Elisa Donovan

Elisa Donovan

Actress & Writer

San Francisco, CA

There have been times since then that I have chosen not to lean in and take that leap. Although I don’t believe in regrets, in retrospect most of those choices were lateral moves, not forward ones.

I began studying acting at the age of 13. By 16, much to the chagrin of my business executive father, I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life. After I graduated from high school, I moved to Manhattan and enrolled full time at the Michael Chekhov acting studio, where I continued studying after I entered college. Thanks to positive reviews of my performance in an off-off-Broadway play I landed an agent, and began auditioning  for television and movies in tandem with my studies. However, as graduation loomed closer and closer, none of my auditions turned into jobs. I wondered, How am I going to support myself?

It was suggested by my agency that I come out to Los Angeles; opportunities there were more abundant and I was at an advantage, having been trained in New York. I spoke to my parents and they agreed to allow me to take a two-week trip to LA. During that trip, I had more appointments and screen tests (the final step in getting a real job on a series or movie) than in my four years in New York. I went home inspired and excited – but still with no job.

A few weeks later, I was cast in a role in another off-Broadway play and at the same time was up for a regular role on a soap opera. The soap opera would have provided financial security beyond anything I had even imagined at that point in my life, but it would also have locked me in for several years which felt like creative suicide to me.  Everyone around me was ecstatic at the proposition of my being on television every day and getting a steady (and comparatively hefty) paycheck. I thought, Who am I to say no to this opportunity? Most people would kill for this job, I should be grateful for this. But my insides kept telling me this was not the way for me to go. I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling I was somehow giving up if I didn’t pursue the possibilities in Los Angeles. I had spent years training, studying,and working hard, and settling for a soap opera didn’t sit right with me.

I turned down the soap opera and the play, and moved my whole life to Los Angeles. I had no job and no guarantee of getting one anytime soon. But I believed wholeheartedly in myself and my talents. This belief, combined with my training, armed me with determination and perseverance. Within two weeks I got my first job on a primetime sitcom (NBC’s Blossom) which turned into a recurring role. Within two months of that, I booked the Paramount Pictures feature film Clueless, and my career began. My decision to lean in led me to ten years of network television series and studio films.

There have been times since then that I have chosen not to lean in and take that leap. Although I don’t believe in regrets, in retrospect most of those choices were lateral moves, not forward ones. Whether it be in my career or in my personal life, leaning in has given me a vibrant and fulfilling life that I’m continually grateful for.

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