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Good to Grateful: How Actor Brian Van Holt Turned Adversity Into a Gift

Good to Grateful: How Actor Brian Van Holt Turned Adversity Into a Gift

No matter how established your business, you probably wake up every day worrying about where your next customer, contract, or sale will co

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No matter how established your business, you probably wake up every day worrying about where your next customer, contract, or sale will come from — and end every day grateful you get to do it again tomorrow.

And for highly accomplished actors.

Case in point? Brian Van Holt. Brian has starred in movies like Black Hawk Down and Basic, in TV series like Cougartown, John from Cincinnati, and The Bridge, and is currently starring in the new Fox series Deputy

Yet as you’ll see, mention his career and his role on Deputy… and the first emotion he describes is gratitude.

You’re in a business where you’re told “no” dozens of times for every “yes.” How did you come to terms with that?

I’m not sure I have. (Laughs.) That’s one of the hardest things about my job. You do get told “no” the vast majority of the time, often for reasons that might seem silly. 

But I love what I do. Acting has introduced me to such a diverse world and allowed me to live such an eclectic life. I’m so blessed.

But yes: It can also be really challenging and ego crushing.

All the times you hear “no”… when I do get the chance to work, I’m feel grateful and blessed.

All the rejections just make it all the more rewarding.

How do you stay confident when you’re in the midst of a string of “no”s?

Obviously, it’s challenging. 

For me, preparation helps eliminate fear and doubt. The more prepared I am the more confident I feel. The more you know your stuff, the less afraid you are to fail. When you know you did everything possibly to put yourself in a position to succeed… then you won’t second-guess yourself.

That doesn’t meant I haven’t made bad decisions. There have been plenty of moments when I sucked. (Laughs.) But that’s okay: Prepare, do your best, take a risk… and don’t be afraid to fail.

Even though learning how to be unafraid to fail is a lifelong pursuit. It’s definitely a process. (Laughs.)

Successful people in a variety of fields have told me the best way to feel confident is to be extremely prepared.

Preparation absolutely increases confidence. Plus, the more prepared you are, the better you are then able to help others.

Take directors: I’ve seen directors get frustrated when actors are struggling, but I’ve seen directors struggle, too, mostly because they weren’t prepared.

As a director, I prepare every single shot, create an extensive shot list, map out every moment… while you might not always make the right call, you have to make a call. 

Preparation helps you feel confident when you make decisions — and just as importantly, helps you adapt when things change. It’s a lot easier to change a plan than it is to come up with a totally new plan on the spot. (Laughs.)

Actors are often asked what they bring from real life to the roles they play. Flip that around. How have your acting experiences influenced you in real life?

What I love about acting — and writing and directing — is that it’s a lot like therapy.

Take Ray from The Bridge

Ray was my favorite character. He added moments of lightness to a pretty heavy show.

I don’t know if Ray was supposed to be so much of a derelict. He was written pretty scummy and sleazy… but I thought it would be fun to play him as more of a lovable loser.  

You’re right: It was a heavy show. So I thought it might be interesting to see if there was humor in his inability to be good.

After all, Ray was the kind of guy who just couldn’t get out of his own way.

It turned out really well. Ray was one of my favorite characters to play, and was going to be a regular with a major storyline if the next season had been picked up.

That raises a good point: In a business where planning for the future is almost impossible… how do you plan ahead?

I thought I was good at planning ahead, and making career and financial choices, but then for the past few years up until Deputy, I was struggling. I couldn’t get arrested. (Laughs.)

It’s easy to take things for granted when they’re going well. It’s easy to think you’re always going to work. But it felt like my phone didn’t ring for several years.

For example, I probably only got Den of Thieves because my friend (Christian Gudegast) wrote and directed it. (Laughs.)

That period was hard, mentally and financially, and basically turned me upside down… but it was also a great gift, because it made me work to create my own opportunities.

Lots of young actors feel entitled. I did, too: I thought everything was going to be easy, that other people would take care of everything… but ultimately, it’s up to you. You have to hustle. You have to create your own opportunities. 

The only thing you can control is you.

Everything worthwhile starts with “why?” So why acting?

To be honest, acting kind of chose me.

I was interested in writing, film, etc. when I was growing up, but I was a typical Southern California teenager playing sports. In my circles, it wasn’t cool to do theater. (Laughs.)

I got accepted to UCLA but didn’t have the money to go to school. I considered joining the military or the police force since I grew up in a family full of cops.

But then my mom and sister entered me in a cheesy modeling contest in Orange County.

I said, “Oh, hell no.” But then a buddy said, “Hey, why don’t you do it? It’s at a bar. Since you can bring guests, you can get us in. We’ll get to meet models.” 

So I did the contest but didn’t take it seriously. I kind of made a mockery of it, a young, skinny surfer kid goofing on the male models… and an agent said, “You’re funny. I want to represent you.”

I said yes, since it was a way to pay for college, but on one condition: I wanted to study writing and acting, and I needed guidance. And I ended up in an acting class with people like Molly Ringwald and Adam Sandler and got the bug. 

But after college I couldn’t get an agent, so I moved to NYC. And everything opened up for me; I got all sorts of opportunities.

Basically, I had to move to New York to make it in LA. (Laughs.)

When did you feel like you “belonged” in the business?

I resisted that feeling for a long time. I felt I didn’t belong, especially in New York. It wasn’t until recently that I felt, “This is what I’m supposed to be doing.” 

That came from working with David Milch: He helped me believe in myself.

Years ago I was on Cougartown and felt a little frustrated because I wasn’t stretching my muscles enough. Milch was doing Luck at the time, and I met with him and said, “I need to work with you again: Write me a character on Luck.”  We talked for three hours. Tears were shed. It was like a therapy session. (Laughs.)

He offered to mentor me as a writer, but I was terrified to do that… and didn’t take him up on it until a couple of years ago. He’s had such an impact on helping me define and shape my career… and helping me feel like I really do belong.

Even though a part of me will never want to feel like I belong, because the last thing I want to do is get complacent and stop working to get better. 

Deputy premieres soon. You’ve all been working on it for months — is it scary to finally launch?

It’s terrifying. (Laughs.) The other night, I couldn’t sleep.

It’s natural to feel anxious when you put something out there, but that’s especially true with this show. I’ve been attached to Deputy since February or March of last year. I turned down other projects in order to stay connected to it. 

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So yeah: I’m completely committed to this character and this show.

Finally putting it out there in the world, having people see what we’ve been working so hard on for six months… it’s nerve-wracking.

But that doesn’t make us different from anyone who creates something new, who tries something new… all you can do is do your best, and hope for the best. 

Which leads me to a last question: How do you define “success”?

I’ve had career success, offers to do films, I’ve done film after film after film… I’ve had success in my industry, but during that same time my personal life wasn’t great. And I’ve had periods where my personal life was great, and my professional life wasn’t.  

That’s why success comes from inside, not outside. Your personal happiness, being comfortable in who you are, accepting that you’re human and will make mistakes… but as long as you’re doing the best you can and treating yourself and others with love and kindness…. 

You dohn’t have to be perfect. But you do have to try.

I wake up every day and say, “How can I be the best person, friend, partner…?”

I start my day with meditation and prayer, I set my intentions… and at the end of the day, I reflect on what I could have done better. 

And most importantly, I try to concentrate on the things I can control… and for the things I can’t control, to trust in a higher power.

That, to me, is success.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

This article is from Inc.com

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