Finding Her Stride: “I’m More Grateful Now Than Ever”
By: Amari D. Pollard
“I think there’s a power behind the actual act of making a bold choice towards the dream, and somehow it tends to manifest something, some sort of path that will lead you to the next step,” says Jaclyn Hales.
Dramatic and sensitive from a young age, Hales says she was meant to be an actress. Maybe it was a result of her being the middle child or something naturally built inside her, but for whatever reason, Hales was drawn into the drama. She was the type of kid who ran away just to see who missed her. Once she discovered theatre at five, cast as shrunken Alice in her New Hampshire town’s production of Alice in Wonderland, Hales was hooked.
Acting was like having an “Alice in Wonderland” experience: every time Hales stepped into a new character she stepped into a new world. It was fascinating, getting the chance to take over a character’s body and develop her, from the way she walked to how she talked. She wasn’t Jaclyn Hales anymore, but someone completely different. Having the ability to fully take on new personas has propelled her throughout her career, and she credits that for helping her act alongside some of the biggest names in Hollywood, such as Star Trek’s Patrick Stewart in the film, Christmas Eve.
“You get star struck when you first see them, and then as soon as they open their mouths and start talking to you, they’re absolutely normal,” says Hales. “When we’re acting together and I step into my character, he is no longer Patrick Stewart or whoever else I’m acting off of. They’re now whoever they are. We’re now just two kids playing make believe.”
Hales always knew she wanted to be an actress, but it took some time before she was able to fully accept acting as her career choice. After moving to Utah, she earned her first television spot on The WB’s Everwood,, and that exposed her to a whole new form of acting outside of theater, putting new meaning to the addictiveness of acting. From there, she got an agent and started auditioning whenever she could, but booking roles was some grueling work.
When it came time for Hales to go to college, she tried to be more realistic about her career options, switching between a marine biologist and a publicist. Neither of those choices ever felt quite right, so she finally let those thoughts of acting resurface and became a performing arts major.
“It’s funny how when you finally make the right choice for you, and make a choice that makes you happy, suddenly everything starts going your way when the whole time you were afraid everything wouldn’t,” says Hales.
Through her classes and with the support of mentors like her teacher Chris Clark, who helped Hales with her auditioning skills and putting on a performance without acting off anyone, she could hone her craft. And when it came time to graduate, she received one of the best graduations presents she could have asked for, her first feature film and leading role in Unicorn City.
In the 2012 film Hales plays Marsha, a nerdy and socially awkward girl enlisted by her unemployed gamer friend to help him create a utopian society to impress a potential employer. Hales says out of all the characters she has played, Marsha is the one that has stuck with her the most. She was allowed to just have fun with her, to tap into her middle school days and connect with old feelings of awkwardness and insecurity. It was also the role that gave her the confidence to make the move to Los Angeles, where the streets are supposedly made of gold, and dreams are never too far away.
“I don’t think I would have been as successful having moved to LA without any credits under my belt, because it’s a difficult town in the sense that you need credits to get cast, and you need to get cast to get credits,” explains Hales. “I kind of just got myself started in a smaller town. Starting in a small pond, becoming a bigger fish and then went out into the ocean.”
Getting to and being comfortable in LA has been quite the journey for Hales. She has been there for six years but is now only starting to feel like she’s fully putting herself out there, and people are starting to notice.
Moving to Hollywood to build on an acting career definitely wasn’t like the movies: girl walks down street, girl gets spotted by agent; agent turns the girl into a superstar. It was a process that often required Hales to juggle multiple jobs while auditioning whenever she had a chance. She quickly realized in order to become a successful actress, she would need to take control of her own career and make things happen, because no one was going to take her under their wing, or not in the way, she had always thought. With creative platforms like Instagram and YouTube, the whole concept of the artist and/or celebrity has transformed. It’s more about what you can produce on your own to get noticed, and in a city filled with around four million people, that can be quite a daunting task.
“It really is like trying to win the lottery,” admits Hales. “But when it comes to creating your own stuff, if you’re putting out quality work, and you’re putting out something you’re passionate about; people will notice. They’ll appreciate that you actually care enough about it to put in the work every day.”
For Hales, it’s hard to imagine another job where a person fails so many times before succeeding. Since arriving in LA, she estimates she’s been on maybe 1,000 auditions, and out of all those has only booked a handful. The actress reveals there’s a special kind equation for the auditioning and casting process: Physically looks the part of the character + Chemistry with actors already cast + Your own talent = The role.
At the end of the day, there’re just a lot more people getting into acting and there’re only so many roles to go after. But it’s that handful of roles Hales books that make the headshots, the memorizing lines, the awkwardness of auditioning, and the pressure all worth it because those roles were meant to be.
The game isn’t over when you book the gig though, because when you walk on set it’s a whole new environment with its own set of rules. As an actress, it’s Hales job to navigate it, and how she handles that space has a lot to do with how she performs when the cameras finally turn on. Hales says she has a different experience on each new set she works on, but the key for her is to remain in a place of positivity and creativity while on the job.
“I’ve found that as long as I remain in a place of creation, where I’m truly tapping into my creative side and having fun, then I’m doing it correctly,” says Hales. “But if I’m on set and focused on the negative, then I start moving into producer mode where I’m now just producing art instead of creating art. There’s a big difference. One feels inspired, and the other feels like you’re just delivering the product, and that’s it.”
The process can be stressful, but it’s beautiful. Hales likes to think of it as one massive mural that will take a lifetime to paint, but she has to keep dipping her paintbrush until it’s done. Sometimes the challenge is remaining confident and unruffled when things around her tell her it’s time to crumble. For Hales, that may happen when she has already secured the role and is on set, but can’t help beating herself up over a scene that didn’t go too well or when she’s going through a dry spell and hasn’t booked an audition. When she has those moments, all she has to do to snap out of it is to think about working a job she hates instead of going after the dream. And there’s nothing better than the dream.
“Nothing else is going to really satisfy me. I don’t think I have a choice. I have to try and fail, or try and succeed. Either way, it’s better than the alternative,” says Hales.
As an actress, Hales has experienced her fair share of failure, but she feels she is finally reaping the rewards from all her hard work. Without having gone through the struggle of getting cast and earning credits, Hales doesn’t know if she’d be as grateful as she is now. She feels that appreciativeness every time she walks onto the set of her new show Extinct. The sci-fi series shot in Utah takes place 400 years in the future after humans have gone completely extinct because of an alien invasion, and now another alien race is trying to bring humans back.
“It’s got a lot of action and a lot of mystery. It’s been super fun. It’s the first series that I’ve worked on consistently as a regular every single episode,” says Hales. “That’s been a real learning experience because I get to develop a character over such a long period of time. So often you get hired for a day or hired for a month, but rarely do you get to commit to something for six months.”
The series is set to premiere on BYUtv in March and should then make its way to Netflix where Hales has a feeling it’ll blow up in a good way, of course.
One of the best things about shooting in Utah for Hales is that she gets to be so close to her family. She can just jump into her car and be there in a few hours. But when she talks about Utah, besides her family, there isn’t the same tenderness in her voice as there is when she talks about Upstate New York. Hales was born in Syracuse and moved to New Hampshire when she was five, but Upstate is still home. Her dad has a family cabin in Castleton, New York and that’s where she spent most of her summers growing up. It’s where she learned to swim and went to get Martha’s Ice Cream.
“That’s the only consistent home I’ve ever really had, because it’s the one home I’ve been to every year of my life,” said Hales. It also seems like her home has always been on the stage or behind the camera, bringing life to someone else. That’s home, and that’s her piece of happiness.
“All of us here on this planet, we’re just trying to seek a sense of happiness or completeness or connection,” says Hales. “If your dream is acting or painting or building cars or whatever it is, and that is going to insight this feeling inside of you that nothing else does, then I would imagine that’s the only way you can go about your life. Even if you are kind of starving as you do it. Just do it.”