Age: 47 (today!)
Location: New York City, NY
Growing up. Rory Byrne was a theatre kid. She was active in her Boca Raton, Florida high school productions and also did community theatre. She knew that was what she wanted to do with her life. Rory left Florida for California, attending the University of Southern California and graduating in 1995 with a degree in Theatre and Communications. All good with the theatre trajectory. But then real life intervened.
It turns out that Rory was not the only young adult pursuing a career in theatre in Los Angeles. She got a few voiceover jobs but she could not find enough acting work to be able to make a living from it and be able to stay in LA. “At the end of the day,” Rory says, “I needed to buy a sandwich so I got a job.”
Rory fell into marketing and advertising, a career she ended up loving and one that provided a lot of fulfillment, excitement and had some overlap with the world of entertainment that enthralled her. She spent 17 years in the field, doing entertainment marketing in LA for the studios, and worked on big accounts like McDonalds and Blockbuster. She also worked on the marketing team for Episode One for Lucasfilm. “My office was on Skywalker Ranch!” Rory says. “That was so cool!”
Her marketing career took her to Portland, Oregon, where she worked in women’s advertising at Nike’s global headquarters and helped them start their content department producing film and television related to athletes. It was through Nike that she met her husband, Mike. In 2005, Rory and Mike moved across the country to New York City so that Mike could start his own advertising agency. Rory did some freelance work for Nike but mainly transitioned to being at home with her young daughter, Finn. When her son Henry was born two years later, it was even more all hands on deck on the home front. Running his own agency required a huge commitment of Mike‘s time and energy, so Rory stayed home with the kids. She did not do it begrudgingly and loved her time with them, but she did miss working. “I felt like my brain was turning into mashed potatoes,” she says.
When Henry was one year old, Rory was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis. She had two ankle surgeries in one year and was unable to be alone with the kids at the house because she couldn’t lift them or carry them. “It was a really tough year,” Rory recalls. When she finally came out of it, she decided it was time to do something creative with her life. She talked it over with Mike, whom she describes as an amazingly supportive husband, and he asked her what her favorite thing was that she ever did. Rory’s reply was voiceover work. “So go do that,” Mike told her. Rory signed up for a voiceover class. The instructor was a casting director and he recognized something in Rory. “It just hit,” Rory says. He connected her with an agent and she has been with that agency for the last seven years. She worked steadily doing voiceover work and loved it, but, she says, it also “ignited my desire to try other things in the acting world.”
She went out on auditions, started taking classes, and did a few student films. “I really didn’t know what I was doing,” Rory says. “When I first started, I didn’t even have a headshot.” She loved what she was learning and doing, but she also knew she wanted more. And an honest appraisal of her skills left her convinced she was not prepared for more. “I had a little bit of a hold on what I was doing,” she says. “But I was not consistent.” Her acting coach at the time told her that she was a really hard worker, but that “there is no substitute for craft.”
Again Rory talked it over with Mike and he again encouraged her to go for it. “Find the hardest program you can,” he said. “Go all in.” She looked at some MFA programs and also applied to Atlantic Acting School in New York City whose program, Rory says, “is as intense as it gets. It offered a 32-hour per week program plus rehearsals on top of that. It would be a two and a half year commitment from her whole family because Rory would need to prioritize her work and time with Atlantic. She credits Mike with leading the way for the kids, modeling how to support Rory. “My husband being such a champion of my doing this has impacted them,” Rory says. She says she has amazing kids, who are now eleven and a half (Henry) and thirteen and a half (Finn) who “have really done whatever they can do to help me.” She also credits her amazing babysitter with making it easier to have peace of mind when she is not at home.
Picking up a new career direction and immersing yourself in an intense program of study with classmates who are decades younger than you are is not easy. But it is exactly what Rory needed. “I wanted to really know what I was doing and continue to grow,” she says. “It was completely game changing.” She now realizes that she was lacking the technical skills that she needed to feel confident in her craft. “My capability stems from my confidence in what I know,” she says. Her studies at Atlantic “gave me really solid fundamentals that I can rely on,” Rory says. “I developed an ability to trust in what I know and be okay with what I don’t know.” Her very first audition following her graduation last month yielded an immediate callback. “This put me into another stratosphere of what I am capable of doing,” she says.
And she is good with whatever happens. “I am not trying to move to LA and be in a movie with George Clooney,” she says. “I am just trying to learn and grow and enjoy the process.” She says she has never been someone who defines success with a definite path or plan. “I just keep opening interesting doors,” Rory says, “and asking myself what else I need.” She feels good about the fact that this approach is also what she is modeling for her children. “It doesn’t matter where you are at the moment or what you are doing,” Rory says. “Just give it your absolute best and the opportunities will appear.”
And work hard. Rory thinks that is also an important life lesson for her children to see, one they have learned from both their parents. “In a world that is so shiny and hyper curated,” Rory says, “they get to see me in the trenches doing the work.” She says she does not engage in a lot of wishful thinking or hoping aloud that something will come to fruition or magically happen for her. “It is just one foot in front of the other doing the work.”
To learn more about Rory, visit www.roryrubinbyrne.com