How to pay rent while making it as an actor in Canada
A working actor's advice: keep your receipts, prepare for slow years, maybe try to have rich parents
Toronto-based actor/comedian Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll is what you'd call a "working actor." He's not famous, but he does make a full-time living from his art. You don't know his name, but you might recognize his face, whether it's from Canadian shows like Kim's Convenience, made-in-Canada American shows like Ginny & Georgia, or trying to sell you a Subaru during the half-time of a Raptors game.
In Making a Living, we're going to talk to artists and creatives about all things money — how they make it, how to support an artistic practice when you still have a day job, and how to handle things like taxes and slow periods when you're doing it full-time.
In the first edition, Fernandez-Stoll talks about making acting a career in a competitive industry, in an expensive city, where a lot of your fellow would-be actors are "just very wealthy... a lot of people just got rich parents."
What do you do for a living?
I work in film full-time. I also do live shows which, you know, pay a little bit, but I really don't think they pay that much unless you're doing it all the time, putting together some tours or headlining shows at Yuk Yuks or something. But I mostly make a living off film and television, which is something that took a while to do.
What were you doing to support yourself before you were acting full-time?
I worked construction jobs, I worked at restaurants, and then I started working in film as a PA. Through that, I met a lot of producers, met a lot of directors. I met a lot of casting agents like that. That's how I got an agent. When you're a PA, they give you a list of addresses to drop off contracts, so one of those places was a talent agent. And then I just happened to drop off a contract to her, and I just slipped it in there and I said, "Oh, you know, I want to be an actor." And then they were nice enough to say, "Oh, really? Well, do you have headshots? Do you want to come by one day and talk?" And that's how I ended up getting an agent.
When did you realize this was going to be your full-time job?
It just kind of slowly happened, where I was just acting. I was working at casting offices; they were hooking me up with session jobs, running [audition] sessions on camera. I was also doing construction jobs for friends, and then all of a sudden I was like, "Wait, I don't have any time for that other stuff. I'm doing this."
And then you realize, "Oh, I'm able to pay my rent." I was able to get a car. I was able to do all this stuff, and I'm like, "Oh, I'm doing this by being a goofball." It never got to a point where I was like, "Oh, I can do this now." It just got to the point where I was like, "Let's see how long I can do this for."
And then you realize, 'Oh, I'm able to pay my rent.' I was able to get a car. I was able to do all this stuff, and I'm like, 'Oh, I'm doing this by being a goofball.'- Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll
How much do you make in a typical year?
There is no real number when you're an artist. It's low one month and then it's high. Sometimes you can make, I don't know, $25,000 in a year, and the next year you're making $125,000. I've been lucky enough to go through both of those to kind of humble myself.
What are your big work expenses?
Now, I would say self-taping equipment for at-home auditions. Because we don't go to casting offices anymore, right? So there's no transportation costs; there's no, you know, sometimes you'll eat somewhere before an audition. But now everything's at home. They say get a good camera, but everyone uses their phones. Have a good computer for editing. We ordered a ring light — it was like $200. A backdrop is probably $40 bucks. So it's really a minimal amount of cash when you're thinking about what you're using it for for the next two years.
So has the pandemic made auditioning cheaper then?
I think it's made it less expensive. But also it's made it less exciting. We're at home the whole time, so it's not very good for our mental health. I miss going to the [casting] office. I miss sitting down and having a time frame to go into that room and saying, "I have 10 minutes to show them what I have." Right now, there's a lot of room for procrastination.
How much of a cushion do you need for when things get slow?
I don't know, as long as you give yourself rent and food? So, what, like $2,500 bucks or something or something to live off? But Toronto is also an expensive city, so it really does range. And also I lived an artist lifestyle for a long time. You can give me food, a roof, and a drum machine, and I'll be happy for, like, three months.
Have any advice on doing your taxes?
Keep all your receipts and stay on top of it. Especially as an artist, everybody's been behind a couple times, but luckily I have people in my life that are able to help me — accountants, family, friends. That's pretty much what you need to use because, doing it on your own, absolutely, you're going to mess your entire life up.
Any advice for young artists?
To any young actor or young person in their 20s, doing it, just, I don't know, just don't get frustrated. Everybody has different routes. And not everybody has super wealthy parents, right? So just fucking chill.
Answers have been edited for length and clarity. If you're an artist who wants to talk money for Making a Living, email email@example.com.