Interviews with Insiders – Actor, Gene Mack Daniels
July 8, 2018
We have all heard the stories of “overnight” celebrity successes – stars who seemingly got their big break the second they walked through the over-the-top, diamond encrusted, golden gates of Hollywood. Well, in the intensely wise words of Collin Trevorrow, “…any overnight success story is 20 years of failure and hard work and rejection before anything can happen…”. He couldn’t be more right.
With those hauntingly apt words in mind, I have decided to add a new feature to my website. I call it, “Interviews with Insiders”. I will connect with authors, actors, publishers, musicians, comedians… and any folks that have made their way into that often seemingly unattainable world of success in the entertainment industry. Those who aspire to be the next Trevorrows benefit greatly from hearing the success stories of those who have just crossed the threshold into Hollywood.
With me today is passionate young actor, Gene Mack Daniels, who has produced and written several short films. His first feature-length film, “Faith Filled Christmas”, was released in 2017. Gene’s latest film, “Fight Within”, based on real events, comes out September 2018.
Dru: Good morning Gene, thank you so much for meeting with me.
Gene: Hi Dru, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Dru: So, tell me, how did you break into acting? Were you always interested in that world?
Gene: It was in high school that I really fell in love with movies. I saw my first horror film, by Wes Craven. It was Scream. I’m originally from Connecticut, but my sister and I moved to south Florida with my mom when I was twelve.
Dru: That’s interesting. Many actors seem to have similar realizations around that age. It is a very transformative time in anyone’s life.
Gene: So true. And, actually, speaking of transformative, once I turned 17 I switched gears and went to Le Cordon Bleu. It is the culinary institute of Miami. I earned my Associates of Science degree. My family convinced me that acting was not going to produce a stable living. They wanted me to choose a career with longevity. So, for a while, I worked hospitality in a number well-known restaurants like Morton’s Steakhouse, P.F. Chang’s, and Cheesecake Factory.
Dru: It dawned on me while you were talking, there is some link between acting and the restaurant industry. Isn’t there? So many rising stars have started as servers, chefs, bartenders… Funny how that works. Yet here you are with a number of credits to your name.
Gene: Heh, yeah. It’s crazy to think about sometimes. While I worked in restaurants, I couldn’t shake that passion I had for acting. So, in 2014, I decided to get back at it. I went to Hollywood. Let me tell you, after being in the presence of the mother of film making and iconic directors/actors, I said to myself, “if I do nothing else in my life, the last thing would be to make my dreams a reality.”
Dru: Wow. Hollywood really had an impact on you then. Having spent a lot of my life there, I can attest to it’s magical qualities, at least in the eyes of those who can see it.
Gene: Yeah, for sure. I knew I had to make my dreams happen.
Dru: So what then? How did you start? Sometimes figuring out that first step can really be one of the hardest.
Gene: I started off doing background work for various projects like “Ballers” (Dwayne Johnson), “Uncle Drew Chapter 4”, a Pepsi promo (Kyrie Irving), and “Descontrolate” (3ra Dimenzion) just to name a few.
Dru: Impressive. There are some big names in there. So then you moved on to larger roles at some point.
Gene: Yeah. After I took a few acting classes with Kim Houston from The Casting Gym I started landing supporting roles in short films like “Inferno” (Alcee Walker) and then the feature film “Faith Filled Christmas” (Don McChesney). I became an Associate Producer to a few films, one being “Ted Bundy had a Son” (Shane Ryan). Later this year “Fight Within” (Randell J. Jackman) comes out.
Dru: Can you tell me about that? From what I saw in the trailer, it looks like it deals with some heated topics.
Gene: Yeah, definitely. Based on a true story, an illegal immigrant from Trinidad can’t find work, but he is good at fighting. The story follows him as he engages in illegal street fighting for money. That lifestyle is dangerous though and everything catches up to him.
Dru: Geeze, that sounds great. I can tell it will be an emotionally-charged film. Best of luck with it. So, you’ve been in the entertainment industry for how many years?
Gene: It’s been about three years.
Dru: Sounds to me like you’ve racked-up some solid experiences in that time. Do you see it getting easier or more challenging to get that first break or game-changing gig?
Gene: In my experience, I find it a bit challenging due to social media. Once upon a time, the process would be you go to performing arts school or take acting classes, then search for an agent, go on auditions, and hope for the best. Now it’s like you need to have a following, to boost your relevancy in a sense, to get noticed.
Dru: With the doors of Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube Red supposedly wide open, are aspiring artists going to have it easier than those who came before them? Or does this new world have such intense market saturation it is even harder to get noticed?
Gene: With Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming services that have their own studios and create original movies or shows, I would say that aspiring actors and artists have a wider platform to display their craft whether its acting or music… Period.
Dru:I appreciate the optimistic outlook. That is a quality so many aspiring artists lose when they face rejection or challenges.
Gene: Heh, thanks. I really see the industry changing for the better. It gives upcoming performers a broader range to establish their careers.
Dru: I couldn’t agree more. As for you, someone that is living in this “new age” of entertainment, have you faced any particular struggles or challenges you would be willing to share?
Gene: Of course. Struggles I’ve faced in the past 3 years can be summed up as politics really. The film industry will look, for example, for people that have a certain look or race for projects. I feel, being that it is 2018, the “ideal” look for representation of a product or brand should vary. It is important that audiences around the world can relate to whatever is being sold whether it is an action movie, or a bar of soap. Otherwise, they won’t spend the money to obtain that product or that movie. I know there is some variety, of course, but not enough. At least, not yet.
Dru: Definitely. There is a lot of work to be done in that realm. What do you do to get yourself out there despite obstacles like that?
Gene: Well, right now, I’m continuing to build my brand anyway I can. Like I said before, your social media presence is key. You have to market yourself. My promo video, “My Journey to Fame”, is in pre-production. You just have to bring something to the table to “make it” in the entertainment business. There are literally hundreds of thousands of other people out there that want the same thing as you. So you have to be more relevant. You have to be more known. Or you’ll just be “aspiring” forever.
Dru: So true. There’s a quote I love, “Dreams don’t work unless you do.” I wish I knew who first said it. If you could do it all over again, what might you do differently?
Gene: Wow… If I could do it all over again I would have started in this industry at an earlier age and gone to school for performing arts instead of the culinary institute.
Dru: Heh, yeah. I think we’ve all been there at some point. I can’t even count how many times I changed my mind about what career path to go down. I always loved writing, but never thought of it as a “real” job that I could get. It was something other people did. Seriously, I’m 33 and only just fully realized that, yes, I CAN be a writer. Not only a writer, but I want to write screenplays for Hollywood. We all arrive at these decisions at different times in our lives. What matters is that we arrive there at some point.
Gene: Absolutely. I’m grateful I’ve found my path. I can’t imagine what it would be like for someone who doesn’t know what path to follow. Acting is it for me.
Dru: When you approach an acting role, how do you step outside of yourself to become this other person? Is there anything you do to separate yourself?
Gene: I find that the key is confidence. Practice too of course. But you also have to have the confidence to portray a character that is the complete opposite of you. Know there is no flaw in being someone different than yourself, just have the confidence to nail it. Then, once the project is over, you can go back to being you again.