BIO: Trevor Scott is a Los Angeles-based actor who has appeared on television shows such as Criminal Minds (CBS), Enlisted (Fox), Days of Our Lives (NBC), and General Hospital (ABC), and has had lead roles in the films Zulu 6, Book of Choices, and Texas Zombie Wars. He has appeared in numerous national commercials as well. Trevor recently was seen starring on stage in “Tracers,” directed by John Difusco and co-produced by Rogue Machine Theatre and USVAA. L.A. Weekly declared the play their “Pick of the Week,” singling out Trevor’s performance as “particularly compelling.” Trevor holds a B.A. in Theatre Arts from Loyola Marymount University and has also studied at Lesly Kahn, Margie Haber, and The Groundlings. In addition to his acting career, Trevor served five years in the 1-506th Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division in the U.S. Army, completing tours in both Ramadi, Iraq, and Wardak Province, Afghanistan as an Infantry Sergeant.
Find interviews like this one on the Military Veterans in Creative Careers podcast, where Trevor is a co-host!
Justin Sloan: Thank you for agreeing to share your experience with us. To get us started, why did you join the military and what were some major takeaways from your time in the service?
Trevor Scott: I think I was always fascinated by the military. I didn’t grow up around it though, so I never really thought I’d end up joining. Looking back now, I did spend a lot of my childhood camping in the backyard with my Nerf guns and Swiss Army knife, so I guess it makes sense. I was a freshman in college when 9/11 happened. I was watching the news a lot and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. At the time, I wasn’t very interested in sitting in a classroom. Before I knew it, the U.S. invaded Iraq as well. Suddenly, my generation was fighting in two wars. I couldn’t stand by and watch it on TV anymore. I had to go over there and see for myself what was going on. I knew I’d always regret it if I didn’t. It wasn’t so much that I fully supported our reasons for going to war, but, whether I liked it or not, we were at war. Guys I went to high school with were suddenly in Iraq or Afghanistan. I could either stand on the sidelines and be a spectator, or I could do my part to help end the wars. I chose to see for myself what was going on over there. I enlisted for five years in the U.S. Army Infantry. I spent my entire enlistment with the 1/506th Infantry (Band of Brothers), 101st Airborne Division. I did a 12 month tour in Ramadi, Iraq in 2006, followed by another 12 month tour in Wardak Province, Afghanistan in 2008-2009. I learned a lot about myself, about others, and about the world. I learned not only how to lead, but how to follow. I learned that most limitations are mental, and if you will it, you can make it happen. I learned the power of never saying “I can’t.” I learned the serenity in “embracing the suck”; If you can find a way to be happy shivering in a frozen ditch at dawn halfway around the world, you can be happy anywhere. I learned the difference between fearless and courageous. To be without fear is stupid and gets people killed. True courage is to acknowledge your fear and accept it, but not to let it stop you from accomplishing your mission. I became brothers with guys from all walks of life. Many of whom I still keep in contact with on a regular basis. At the end of my five years, I decided not to reenlist, but I don’t regret a minute of my experience.
JS: When you were still in, did you have any idea you would be pursuing a career in acting?
TS: No, but much like my desire to join the military, I always had a desire to act, but never had an outlet for it. I didn’t grow up doing theatre or anything like that, so it never sounded like a plausible career option. Nevertheless, I think, at least subconsciously, it did affect my decision to move to Los Angeles after I got out. I grew up in San Jose, about five hours North of LA, so LA seemed exciting and not too far from home. I figured while I was there, maybe I could explore the option of acting.
JS: What did you do to make your transition smooth? At what point did you start pursuing your acting career, and what did you do to get started?
TS: When I joined the military, I never thought I would want to sit in a classroom again. The five-year break from school that the Army provided me gave me perspective, though. To this day, one of my favorite quotes is from Thucydides: “The nation that draws too great a distance between its soldiers and its scholars will have its children taught by cowards and it’s fighting done by fools.” That always stuck with me. When I got out, I enrolled in Santa Monica College on the Post 9/11 GI Bill. I was a business major at first, because it seemed to me that whatever I ended up doing, I would need some basic knowledge of the business world. I was 26 and starting college over, not quite sure what I would end up doing. All I knew was that I was done fighting wars and that I was finally ready to sit in a classroom again. I wouldn’t call my transition smooth, I don’t know if it’s ever easy for any vet to come back from war and leave the military behind. I stumbled my way through it though. I drank too much in the beginning, probably because I didn’t know what to do with myself and because I sometimes found it hard to relate to civilians. I remember how frustrating it was to sit in a classroom with 19 and 20-year-old kids who had no idea what was going on in the world. It came up one day in class that I had just gotten out of the Army and that I was in Afghanistan just a few months prior. A girl said “there’s still a war going on over there?” I didn’t know how to respond to that. I guess as a vet, you sometimes have to forgive civilians for their ignorance and just know that your service has given them the luxury of living in a protected bubble. Definitely, the biggest help in my transition was hanging out with other vets. I still hang out with a lot of vets. I probably always will. In fact, it’s how I fell into acting. A buddy of mine who was in my squad in Iraq had gotten out a couple of years before me and was living in Los Angeles and going to film school. He called me up and said he was shooting a short film for school about soldiers in Iraq and asked if I wanted to be in it. I said yes and spent a few days shooting the film with him. I instantly fell in love with acting. I thought, “If I could do this for a living, it would never feel like work.” So, I signed up for an acting class at school, and eventually switched my major over to theatre. I transferred to Loyola Marymount University and got a Bachelor’s Degree in Theatre Arts. The GI Bill was such a help in my transitioning because it gave me four years to figure out what I was doing.
JS: That’s an inspiring quote in there, for sure. How did you find the opportunities you have been involved with so far, and what can you advise other military men and women do to land roles?
TS: Networking is big in the entertainment industry and probably in any industry, really. One of the biggest perks of being a veteran is that there is a built-in network and an instant brotherhood amongst all vets, from every branch and every generation. I joined a non-profit group called Veterans in Film & Television (VFTLA.org) and have met many great people through that group. One of whom ran a company called Musa Military Entertainment Consulting. His company had just been hired by Fox to be the advisor on the new sitcom Enlisted to help fix the show after all the mistakes that were made on the pilot. He knew I had just graduated college and was looking for acting work, but asked if I was interested in being their on-set advisor on a daily basis for the duration of the season. I was about to start looking for jobs waiting tables, so of course, I said yes. It was such a great experience. Even though I didn’t want to make a career out of advising, it was like a paid internship in the television industry. It was a crash course that taught me so much about the business side of acting. In school, I had done plays and learned about the art of acting, but you really don’t learn much about how to actually get work as an actor once you graduate. Most actors just kind of have to figure it out as they go along. Working on Enlisted was such a valuable experience for me and they also gave me my first speaking role on television. It was only one line, but it will forever be the first peg on my professional acting resume. Ironically, I played a civilian. A show about the army, and the only real soldier in the show played a civilian. Welcome to Hollywood. My biggest piece of advice to any veterans entering the industry is to network. Force yourself to go to the events and set up lunch meetings and stay in touch with the people you meet. You never know where it will lead. You can’t survive in this business alone. It’s a team sport. Networking with other vets will not only help your career, but it will help you on a personal level as well. It’s essential to have a support system. I still work with other vets on a regular basis. I’m part of a production company now, called AK Waters Productions, that’s mostly run by veterans.
JS: Having done theater, film, and television, what can you tell us about the differences? How is it different to be on the stage versus in front of the camera? Do you approach acting for theater different than you would acting for film or television?
TS: I love all three. I wish theatre paid more because it’s so important for actors. When you do a play, you have to be fully invested in the character and story from start to finish. You can’t call cut. You can’t redo a scene if you mess up your lines. You have to take the whole ride without stopping. It’s intense and exhausting but so rewarding. I think every actor should start out doing theatre. I’ll continue to do plays probably for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, theatre can be very time consuming and doesn’t pay as much, especially in the beginning, so you have to be in it for the love of acting. It will make you a stronger actor, though. On stage, the actor has all the power, so theater is an actor’s medium. Whereas TV is a writer’s medium. Yes, acting is important in television, but it’s the writing that keeps people tuning back in every week. People get sucked into the storyline. Film is a Director’s medium. In film, the director has the ultimate power and vision for the project. I love all three and will continue to do all three.
JS: You have now been on some high profile shows such as Criminal Minds (CBS), Enlisted (Fox), Days of Our Lives (NBC), and General Hospital (ABC). Do you find acting for high profile shows such as these to be different from your other projects?
TS: Well, I guess the biggest difference is that the more high profile the project is, the smaller my part is. I’ve had lead roles in independent films and plays, but in all of those shows you mentioned, my parts were much smaller. Hopefully the parts will get bigger and bigger as my career gains momentum. You have to enjoy the journey of it though. Even when you only have one line on a show, it’s still fun and you still learn a lot and you make enough money to keep your motivation up. Persistence pays off in this business. There are a lot of people trying to break into this industry but most of them don’t last long. Most people pack their bags and head back home after a year or two of trying. I’ve found, from talking to successful actors, that it takes an average of about ten years to really gain a foothold in this business. Most people give up much sooner than that. I think that’s where being a veteran gives us an advantage. We know the power of persistence and we don’t give up easily. I’ve been in LA for almost six years now and I finally feel like I’m starting to have some control over my career.
JS: What more can you tell us about your experience on set? Do you feel the same about television and film now that you have seen how the sausage is made?
TS: I love it even more now. I think that Hollywood has a bad reputation for being heartless, but most everyone I’ve encountered have been great people. It’s a lot of hard working, creative people trying to come together to make something great. Pretty much everyone I’ve encountered in Hollywood has also been very supportive of vets and the military in general. There are actually a surprisingly large amount of similarities between how a film or TV set is run, and how a military operation is run. On set, there is a chain of command, a clear mission with an end-state in mind, and you even get warnos, opords, and fragos, they just go by different names. There’s also a lot of hurry up and wait.
JS: You mentioned that you studied acting in school. Did this significantly help you, and would you recommend the same route for other aspiring actors?
TS: Yes! Studying acting is so important. It’s one of those things that you can only get better at by doing. I was fortunate enough to have the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which gave me four years to hone my craft. But even after those four years, I feel like I’m just getting started. I still go to acting class now, and most great actors continue to go to class until they don’t have time to because they are spending so much time acting and getting paid for it. Acting isn’t like other jobs, where you go to an office every day and do your work, and slowly get better, and eventually someone promotes you to the next position. It’s more like being a professional athlete. You have to be completely self-motivated and force yourself to work on your craft constantly. Too many people who want to be actors will go weeks without acting, and then when they finally get an audition, they’re out of practice. If you want to be an Olympic swimmer, you swim. Every day. You don’t wait until the Olympic trials come around and just hope for the best. It’s the same in the military. You’re constantly training. As an Infantryman, I learned how to shoot, move, and communicate in basic training, but then we didn’t just sit around waiting to go to war. We kept training, and getting better and better until our job is second nature and in the heat of battle we don’t have to think about what we’re doing, we just do it.
JS: What other resources are out there for aspiring actors? Do you have any favorite websites, blogs, or books on the topic?
TS: There’s so much out there and you’ll find it all as you go along, but if you’re interested in acting, the first step would be to take a class. Sign up for a scene study class at your local community college or find an acting school near you. Don’t be afraid to try a new class out after a while. There are so many acting teachers out there who teach by different methods. Find what works for you. The important thing is just to be acting, as often as possible. Read acting books. One of my personal favorites is Notes to an Actor by Ron Marasco. Ron is brilliant. He has a PhD in theatre and has read just about every book on acting ever written. In Notes to an Actor he gives you the highlights from all of them in a way that’s easy to understand. The next step would be to get headshots. Then get on LACasting.com and ActorsAccess.com. Start submitting yourself for student films and low budget projects. That’s a good way to get used to auditioning. If you’re in LA, I recommend taking Mike Pointers commercial acting class. Commercials are a great way to make money (you get paid every time it airs) and Mike also does showcases so that you can get a commercial agent. For film and TV, I recommend taking classes at Lesly Kahn. They really teach you how to audition for that.
JS: Do you feel your time in the military has helped you with your acting, even for any non-military roles you may have? How so?
TS: Absolutely. I think it has helped me with the professional side of my career as far as networking and just knowing how to work hard and not give up. But, it’s also helped me with the craft because it’s given me so much life experience to draw on. It’s also given me perspective. Acting is a high-stress job. In fact Forbes’ 2015 list of the top 10 most stressful jobs lists “actor” as #6. However, #2 is “enlisted military personnel.” So, whereas most actors see their job as really stressful, I can always say that it’s nowhere near as stressful as my last job. I didn’t get blown up on my way to my audition and no one is shooting real bullets at me on set. So every day is a good day.
JS: Have you interacted with other military (current or former) men and women in the entertainment industry aside from actors? Do you have any advice for people aspiring to those positions?
TS: I’ve found that veterans are always willing to help veterans. If there’s a crew member on set who’s a veteran, we always end up talking and exchanging information, whether they are new to the entertainment industry or have been in it for 20 years. No matter what you want to do in the entertainment industry, check out VFTLA.org. You’ll find mentors and like-minded people that can help guide you in the right direction.
JS: Thank you so much for your wonderful advice. Before we sign off, do you have one piece of advice you would like to leave our readers with? This can be something that I forgot to ask about, or a summary of your points above.
TS: Transitioning back to civilian life can be hard. It can be really hard. It can feel like you’re taking a step down and starting all over. In school, I was quite often the oldest one in my classes. It can be frustrating while you’re climbing back up the ranks, but it will all pay off in the end. You just have to stick it out and not quit. You’ll catch up to everyone else and when you do, you’ll realize that you are actually light-years ahead of everyone because of your experiences and training.
These interviews, along with the author’s advice, are available in the book Military Veterans in Creative Careers.
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