Have you ever been curious about what it takes to be successful in the entertainment business? Have you ever imagined what it would be like to actually make a living doing what you love? We are thrilled to give you an inside look into all of that and more-welcome to a new feature at First Take, what we like to call the Actor Spotlight, where we interview some successful First Take alumni about their journey, get some insight and wisdom about acting and the business, and learn what it really takes to be successful in Hollywood. First Take had the opportunity to speak with the super talented and very funny Allen Rowe. Rowe, who studied with First Take for 7+years, has been acting for over thirteen years and has 75 film and TV credits. He’s appeared on such shows as: Monk, Hawaii Five-O, Gang Related, The Last Ship, CSI: Cyber, and Days of Our Lives to name a few. For his role in the film Relativity, Rowe won the best actor award at the Asian’s On Film Festival. He also won best actor for his role in Off the Record at the Los Angeles Movie awards.
When asked about how he overcomes fears in auditions, Rowe laughed a little and simply said: “preparation.” Rowe studied the First Take Acting Technique and learned how to prepare a scene and own an audition. He gave us a deep dive into his process moments before his audition, “…you walk into that room with that character’s feeling…[for] Hawaii Five O… the character was high…coming off of doing shrooms all day and getting arrested. So I just pictured [what it was like for me when I am] coming down from…a night of hard core partying and drinking. So you walk in with this state of mind, [and] it takes your mind off what the casting people are thinking about you. You are just [focused on what] the character is going through at that moment…[and it] blocks out all the noise.”
Rowe also talked at length about how First Take Acting school and its founder Nancy Berwid not only helped in his professional life but also in his personal life and personal growth. He said, “[Nancy] would open your heart… she helped me out so much in the beginning of my career not just on the professional level but on my personal level… I was a very closed up person… and…Nancy helped me break down those walls…[and helped me] tap into my feelings more…You know these are things that help…your acting because if you have [a] wall built up, there is no way you can tap into those feelings, because you are just so numb to the situation.”
He also talked about how the First Take Acting Technique improved his acting, “those classes really opened up my acting, my subtleness… before I took classes from [First Take], I was like an over exaggerated actor, like a cartoon character…[First Take] really leveled me out.
Read on to learn more about Rowe’s love for his craft, how he keeps himself inspired and some hilarious stories about being on the set of Hawaii Five-O….
First Take: Can you tell me about your first LA Audition or project?
Allen Rowe: When I first started taking classes at first take, the idea of actually being a working actor was so far-fetched for me because I didn’t know how to start. I really did not know what to do per se. When I started taking classes, I was just trying to be a better actor. After like a year, maybe a year and a half, Nancy introduced me to my very first agent which was Defining Artists with Kim. Even being signed to them was pretty wild at the time and I can’t say which audition I had first but I as nervous as hell going in… I can tell you that much. It is all about getting over that fear of being on the grand stage so to speak. But it was wild.
First Take: was it kind of surreal even just being there?
AR: I mean like, it’s like a dream come true.. When I went into the audition for my first booking (which was for the TV show Monk) this was like within a year of being signed. At that point, I just [had] to let go at auditions and go in there and not expect to book. But just go in there and perform. You know, you have to do all of the work, get your lines down and do all of the prep work, but after that you go into every audition just letting go and the power of letting go brings… you know you are talking the extra step to the performance. You’re not in your head anymore. When you walk out you just say, I pleased myself with this audition, I did what I wanted to do and walk out satisfied. Just let go after that and don’t expect anything. I mean I still struggle with this to this day. It is easier said than done. You know the balance of just doing the work and letting go. Sometimes, I do the best audition but I don’t get the job because I don’t look right, maybe I am too tall…or this or that… but as long as you walk out happy…you have done the work.
First Take: How do you overcome fears in auditioning?
AR: Preparation. You have to walk in there…as soon as you get to the office, you have to have that confidence up. For me it works the best for when you go in there knowing what your character is feeling in the beginning of that scene. And if you did the work, the mode of that character, the feeling the words just comes along when you listen and react because you know your dialog so well from back and forth. You know that just takes away the nervousness because you are not thinking, what my next line is or what are they thinking after I said this line.
First Take: How did you manage it in the beginning?
AR:You kind of live and learn, you test things out. Slowly with experience you try things out, if it works you use it if I doesn’t work, you move on from it. I really don’t have a definite answer of how to answer that question but you just got to put yourself out there and see what works for you.
First Take: How do you go about keeping yourself inspired?
AR: The littlest opportunity keeps me going. I could do a short film and not get paid and be happy because I am acting. I could do a TV show and get paid a lot of money and be happy. Do you really want to be an actor or do you want to be a star… for me, I just want to act. I don’t care what I am acting in, I could do a short film for free or 100 bucks a day I will be happy… I think people just have to find what they want out of it. Your journey of what you want to do, that is what inspires me.
First Take: You have a diverse resume. You’ve even done video games as well?
AR: Yeah video games…a couple of motion capture and voice over stuff. Motion capture is kind of like black theater box acting. You are just wearing this suit but you are imagining everything. You know that really helps with auditions because to this day in auditions you go into a really small room where everyone is staring at you and then if you do not create that world for them to see by your words and your actions then they are not going to believe you. If you do not make them believe what you are saying then they are not going to believe your character. That goes back to your state of mind you know walking in. You know to where your character’s mind is really at in the beginning of this scene right? If you get a chance to do those kind of gigs go for it, it will just bring your imagination up.
First Take: What are some of your favorite acting moments?
AR: I like shooting on location. I like traveling to locations
First Take: You have met some high profile actors too…
AR: You know, I think of the most part celebrities who I have worked with before are all really cool. They are all really welcoming, because it’s their movies, their TV show and you know like they are very welcoming as far as being a guest to their house. You know I haven’t really experienced any diva like behavior. It is a community. Actors help [each other], right?
First Take: What were some of favorite acting moments?
AR: Working on Hawaii five O, Alex [O’Loughlin] helped me out a lot. My character was a native Hawaiian born and they have a distinctive way of talking and you know they speak and..you know he was on season three already and he lives in Hawaii so he kind of adapted to all of the slang and the way they talk out there and he really pulled me aside and took his time out to… better my character. He actually cared that I do a good job. So that was one of my favorite moments. And just like people I look up to would take the time to help people out is really promising.
First Take: What was it that shared with you when helping you with your role?
AR: There is a part where I am hula dancing and I really did not know how to hula dance and I started doing the stereotypical hula dance that you see on TV… but then he pulls me aside and says “Yeah, you know bro, that is really good and all but you know the Hawaiians will know that you are not actually doing a hula dance…it will come off as you…being an asshole and kind of making fun of the situation, right?” So he kind of saved my ass and [helped to] not make me look bad…in the Hawaiian community and he basically helped me out with all of the slang that a Hawaiian bad boy would say…so it was really cool.
First Take: That’s awesome that he totally took the time.
AR: Yeah totally man…to get help like that I mean it’s just wonderful… I love him.
First Take: How is it different on TV and in Movies?
AR: You know I always go in with the mindset that I am going to play my part and do my thing and not step on anybody’s toes. You kind of feel out the situation of who is in charge so when you show up you basically just be cool with everybody, don’t throw a fit if something doesn’t go your way. Know your role basically.
First Take: What kind of roles are the toughest for you to get into?
AR: Going out of my box. I do the gangster stuff a lot so… That’s fairly easy for me to do. I don’t really get a lot of opportunities in the Hollywood system to play different types of characters because you know how typecasting works in Hollywood especially being an Asian actor, it is really hard to breakout of what you are known for. At the same time I am not complaining because it gets me work. That’s why I do a lot of short films because an up and coming director will take a chance on me playing different type of stuff. So I did a lot of short films and I came across this period piece called Shop of Eternal Life. [It takes place] back in the 1920’s in China…and I was playing a husband searching for money because my wife was sick and I had a lot of scenes where I needed to be very emotional. The feeling of how to tap into your loved one dying. What helped me a lot now that I think of it… I was a very closed up person growing up. I was very hardened and I had a wall built up and I have to say Nancy [First Take Founder] helped me break down those walls [from] early on in my life where I could like tap into my feelings more. These are things that help you in your acting because if you have that wall built up there is no way you can tap into those feelings because you are just so numb to the situation you know? Now that I am thinking back man tell Nancy I say thank you.
First Take: Will do, I will make sure we specifically transcribe that sentence. Do you remember what your first role as an actor was?
AR: I did a TV show in Beijing, my first ever audition was a series regular in Beijing, China. I mean I came in there over acting like crazy…I go back and watch and I am like “Oh my God, I can’t believe they hired me.” I didn’t know what I was doing, just all over the place, just really over acting. Crazy. That was my first ever role playing a gangster in a really big TV show.
First Take: How did you find out about that?
AR: You know, it’s crazy. It was just so big that they shot half of it in China and half of it in San Francisco so….they held casting because the majority of my scenes were held in San Francisco. hey came out here [and they] cast four of us– one of them being Robert Wu who is also a student of Nancy’s [First Take’s].
First Take: I just talked to him a week ago.
AR: Man he’s doing so well. I’m so glad dude. He is killing it dude. Me and him were on that same TV show. You know a funny story this is before I actually started taking classes at First Take and I remember before that TV show I used to get these calls about First Take like and it turns out that Robert Wu was making those phone calls. I didn’t figure that out until like later on in our lives but it’s just so funny how small the circle is once again.
First Take: What is the hardest part about acting?
AR: The hardest part of acting as getting the job right? I mean or even getting called into audition right? I think there is a real struggle with that for everybody. I still struggle with that from day to day but you just got to find that balance again. I have to appreciate where I’m at and still keep striving to where I want to be. Then just keep enjoying that journey to get better and to move forward. That’s what keeps everything sane for me.
First Take: how do you approach a nine page audition?
AR: You just got to sit yourself down and do the work. Whatever your process is, you just gotta take that time to do it. I was always a procrastinator back in school so I still struggle to get myself to sit down and just concentrate on the work because I’m just so all over the place sometimes. You just calm yourself down and you just realize this is what you want to do, so you got to do it. Otherwise you look like a fool.
First Take: what is your favorite part about acting?
AR: Just to perform man. I like being on sets. Whether it’s small ones or big ones, I like the scenery. I like what other actors bring to the table and [to] work off of them. When you’re on set, the vibe-the creativity of everybody coming together to make a project-it’s really inspiring, the level of people that come together to work on one thing. It’s like building an ant farm, like all the ants coming together in building this one project. Wow, it takes all these people to make one project and at the end of the day it could be good, it could be bad, but I did it. I’m satisfied with everything I did because that’s just blood sweat and tears poured into something.
First Take: What advice do you have anyone who is starting acting?
AR: Don’t be afraid to succeed. Man, I struggled with that in the beginning and I see a lot of my friends struggle with that right now. Fear of putting yourself out there and not trusting yourself or ‘Why not me, why can’t I do this right’? I have a friend, he’s been doing this for over 15 years and just recently got updated headshots and you know not really putting himself out there. He’s putting it off because his level of fear of being rejected and the fear of actually succeeding right? The other thing is you really have to be in class all the time. You know it’s like working out at the gym. Whatever we do as actors, you just got to be constantly training. I really believe in that.
First Take: it also comes back to the work
AR: You need to figure out, do you want to be a working actor or do you want to be a star? I see a lot of people who want to be an actor and I ask them why do you want to be an actor? Do you enjoy playing different characters and stuff like that? They answer “Nah man, just I want to make so much money”. You know, you really don’t make that much money unless you’re a big-time celebrity. People say “You work so much, you must be so loaded” and I’m like “No, dude I’m still driving the same car… it’s all a façade, man, unless you’re like an A-list celebrity, you’re not making that much money, you’re just kind of like scraping along. “ A lot of people don’t want to put the work in it and a lot of people don’t want to do classes, they don’t want to do workshops. People like that like all of the perks of being an actor but not doing any of the work.
First Take: What do you love about first take.
AR: Well first of all, Nancy. I mean like she would open your heart… she helped me out so much in the beginning of my career not just on the professional level but on my personal level. What we’re talking about, breaking down my walls within me and stuff like that, and opened up, being vulnerable and stuff like that. What we did in class not only helped me prep to get signed to an LA agency and to do those LA Auditions and be comfortable enough. She taught me the ins and outs of the business, which I had no idea, some things I didn’t even know existed. Those classes really opened up my acting, my subtleness, just everything about my acting because before I took classes from her, I was like an over-exaggerated actor, like a cartoon character almost…she really leveled me out. And the community that we built, yeah that’s what I love about First Take. The community that we had, the support system of all the actors, of all the students and Nancy, the bond that we had. You know it wasn’t just like at a community college class, we actually had a group like a support system almost. Now that I think about it, man I miss those days dude.
First Take: Any final thoughts?
AR: You know I really appreciate everything that Nancy did for me and everyone at First Take. If you’re working or just starting off just think about all the little opportunities and just latch onto those things. Make those things make you push forward. If you really stick with it and do the work, things will come along. Don’t ever give up because if you do you’ll never know how close you came. You know what I’m saying?