What is an actor? It’s a simple definition and very easily, one you can find in the dictionary but there’s a history behind it. It isn’t just a word to an actor. It’s an art form, rather a way of perceiving and articulating words found on paper to liberate the delicate emotions made up of raw passion and a brazen honesty within themselves. And all in order to make up for good storytelling.
One actor in particular with a great passion for the art of acting is, Rebecca Kopec. Hailing from a small family in New York, has a grounded attitude and a solid head on her shoulders. She’s a bubbly, no-nonsense, quick talking young woman and in the time we spoke, it’s evident that she’s a firm believer of working hard and waiting for her spotlight.
This month, Kopec can be seen in the cabaret production of My Story directed by Andrew Overcash, with all proceeds from the show going to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. She’s amongst five other talented actors who are working hard to bring this production to life.
“We’re each doing two solo numbers. An up-tempo and a ballad and it’s everything from musical theatre to pop and then we have a bunch of group numbers and it’s just us, telling our stories and raising money. So it’ll do some good,” she smiles.
Kopec realized from a young age that she wanted to be an actor. She never second guessed herself as she grew up with acting all around her and it became a part of her life and identity. “It wasn’t even a question. It was one of those things. It was when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do – what I wanted to major in, in college and to me, it was 'What’s the one thing that will always get me up and get me going, no matter what?' It’s something I can get even if I’m sick as a dog,” she says.
She has an unquestionable determination and always makes it to rehearsal, proving she’s someone who’s most valuable to any production team.
Andrew Overcash, director of the cabaret, My Story had nothing but praise for the actress and a genuine deep trust for her undeniable talent. “Every time I worked with her, she was on top of everything she had to do,” he shares. “[She’s] like a little fire cracker – you give her an idea and not only does she run with it, but she blows the roof off your expectations every time.”
That is something of great importance to Kopec and it shows in her tone. She is someone who believes an actor is meant to dive right in and take control of a role. “[They’re] going to want to learn more and be creative with it and figure it out. They need to be in love,” she says with a sigh.
Kopec discusses her method of acting with me, saying it’s not an easy thing to describe to someone who isn’t an actor but says it is one thing she can talk about for ages. “I guess for the most part,” she starts. “I’m an organic actor – meaning, I don’t exactly plan out how I’m going to say something or when and how I’m going to move. I start out just by trying to be as honest as I can and let the motions come and guide how I say or do things.”
Adding that everyone has their own respective process, she personally loves experiencing new things and trying new things out. “I think that’s the key. You just might fall in love with it.” But in the meantime, she lets whatever happens, happen and mentions that coming from a theatre background, with rehearsal time and all, you’re given the objective to simply “play”.
“[You] play around with the material, the movement and have fun with it. Explore. Learn. Discover. Sometimes things come out of you that you never expected [and] I’m lucky enough lately that I’ve been working with some amazing directors that have given me the chance to do just that.”
Overcash agrees and has nothing but high esteem for her. “Rebecca brings her own personal journey to the table. She has also morphed into this group cheerleader in a sense as well as making everyone laugh and push harder than before. She is a beautiful soul that anyone who has the chance should get to know.”
The young actress doesn’t let any of it get to her head either. She realizes that the process in order to get a role is a tough one and leaves no room for conceit. It helps that she also has a supportive family to keep her on her feet. The Kopecs paid for their daughter’s voice and dance lessons growing up and made sure to constantly drive her to auditions and rehearsals without any question. “My family is amazing,” she strains. “They have always been supportive, not just emotionally but financially as well.”
It was only when she got older that she realized her affection for television, an underrated medium in her point of view. The aspect that lured her in was the attention to character development that accentuated a story and brought it to life while being able to tell a story in an approximate, twenty-two hours on TV whereas in film and theatre, about only two hours.
Don’t ask her though when that defining moment of her own self-realization was when it came to her career. She doesn’t know either but says it was basically, innate. “There have been a lot of small ‘Ah-ha! This is what I’m supposed to do!’ moments along the way. Even now, living in New York [and] pursuing it, I still need and get the reminder of it.”
She shares her earliest on-stage memory with me and one can’t help but laugh at just how amiable she is.
“I was in my first play when I was two years old. I played a jack-in-the-box in the play, Babes in Toyland. I remember there was a ballerina dancing on stage and she was to come over to turn the crank and I would pop out. My mom was backstage and was to knock on the box so I knew when I would jump out [and] I was supposed to stand there and be cute but I saw the ballerina doing all these turns and I wanted in on the fun too so I put my arms above my head and began twirling in my little box. The audience loved it but the director, not so much,” laughs Kopec.
Years later, Kopec would travel to Florida, not just to steer clear of the cold weather in New York which she cannot stand at all but to experience a completely different lifestyle. In that time, she studied hard and earned a double major in psychology and theatre. "I learned techniques as a theatre major so I don’t have to think about it when I’m on stage as opposed to what I’m like on film. It’s ingrained in me. It taught me how to be professional,” she says.
Kopec goes onto saying it gave her the opportunity to dig into characters that she’d never get to be in the real world and was able to stretch her palette and taught her to fall in love with acting where she could enjoy plays just as much as musicals.
“Being on my own in a brand new place forced me to grow up,” she shares. “Coming from the north to central Florida, [that] was a bit of a culture shock [but] it opened my mind to new views and customs I could use for my characters. Life experience is the best acting preparation.”
In 2009, Kopec was featured in the independent film, The Best Laid Plans and shares that filming for a feature length movie is an amazing one, as it isn’t like anything she’s ever done before. “It was a bit of a shock,” she shares. “It was a shock but it was a lot of fun and there’s a definite difference in the experience between film and theatre.”
When it came to a camera angled to Kopec, the young actress had to consider technical differences from her stage experience. "When it comes to film, I'm a little more technical. Partially because there's less rehearsal time and because I haven't done as much and I'm not as comfortable with the technique. I have to remind myself to hold my head to get the right angle, speak at the proper volume – as opposed to the projection I'm doing on stage, where I'm making sure my movement stays in frame and then as much honesty as possible," she stresses.
Kopec discloses that she’s a hand talker and because of it, it’s important to make sure she doesn’t do much of it on screen. “Trying to control that and not move those so much?” she groans.
One thing you notice immediately about her is her sense of humour. Kopec is not just charismatic but immensely hilarious and her laugh is infectious. I suggested that a perfect fit for her would be to star on 30 Rock and the actress gets excited about it. “I’d love to do 30 Rock! Tina Fey is a genius and she’s freaking hysterical! And it’s in New York!” she says enthusiastically with a cheer and a ‘woot’. “She’s an actor but more of a writer, but yeah, I’d love to work with her.”
It seems Kopec is soon on her way to her dream as well as she keeps good company; a way for optimism to spread. Two of her friends booked 30 Rock in the new year and the actress is hopeful about getting her time too. “I see my friends, getting theirs and I’m like, ‘Holy crap! I’m so close!’ you know? So I just have to keep pushing through. It’s going to happen. It’s going to happen eventually. If they can do it, so can I,” she smiles.
When I ask her whose career she’d love to have most, she admires Kristen Bell. Bell started off on Broadway doing musical theatre and went onto television and is now doing film. The young aspiring Kopec finds that admirable. “She’s all over the board and I think she’s incredibly talented as well but we’re not the same type of actor, so it’s not the same kind of thing but, dude,” she interrupts enthusiastically. “She gets to work with Betty White! How cool is that? Betty has an incredible career.”
She also mentions working in the future with the likes of Robert Downey Jr. who she believes is tremendously brilliant and versatile and Mary Louise Parker and then pauses for a second and sighs. “This may be somewhat embarrassing, but I’ll share it anyway: I have a vision board!”
I pause for a moment and am not sure I heard right. After all, she’s the only other person I know besides myself who’s created a vision board at least once in their life.
She chips in abruptly that she admires musical theatre very much and thinks highly of Bernadette Peters and Kristen Chenoweth.
We both begin to laugh it out and she goes onto saying, “It’s just of all the things I want in life: pictures of actors I either want to work with or I want their career or things I want to do which is to remind me that it’s attainable and it’s right there. I mean, the heart of it – I have got to keep pushing through and it’ll happen eventually. I just have to keep working.”
Her attitude is inspiring. In all my time, meeting people and getting to know them, Kopec is truly a gem of a person. As for her voice, she has quite the pipes. Not only is she performing in this month’s cabaret production of My Story but this past year, Kopec garnered acclaim for her role as Trudy in the production of Hollywood! Hollywood! by the NY Theatre stating the evening belonged to Kopec who was "outstanding as the brassy, sassy Avon-lady-turned-casting-agent, Trudy".
She never for a moment thinks about going back and altering her path. It’s commendable. It makes you wonder how and why, when life is so tough and puts it so simply to me. “You know, I very much believe in living life without regret. If I didn’t make the choices I’ve made in my past, I wouldn’t be where I am today and I’ve got it pretty damn good. That being said though,” she pauses briefly. “I often wonder if I went to school here in New York, if I would have made connections quicker and be further along in my career but then again, no. I wouldn’t have what I have now and I wouldn’t change that.”
The industry is a tough one, especially with the image the media puts out. We discuss it briefly and she sighs about it. “Coming out here, I knew that image was obviously important as an actor but I didn’t realize just how important it was. It’s horrible. It’s horrible. You know, I’m a character actor. I’m a big girl but I’ve lost out for roles because I’m not fat enough or wasn’t small enough and it’s all about whether you fit and it’s just so hard.”
Kopec recently booked one job specifically for her height, standing at a lovable 5’1”, and stating that none of it had to do with her talent at all. “Yes, there are wonderful stories about how an actor walks into a casting session and totally blows the casting director away so they put them in a role that wasn’t remotely close to their type but those stories are fewer and further between than you’d think. I didn’t realize how much paperwork went into it.”
She brings up the time she went to Portia de Rossi’s book signing for Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain and got the chance to talk to her afterwards, saying she was nothing short of beautiful.”If you read her book, which is stunning by the way and heart wrenching, it’s very difficult to read [but] I found myself looking at parts where she’s talking about the industry and there’s so many things in there that I agree about and then realize, that's her unhealthy voice talking – that’s the eating disorder talking.”
Kopec goes onto saying it’s sad the way image is portrayed today and the way it forces some who are moving into the industry to do drastic things. “It’s ridiculously unhealthy. It kills your self-esteem and the thing is [that] you just have to separate yourself. Like, I have trouble with it. I’m sure every person has trouble with it and every woman in the industry and I will bet any man too – actually, I take that back. I know a lot of men who do and it makes you,” she pauses to think for a moment.
It is a touchy subject but you can tell it’s one she won’t take any nonsense from. “If I don’t get a role, it’s not me they don’t want. There will be something out there that is right for me. It’s just [that] I don’t fit this particular role. It doesn’t ever mean I’m not good enough. It doesn’t mean I’m not pretty enough. It doesn’t mean I’m not ugly enough. It’s just not a right fit. It’s kind of like dating. Just because you’re not right for someone or some role, doesn’t mean there isn’t someone or some role out there for you. You just have to kiss a few frogs,” she laughs.
I asked her if she’s ever been rejected to her face for a role and fortunately, she has not but does mention the obviousness of it sometimes, saying it’s always one thing or another such as somebody who wasn’t good enough or one who has a big name or one that’ll call in more money.
With the realities of her industry, Kopec finds comfort in her friends, family and often finds inspiration in what she loves: theatre. She says being able to see it all come together, is beautiful. She shares a story of going to see the off-Broadway play Angels in America and literally beams about it, lighting up and discussing it so passionately. “[It’s] so amazingly written and just seeing it live and in your face and like, 'Damn, I want to do that! I need to do that!' It would be on the wants and needs list, once you see somebody doing such a fantastic job, it just moves you so much and that very very much helps.”
The aspiring actress reveals that she’s worked much harder than ever before this past year. “When I first moved to New York, I was lazy,” she admits with a laugh. During her first year in New York, nearly six years ago, Kopec thought everything was wrapped up and the audition she had for the lead in a Broadway play, she would nail it and all would be good but looking back, she realizes that’s not the case.
“I didn’t audition as much as I should. I would see something and then, I’m like ‘Ahh, I can ride this for a while!’ but no – that’s not true. You have to keep pushing yourself to keep going onto the next thing and the next thing. I just have to keep working. I love this so much!”
She always tries to keep something lined up for herself, not just to keep herself busy and disciplining her craft but to keep the momentum going. Any moment could be the moment for her and she’s become conscious of that.
I ask her what’s the best thing she loves most about being an actress with all the work she’s done and she pauses briefly and then sighs. “Oh God,” she starts. “There are so many things. How I say this without being cheesy and cliché?”
“You can’t,” I pipe in as we both laugh.
She takes a moment to think. “It’s such a visceral reaction, you know? It’s so hard to put into words what happens like, when you nail a scene or a song and you just got it and given it your all, and you can touch someone and like, the other day I was in rehearsal for the cabaret and I was singing the song ‘Gravity’ by Sara Bareilles and it’s a heart-wrenching ballad. It’s gorgeous – but sad and I was doing all these exercises that Andrew was having me do and I’m like, making somebody cry. Our stage manager was crying and I was done and then I was like, ‘I did that!’
We both laugh for a moment and then Kopec abruptly chimes in, “Oh that sounds stupid: ‘I made someone cry!’” she says sarcastically with a laugh.
There’s no doubt that she has much heart to her and when it comes to a scene or a heart-wrenching ballad, Kopec says pulling for that emotion from within depends a lot on the role. “Look, it depends on the character, the mood, what I ate for dinner. It changes. I just try to be honest, as much as possible. I mean, the first thing I do when I look at a script is to put myself into that person’s shoes and ask, ‘Can I do that?’ and if I can’t, I try to equate it to something similar in my life like XYZ, you know? I pull from that then.”
She strains again about being as honest as possible with her craft because it comes off more genuine and the reason for it is because actors depict an emotion the audience should be feeling. The important part of any story being told is that the actor must project that character to the best of their ability and Kopec knows honesty works because it hits a chord with the watcher.
Kopec has received high honours from the Looking Glass Theatre Winter Writer/Director forum where she won Best Actress for the play, Turtle Beach. “It was a huge honour. There were a total of eight plays, each having at least two characters or more and the fact that I was singled out was amazing to me. I was lucky enough to get a fantastic beautiful script and a wonderful director that got a lot out of me.”
When I ask Kopec, what are some words of advice she’s ever received from a mentor, she mentions she never really had one. “I’ve kind of had to figure it all out bit by bit as time went on,” she says. “I wish I had a mentor: someone to take me by the hand and tell me where to go. There are so many paths in the world of acting that I still don’t know which one to choose.”
I ask her though, what advice she would give someone who’s coming into their own, becoming the actor they chose to be and quite possibly, her future competitor for a role and she’s prompt about it; absolutely no hesitating. She knows exactly what to tell them.
“Don’t do it unless you really want to.”
It’s as simple as that. With all that she’s learned within the art of acting, she knows more about herself today than she did before and it shows through her perseverance and passion. The art of acting for Rebecca Kopec is all about honesty and being true to yourself all while entertaining an audience. And of course, having fun and loving it.
“That’s important,” she says. “You need to be able to love what you do. That’s the key, really.”
This week, Kopec can be seen singing two songs in the cabaret show, My Story directed by Andrew Overcash which will see all proceeds going to benefit the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
My Story, a cabaret presented by Young Performers for Young Patients and The Off 8th Collective to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital will be shown at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Centre on December 22 at 8PM ET.
The six performers, Rebecca Kopec, Katie Iacona, Katherine Wright, Neil Dingow, Brian Maxsween and Andrew Overcash, himself will perform musical theatre and contemporary songs while sharing their own stories about life in New York City.
The St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is the leading research facility that helps treat children with cancer and other serious illnesses while exploring further into the field of medicine and treatment to better their lives. See their official site for more information.
The Manhattan Movement and Arts Centre is located at 248 West 60th Street. For information and tickets call (646) 385-8493 or visit Manhattan Movement.
For more information on Rebecca Kopec, visit her official site.
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