By Maya Schioppo
With no promise of a job, no agent, and limited experience, one small-town boy from Arkansas came to New Orleans to start a career in acting and is now a rising professional actively cultivating opportunities and getting jobs within the community. “New Orleans is a good place for actors to get their start. Even for some seasoned actors, it’s a good place,” said Adam Henslee- a young actor with the hope that this hot spot for filming would allow his career to take flight. He continued, “I think you can afford to live here and not have to eat mac and cheese every night and have an okay place and actually have a life outside of your work.”
Film directors and producers seek out the Crescent City’s multifaceted setting which can be easily framed to mirror many other places and periods. New Orleans also has reasonable pricing compared to Los Angeles and New York City. These qualities are what has made the city a backdrop for major motion pictures dating back from classic films like “A Streetcar Named Desire” to modern works-in-progress like “The Jade Earring” starring Hugh Jackman.
Despite the number of productions here, it is not easy for actors in the city to get work. Henslee estimates he records or attends about six to ten auditions a month but does not get cast for most of these roles. Some people who are not as experienced in the industry might think that his chances of success would be higher if he were to live in Los Angeles or New York City, but from Henslee’s experience that is not the case. He says, “it was easier for me to get seen by an agent, it was easier for me to get seen by casting directors [here]…ultimately there’s less competition” This is part of what has allowed Henslee the opportunity to work with Action Talent Agency, one of the best and biggest agencies in the southeast region.
Since coming to New Orleans, Henslee has worked on multiple major productions including NCIS New Orleans, Homicide Hunter, and the feature film “When We First Met” which was a Netflix original movie. He attributes a lot of his success to being in the New Orleans area, but not without a lot of sacrifices. Henslee counts time, a steady job, and both romantic and certain platonic relationships among the sacrifices he has made to pursue his career.
It is especially hard for actors in New Orleans to get larger roles because “I’ve heard this rumor that producers and filmmakers and directors will sometimes think that since you live in New Orleans as an actor you’re not a serious actor…if you’re not [in Los Angeles or New York City] you must not be serious,” said Henslee. This rumor is partially due to the lack of acting and theatre schools here. While several universities have theatre programs, they are neither as reputable nor successful as the coastal trade schools that specialize in the theatrical arts.
This is not to say that New Orleans actors can’t get professional training, but it is much more difficult and requires the artist to pursue education out of state. Henslee has received formal instruction and education over the years by taking smaller classes, having private teachers, and attending an intensive program at an acting school in New York City. After these experiences, he recommends that anyone wanting to go into the field take the time and money to attend one of the better trade schools around the country. The specialized education these institutions offer has better name recognition and have proven that their students develop strong acting abilities through their programs. Henslee enjoyed his classes so much, that he is now teaching a similar course to members of the New Orleans community.
Despite the stigma placed on New Orleans actors, Henslee is very glad that he decided to move here. He recalls his experiences after first arriving to the city and says, “I came here and within 5 months I booked that television series, and a month after that I booked that feature film, and five months after that I booked a big commercial.” These are major accomplishments he knows would have been more difficult to achieve elsewhere. He credits some of the rapidness of his success to the city since it greatly impacts his ability to book “day player” roles. These are roles that require supporting actors to be on set for only a day or a few days. These smaller roles help actors like Henslee make connections and build stronger resumes so that they can get larger roles later on.
Henslee’s successes have allowed him to grow as an actor and as a person, molding him into an inspirational story. Henslee says “when people see that this kid from Arkansas…[has left] his homeland to go and pursue something that’s not average, that’s not normal, that’s not safe and then he actually does things, he actually books things, he actually is on TV or in movies- I think it inspires people.”