Aspiring actor serves drinks to bide time
The Broadway shows were all finished up for the night, and theatergoers and actors trickled into the Ad Lib bar in Midtown for a couple drinks and dessert.
This was the busiest time of the night for bartender and aspiring actor James Quinn.
Quinn talked with guests about what play they saw. He knew details about them all and even sang some of the songs from the musicals. He was smiling, but it was bittersweet. Quinn wishes he were on stage instead of behind a bar. His days are spent at unsuccessful auditions and his nights are spent mixing drinks.
“The thing about being a struggling actor is that you’re just always one audition away … from going from unemployed to employed forever,” Quinn said.
A study done by Actor’s Equity, an actors’ union, found that 88 percent of their members in New York were currently without acting gigs.
And at 41, Quinn is much older than many of his struggling counterparts.
“Sometimes it makes me feel bad about myself that I haven’t made it yet,” Quinn said. “But I still keep trying.”
According to the United States Department of Labor, the majority of acting jobs available for men go to those between the ages of 18 and 28. And mature roles usually go to established actors.
But these statistics don’t make Quinn want to give up his dream.
“I’m committed to it at this point,” he said. “I’ve come too far to turn back now.”
Casting director Donna DeSeta, who also owns Donna DeSeta Casting Agency in Manhattan, said despite the odds, there is still hope for older actors.
“We are always looking for new interesting and gifted actors,” DeSeta said. “We look for actors that are not identified with any given type of role or character.”
But acting wasn’t always the dream career for Quinn. He majored in English at Fordham University in the Bronx. Quinn, who lives on the Upper West Side, said he was painfully shy well into his 20s. Quinn recalled an experience while he was still in school where he decided to completely ditch a class after being just three minutes late.
“I didn’t want to walk in late because I didn’t want people to look at me,” Quinn said. He said that people now laugh in disbelief when he tells them he was that shy for the earlier half of his life.
When Quinn was 25, his girlfriend encouraged him to try acting to get him over his social phobias. It wasn’t until a tragic accident took her life that Quinn went to his first audition.
“She inspired me not to care what people thought and to be happy being me,” Quinn said. “Acting makes me happy.”
DeSeta says that the path of becoming an actor is not for the faint of heart, and it should be done only by those who find true happiness in what they’re doing.
“Acting is only for those who can find no satisfaction in any other profession,” DeSeta said. “A big break is kismet.”
The first role Quinn got was as a firefighter on the soap opera “One Life to Live.” He was a reccurring character for about a week, which was two full days of filming.
“After being on “One Life to Live,” I knew this is really what I’m supposed to be doing,” Quinn said.
He returned to the set of “One Life to Live” a few months later after the director specifically requested him.
“He said that I did what I was told and didn’t get in anyone’s way,” Quinn said. “At that point, I was just happy to be acting.”
He had roles on other television shows after that, including a recurring spot as a bartender being questioned on “Law and Order” and as a hospitalized man on “The Pretender.” Quinn was also cast in the play “Epic Proportions” on Broadway, which ran for three months. But he said his best acting job was as a terrorist in “Die Hard 3.”
“It was a big movie with a big cast, and I got to be part of it,” Quinn said. “That was the most fun I’ve ever had.”
Quinn says that after a having a major role, he felt his career was going to take off, but the excitement of it all slipped out of reach when his next acting job didn’t come for a while.
The last role Quinn had was in the summer of 2009 as a Russian night-school student trying to improve his English in the off-Broadway play “Primary English,” which lasted for 25 performances.
Currently, he goes on an average of one audition per week.
As the bar emptied at the end of the night, Quinn cleaned up his area. He stacked liquor bottles under the bar while dreaming of his future.
“I’ll have that audition that starts it all,” Quinn said. “Until then, this pays the bills.”