‘I am a SDA student and I am an actor’

Following SAG Awards tradition, theatre majors share their origins stories of becoming actors.

Ever since the Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG) first took place in 1995, actors opened the show by sharing the origin stories of their careers and the fond memories they’ve made along the way, a tradition that has lived on as “I am an actor.”

In recognition of the 2023 SAG Awards on Feb. 26, Annenberg Media asked a few SDA students majoring in theatre with an acting emphasis to share their origin stories.

Maximus Allen, a sophomore majoring in theatre and English literature, found his path to acting from his childhood passions of reading and writing. Growing up, Allen initially wanted to become an author, eventually discovering his passion for acting through a drama class in high school.

“Instead of creating the stories, I can be performing the story as well,” Allen said. “Immersing yourself in a character’s reality and their environments kind of created the same purpose [as writing]. So I was like, ‘Why not do both?’”

Ian Grady, a sophomore, began his acting career in the Britt Amphitheater in Jacksonville, Oregon, when he starred in his elementary school’s production of “Beauty and the Beast.”

His love for acting was replaced by athletics early on, but a high school rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” rekindled his love for the theater.

Grady said he hopes to follow in the footsteps of famous comedians and actors like Jim Carrey, who was able to convey depth in his films, while also bringing their comedic talents.

Naila Gomez, a sophomore, discovered her love of acting at only 4 years old. After watching “The Phantom of the Opera” with her grandfather, Gomez was inspired to act by the character of Christine Daaé. Her mother, an English turned theater teacher, also influenced her decision to pursue acting as a career.

Lexie Hastings, a sophomore, grew up as a shy child who used both Barbie and Disney Princess movies to bring her out of her shell, dancing along to all of the songs. When her mom signed her up for theater, Hastings ended up enjoying the experience, playing the Skunk lost boy in “Peter Pan.”

Yet Hastings credits the film “Enchanted” for allowing her to look at film differently when she was a child.

“There was something about it being live action, not animated. She was like a real Disney princess,” Hastings said. “I want to do that. I want to sing and dance in parks and be part of movies like that in the future.”

Madison Olea’s journey to acting wasn’t easy. Now a junior, Olea grew up doing musical theater, participating in many acting and film classes. However, Olea was unsure whether or not she wanted or was capable of pursuing acting as a career. Graduating high school during the pandemic, she chose to go to a community college instead of pursuing a psychology degree at a four-year university.

At community college, she joined the speech and debate team and fell in love with performing once again. When she was ready to transfer, her friend convinced her to apply to USC’s theatre program.

“I did [the application] in a week and I got everything back, and I got in,” Olea said. “I was like, ‘OK, I guess it’s time to actually believe in myself because I felt like [acting] just kept coming back to me.”

Professional actors Niecey Nash, Bob Odenkirk, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janelle James and Quinta Lee Brunson carried on the tradition at this year’s SAG awards ceremony.

“If I hadn’t been fired from ‘Operation Petticoat,’ I would have never had the opportunity to audition for a little tiny, no-budget horror movie called ‘Halloween,’” Curtis said. “My name is Jamie Lee Curtis and I am proudly an actor.”

During his acceptance speech for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role, USC alum Ke Huy Quan noted that he was the first Asian actor to earn the nod in that category, winning for his performance in “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

“To all those at home who are watching, who are struggling and waiting to be seen, please keep on going because the spotlight will one day find you,” Quan said.