in my ability to command the room. To not feel confident wasn’t an option. In order for one of the top athletes in the world to respect me as an instructor, I had to unwaveringly trust my abilities. I can’t tell you how much this personal growth has helped me as an actor. It taught me that with preparation and confidence, I can now feel how I feel on stage at Rise Nation in any casting office or any set.

Also, over the last few months, in addition to working at Rise Nation and pursuing acting, I also work at Rise Movement, which is Jason Walsh’s personal training studio, which is the fitness studio that trains Emmy- and Academy Award-winning actors, producers, writers and directors. To be around this energy this close is infectious and inspiring. There is no way, unless I was on set with them as an equal player, that I would be able to engage with these individuals in this way. What I have learned, is that the gym is a place of personal growth and community. So to be around these individuals in the film industry in this capacity is an unparalleled experience. Also, many of them know that I am an actor and take the time to give me advice that they wish they had had, which is incredible and is an opportunity I wouldn't have anywhere else.

Recently, one day at the gym, I received extremely valuable advice from an Academy Award-nominated actor after he asked me about who I train with out here and what my journey has been like thus far. He said, “I have spent over half my life on the phone, just talking about what I want to do and putting the ideas out there to make it happen, and only 3% of my life, actually doing them.” This was very surprising because this actor has been working since childhood and you would think, has done everything he's ever wanted to do in terms of the types of projects that he has worked on. He again told me to trust the process, keep working on my craft, and to keep doing everything that I am doing right now. He also said that his favorite actors, with the longest careers, did not truly get their “break” until their 30s: it is those actors who I want to emulate. I really don’t know how it happened that I was placed in this environment, it just sort of unfolded on its own, but I know that right now, it is where I need to be. However, I do know that if I would have sought out this environment, or came across it when I was 18 or 19 years old, this professional opportunity wouldn’t have presented itself in this unique way. I wasn’t ready yet. I definitely grew up a lot between the ages of 18 and 21 and that helped prepare me for this chapter in my life.

Pursuing acting can seem like a very daunting endeavor at times, partly because it is commonly believed that everyone in Los Angeles is pursuing acting. While there certainly are a lot of people in LA trying to pursue this craft, something a master acting teacher said, is that “80 percent of these people should go home today, because they are not willing to put in the work”. He said that in order to call yourself an actor who is pursuing this as a career, you need to be putting in at least 40 hours a week. Whether that means, reading books, reading scripts, staying on top of what is being cast right now, staying in acting classes, working on your own promotional materials, engaging with other creatives to create your own content, etc. So, to make this dream happen, you need to consistently be willing to put in the work that others won’t.

Another misconception that makes L.A. seem daunting is the idea that a lot of people in Los Angeles, especially actors, are fake. I have found this to be very untrue. While of course, fake people exist everywhere and it takes time to find your people, they do exist in Los Angeles, it just takes establishing your roots deeper in this city and you will find them. The more you invest in this in this city and ask yourself what you can do for it, the more you will grow. I suggest working creatively to tell your own stories with your peers, taking on an internship that can help you gain insight into other perspectives of the entertainment industry, or volunteering for a local charity, rather than asking what you can get from this city or what this city can do for you.

Presently for me, I just read for a notable casting director that I have known for four years, but I have not seen in awhile, for a supporting role for a feature film. She is absolutely brilliant, but quite intimidating and I really value her opinion. After my reading she talked about how natural it was, but most importantly that there was something different about me and that I seem very grounded and rooted, which was an incredible compliment. I didn’t have this level of self awareness when I first moved here or even the first few years I lived here. Something that I am learning, as I am still in the early stages of my own career, is that you can’t focus on making it happen immediately; you need to focus on your own self-improvement, bettering your craft by being creative daily and establishing your roots in this city and being ready for the opportunity when it comes.

My journey has taught me how to better calm my nerves, trust my abilities and communicate feelings and thoughts in a more free manner. This mentality has recently allowed me to build a new theatrical team, who reflect the type of people I need on my journey as I pursue my career to make things happen, which I am very excited and optimistic about. So, while pursuing acting gets daunting at times, I have been shown that I have to trust the process and the timing of the journey and look back at my journey over the last few years, as a positive example.

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