“Lower your expectations” – How to land a role in a Netflix show 

Hollywood, a glamorous lifestyle, and a full bank account – that’s how many people imagine the life of an actor. However, being an actor is connected with quite a lot of challenges and burdens.  

VOICES talked to Jones Mutegi, who landed a role in the Netflix show “Russian Doll.” The civic engineering student was an extra in the second season playing a dancer. They filmed the part in his country Hungary, in the capital Budapest. He gives us an insight into the atmosphere on set and what we don’t see behind the cameras.  

“Russian Doll” is a drama and comedy show directed by Natasha Lyonne. The series follows Nadia Vulvokov, a game developer who repeatedly dies and relives the same night in an ongoing time loop.  So how did Jones get into the Netflix show that received 13 Emmy nominations and won three of them? He stumbled upon a call in a Facebook group that was looking for a man with his looks! “Male, early 20s, tall, fit, black”.  

In Budapest, he had his audition. “It was 20 minutes of actual auditioning. “First I had to walk, and then I had to dance with and without music. Six casting directors did auditions for three weeks. After one week, I got the good news.” It is a very competitive environment. “I think about 100 people applied for the role of the dancer.” Jones remembers.

Besides acting in high school, he didn’t have any experience. Also, he didn’t prepare for the casting. “You are not told what to do in advance. During the casting, they give you 10 minutes to prepare.” How did he get the role? For him, it is a mix of good luck and knowing how to move his body. 

Looking at the statistics, even landing a small role is a success in the acting world. Research from the Queen Mary University of London shows that only 2% of actors manage to make a living with their profession. Common struggles involve constant rejection and financial burdens. Most actors don’t have a continuous job. They might be cast in a commercial or one small role – but they never have the guaranty of a lasting contract. The only reliable income might be a side job in a restaurant or a call center.  

And when you land the role, it is hard work. Jones describes the shooting as quite demanding. “They pick you up at 6 am, and they shoot until late at night, around 10 pm—all of that for two scenes. We were repeating and checking the scenes all the time. Is the lighting fine? Is everybody at the right place? It was a long day!” 

He perceived the set atmosphere as highly professional. There is a person responsible for every aspect. Somebody is walking around with water, and there is a buffet. He saw no difference between the main and the side cast. They received the same food at the same time.  

When asked about Natasha Lyonne, the show’s director and leading actor, he smirks. “At first, she seemed arrogant. With time she became chill, but she was very commanding, and you could feel her presence.” Lyonne has a successful resumé in the acting world. Her role in “Orange Is The New Black” gained tremendous popularity, which brought her an Emmy nomination.  

What stuck in his memory were her smoking habits. “Every time she had a break, she was smoking in the middle of the room.” Yet she also talked to the actors who only had small scenes, asking Jones where he was from. 

After that experience, he is more aware of the reality of acting life. He was surprised to see the stress on the actor’s faces. “I expected the actors to be happy and the shooting to be fun. But it is hard and actual work.” Furthermore, it is not the place to make friends. “I met some people that day, but we had no time to be in touch, he tells. “Do not get too attached to the people. When you are done, you are done.” 

What many viewers don’t know: The scenes are not necessarily shot in the United States. Jones shot his scene in Budapest because the production costs are lower in an Eastern European Country than in the United States. 

A high priority is not letting spoilers get into the outside world. During the shooting, they took everybody’s phone away and gave it back after the shooting. “I am allowed to tell people that I played in “Russian Doll”. But they don’t want you to post on social media. You can’t reach many people by talking but if you post on social media, this is what people will repost.”  

Also, Jones is not allowed to say exactly how much money he received. But even for a small role, it’s “okay money.” You have to wait around one or two months to get the paycheck. “If you are Hungarian, they pay you less. But if you are an international actor, they pay up to double the number of what Hungarians get.”  

Finally, what’s his advice for aspiring actors? Lower your expectations! “See acting as a job like any other. Of course, I will remember this forever. But you also have to move on because there will be many opportunities for you to come.” 

Clarissa Leute

Sources:  

Quantifying and predicting success in show business | Queen Mary University of London 

Stuck on repeat: what is Netflix’s Russian Doll actually about? | Television | The Guardian 

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