From the outside, the entertainment industry can seem like a glamorous world filled with endless red-carpet premieres and televised award ceremonies. However, at its heart, show business is much like any other field in that it requires a high degree of resilience, dedication, and business savvy in order to succeed. In this episode, Gene Marks and special guest, Matt McCoy, discuss the valuable lessons he’s learned as a professional actor and how freelance small business owners can apply these strategies to their own industries.
Podcast Key Highlights
- What are the Best Strategies for Dealing with Rejection?
- Keep in mind that anytime you put yourself out there, you are opening yourself up to potential rejection.
- As time goes by, know that your ability to persevere and work in a competitive industry is a testament to your skills and your talent.
- Having a strong background or foundation in your chosen profession can help you combat any self-doubts that may arise.
- Surround yourself with supportive family and friends who can encourage you during the difficult times.
- What Can Freelancers Do to Facilitate Their Next Job?
- While working a high-profile project might lead to other opportunities, it’s not always a guaranteed stepping stone to more work and sometimes there is very little you can do other than have faith that another job will come along.
- Don’t underestimate the power of networking since your connections can help you secure more jobs.
- Make sure you have a strong online presence because you never know who might see your work.
- What Do Solopreneurs Need to Know about Handling Their Finances?
- You need to take ownership of your money; make it your business to have a thorough understanding of both your cashflow and your assets.
- It can be an empowering experience to get a handle on your financial situation and it is often simpler than most business owners think.
- What Factors Will Impact the Projects You Work On?
- Where you are in your life and career will often dictate how selective you can be about your projects.
- There are instances when a project you completed can take on a completely different shape due to post-production changes.
- What Are Some Effective Strategies for Working with Difficult People?
- Always approach your work from an attitude of collaboration with full understanding that everyone on your team has something valuable to contribute.
- While you may have a different creative vision than the person supervising the project, remember that it’s your job to serve their needs and not vice versa.
- You and the rest of the team members are there to accomplish the same goal.
- How Do Freelancers Combat the Competitive Nature of Their Industry?
- Understanding that there are numerous variables out of your control can help alleviate the disappointment of losing a job to someone else.
- Always do the best work possible so that even if you’re not hired for this job, you’ll still be considered for future projects.
- How Do You Balance Family and Work when You’re in a Demanding Profession?
- Surround yourself with like-minded people who are understanding and supportive of your career.
- Approach your life with a sense of gratitude so that you never take anyone for granted.
- Don’t hesitate to go out of your way for someone you really care about.
The views and opinions expressed on this podcast are for informational purposes only, and solely those of the podcast participants, contributors, and guests, and do not constitute an endorsement by or necessarily represent the views of The Hartford or its affiliates.
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Gene: Welcome to the Small Biz Ahead podcast. We interview great experts but offer advice and tips to help you run your business better. Hey, everybody, this is Gene Marks, welcome back to the Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. Thank you so much for joining me, glad that you’re listening or watching. My special guest today is Matt McCoy. Matt is a longtime actor. I think you’ve seen him on various shows. Very well-known for his portrayal of Lloyd Braun on Seinfeld but he’s done a lot of other work in a lot of other places. And also he does a lot of work with The Hartford as well. And I have a bunch of questions, Matt, for you about this. So, first of all, thank you.
Matt: Fire away. Now you say special guest. Is everybody a special guest?
Gene: It’s a good question. Yes, most people are. Especially you are very, very special on this. But that question that you ask it makes me laugh. Sometimes whenever I ask somebody a question and then they’ll answer back to me like “That was a good question.” I always think to myself, so does that mean all my other questions weren’t so good?
Matt: They were terrible. They were terrible questions.
Gene: They were terrible and this one happens to be good.
Matt: Count on me following suit there, Gene, and really calling out the terrible questions.
Gene: I think the reason why people do that is they just… They, obviously, need a moment to think and that’s what they’re doing it for. It always makes me chuckle. So I…
Matt: I appreciate the special moniker you gave me there.
Gene: It is well deserved. We’re speaking to you from your home in California?
Matt: I live in Los Angeles. I’ve been in the same house for 37 years which my wife thought was a starter home.
Gene: A man of routine. That’s really funny.
Matt: Little did she know that we’d be in here 37 years later.
Gene: Well, that’s good for you.
Matt: We raised our three kids here and they’re all gone and leading really wonderful lives, but this is home.
Gene: I’m glad to hear that. So no desire to empty nest it somewhere else or move into a city somewhere.
Matt: You know what? I mean, we’re in a city and we’ve got a really wonderful neighborhood here. My wife works in interior design so she’s done some really wonderful things to our home. She’s got a list somewhere evidently of more things that she wants to do so I hope I never find that list.
Gene: I agree. Well, it’ll keep you busy for a while. One of the reasons why we’re talking to you is that you have done such great work for The Hartford over the years as a spokesperson. I don’t work for The Hartford but I’ve heard such great things about you. I know that you’ve had a great relationship with the company.
Matt: Well, it’s very humbling to hear that. I mean, The Hartford is a gift to me, and I mean that sincerely. As the people that I’ve met through The Hartford are with Meredith, and Lori, and Gary before that, and Mary before that as well. These are remarkable people that work really for a remarkable company. So the fact that I’m associated with them and have been for a number of years… I tell you, gifts come, Gene. The fact that this has come at this point in my life as well, because I have been doing what I’ve been doing for such a long time, and for the relationship with The Hartford to come around now I’m so appreciative and really, really grateful to be a small, small spoke in the wheel of such a great company.
Gene: I’m glad to hear that. And I’ve worked with The Hartford for a number of years as well. And I’ve had a great experience with the company, I mean, with pretty much everybody except for Alyssa, by the way, she’s really a tough cookie, okay, but that’s just between you and me, okay?
Matt: Okay. She’ll be unplugging you now, Gene.
Gene: Right. Right. I’m ready for a pot to come and hit me in the head or a baseball bat. Matt, I want talk to you about your career and your profession as an actor. As you know, as I told you before we started recording this, our audience are business owners and entrepreneurs. I listen to podcasts of other actors, okay, that talk… And we’re talking about people that are in their 50s and 60s, that they talk about the anxieties they still feel, the depression they go through, the rejection that they have dealt with, the fear that they still have of getting… I mean, it is a really brutal profession.
Gene: And yet here you are decades into this profession, in a great place, successful marriage, kids. You just seem like a very happy and contented person. I’m sure you have your good days and your bad. Just as a business owner, as somebody myself who goes through my own ups and downs facing rejection, facing challenges, all that stuff, how do you deal with the bad and the rejection? How do you deal with those days when you do get rejected or you’re disappointed, which I’m sure is this had to happen quite a lot?
Matt: Well, rejection comes honestly every day. I mean, anytime that you’re putting yourself out there you’re setting yourself up, especially in my business, for rejection. I think I’ve learned… It’s interesting to hear you say, Gene, that you speak to actors in their 50s and 60s still feeling that sort of fear and that rejection. It’s gotten better for me, it’s subsided over the years. I mean, I’ve been doing this professionally now for 43 years which is… I mean, that longevity I think is what I hold more dear than anything, the fact that I’m still working and still out there going to bat because… And the fear and the rejection has sort of subsided for me. I think age comes into that, wisdom comes into that, the success that I’ve had comes into that. Mary, my wife, is a big part of that.
Matt: I’ve learned over the years… The times that it was tough, when the rejection will probably hit a little closer to home than maybe other projects did… Because there are certain projects you really feel like my gosh, I got this, and I want to be a part of this, and it doesn’t come through. My wife took the hit on a lot of that for me, she absorbed a lot of that. That was a realization that I made not too long ago. That’s another gift that I’ve had.
Matt: You put yourself out there. I love what I do, I’ve never had a plan B. I remember wanting to do this when I was about 14 years old and started doing it when I was 18 professionally. I realized I had no idea what I was doing when I was out on the road doing musical comedy so I went back to school in New York and learned how to do what I’m doing and give myself some sort of foundation. I think all of these small business owners you’re talking about, they didn’t jump into anything without planning and getting a foundation with what they wanted to move forward on. That’s what I felt like I was lacking when I first started out. Going back and getting that foundation in New York at the great Neighborhood Playhouse on 54th Street in New York gave me that foundation.
Matt: My family’s been a big part of helping me get through any sort of tough times. There were lean times for sure. There were times where we almost put our home on the market because we couldn’t keep up with the payments and then a job would come along, things would come along. I felt like the universe has taken pretty good care of me through the years. I hope people feel that as well in their lives.
Gene: You yourself were a business owner. I mean, you’ve been an entrepreneur of your life. It’s not like you’re an employee for anybody. You have gone from job to job and got it.
Matt: That’s true.
Gene: And you get a check for doing that job. I mean, you’re no different than anyone…
Matt: Starting over, a brand new job.
Gene: And starting over each time. You’re no different than any freelancer or any contractor that does work who goes from job to job. One of the biggest challenges that a lot of, particularly soul entrepreneurs have is they’re working on a job, and they’re focused on that job, and then the job ends and then they’re like “Oh no, I don’t have any more job. I don’t have anything else.”
Matt: I’m telling you, I get that oh no, I’m right there with them. I think every actor will tell you that once that job ends you go “Well, that’s pretty much it, they’re onto me.” I think De Niro even spoke about that when one job end. Whatever level you’re at, Gene, everybody is still… Has that insecurity. I mean, we all sort of hearken back to when we started out, and when’s the next job coming? When is the job any job coming? I think actors, people in my business, feel that on whatever level they’re at.
Gene: Were you…
Matt: And so you’re right, it’s a brand new job every time for me.
Gene: Did you do anything when you were younger and doing this work to ensure that you did have that next job? Were you so focused on the one acting job that you were just saying, “Well, providence will provide when I’m done?” Or, were you still going on auditions and still working on the future while you were still-
Matt: Well, you’re talking about faith I think, Gene.
Gene: Faith is it.
Matt: Faith that you… You like to think one thing leads to another. I mean, I’ve had big projects in my past… “Hand That Rocks the Cradle” was a very big turning point for me, in a sense, which was about 30 years ago when that movie made such noise that I rode on those coattails for six or seven years doing other movies. “L.A. Confidential” was like that. And recently other stuff that I’ve done, “Silicon Valley,” “Jack Ryan,” things like that. There are certain projects that sort of hit a different level and people say they want to work with you. I don’t think you can do anything except just do the best work that you can do to then sort of… You’re in the lap of the gods that people are going to pick up on that work and see the work that you’ve done, and they want to work with you. It’s hard to ensure anything down the road except to do the best work that you can do. It’s a goofy business, Gene, it really is.
Gene: It is.
Matt: The unknown.
Gene: I hear that advice from others and it makes sense to such an extent. I mean, you can only control what you can control, right?
Gene: And that’s what you do. And you hope that if you’re doing good work that things…
Matt: I’ve had a series of auditions over the last couple of months where I thought “Well, should I just probably head right to the set after I turn this in?” Our business has gone through a really seismic shift in the last couple of years. COVID changed everything so we’re in a little bit of a silo now. I don’t go into a room anymore to meet people for a job. I love going into a room to meet people. I am in my office putting something on tape and sending it to a producer now. COVID has changed this business, and I don’t know that we’ll ever go back because these producers and directors can see so many more people now with the way that it’s set up. There’s been a real shift in our business.
Matt: In a sense that out there… You spoke about this briefly. What can you do to facilitate the next job? It used to be able that you could go out there and sort of network a little bit, and that networking has changed as well. As I say, I don’t go into a room anymore. That was half the fun for me was just meeting a producer or a director because you never know, if you’re not right for one thing then they’ll keep you in mind maybe for something else down the road.
Gene: Which is a great bit of advice. Even when rejected, even when you’re doing this, the networking is so important. It’s not just in your profession but I think it’s in any profession, it’s all in who you know. The network’s life is like that, isn’t it?
Matt: It has a lot to do with it, Gene. One thing that has changed here with the streaming that we have now within my business, you never know who’s up at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning watching something from four or five years ago or something like that and says, “Geez, that guy would be good, or that gal”… “Geez, I forgot all about them.” With what I do it can change honestly in a single day, things can change. I think that’s the faith I have. I think that’s the hope I have, I like living on that. I mean, it’s all I’ve ever known and it’s all my family’s ever known. I spoke about this with friends just a couple of days ago that our kids never knew when things were slow because Mary and I we would always just find a way to get through it. To this day they don’t know whether dad’s working or is he just really a bum because he seems to be home quite a bit. Dad’s home again.
Gene: Well, I talked to them and I don’t think you want to know what the answer is to that question.
Matt: We tried to maintain a certain level of consistency. I mean, we had three kids. My kids are 35, 33, and 30 now so they’ve got their own families. I think they look back on it now and they’re grateful that they didn’t have to go through what Mary and I were going through.
Gene: Just to speak on that because it’s… What you’ve gone through again, is not uncommon to any independent entrepreneur, any independent freelancer. Tell me what you’ve learned about money as an independent entrepreneur. Because like you said, I mean, there have been times where cash was really tight. If you had to go back and give yourself some cash management lessons what would they have been?
Matt: The one lesson that I learned not that long ago, probably 12 or 13 years ago. I had a business manager for 30 years, the first 30 years of my career, and they were wonderful folks, wonderful folks, but what I did, I disassociated myself with the money. I wasn’t as involved as I should’ve been. They would send, “Here’s what came in” which was smaller than here’s what went out. About 12, 13 years ago, Mary and I took ownership of our money. That would be the advice that I think I would’ve given myself much, much earlier, to be involved and to pay attention. And these folks were wonderful but I wasn’t paying attention.
Gene: Didn’t you find… I mean, when you did take over your financial management that it really wasn’t that big of a mystery. I mean, you figured it out.
Matt: Gene, you’re right on the nose. And they even said to me at the time, this business management firm, they said, “You can do this.” There was a freedom in it as well too. And it was a conversation between Mary and I, “Do you want to do this or do you want me to do this?” Thankfully she said she’d do it. There was a great freedom in it there really was. I felt like my gosh, everything was right in front of us. And that freedom we felt with being in charge was really a wonderful moment, I wished we’d have done it sooner. The timing is what it is. It was a really great, great feeling. You’ve spoken to people in the past that had that same sort of relief?
Gene: Yeah. By the way, I’m an accountant. I’m not that smart a guy, it’s not that hard to do…
Matt: I’m right behind you.
Gene: Accounting and financial management.
Matt: I’ll be behind you, Gene.
Gene: Fair enough. Matt, I have to ask about also when you… Throughout your stages of your career there are different jobs that are presented to you. Were you the guy that took on anything or were you more selective about the roles that you chose? Did you ever find yourself in situations where you were taking risks and doing things that were sort of out of your comfort zone? I’m wondering if… What the result of all of that was?
Matt: There’ve been a couple of those. I mean, I have to be honest with you, Gene, I think turning things down or maybe being a little bit more particular, it was dictated by where I was in my life with jobs and things. I’ll tell you a very quick story. When I got married I moved my wife from New Jersey to… And, by the way, marry a Jersey girl because they’re really pretty wonderful.
Gene: I’m from Philadelphia so I know plenty of Jersey girls.
Matt: Okay. I moved my wife from New Jersey to Los Angeles. Well, she was living in New York at the time. And a month after we got married I got a job back in New York for a month opposite the woman I’d been living with prior to getting married.
Matt: Now my wife said…
Gene: Sounds comfortable.
Matt: “Turn that job down.” I said, “Honey, we’re dealing with very limited talent here so we’re probably going to take this job.” That’s probably what I should’ve turned down and I didn’t. It all worked out great. It’s sort of dictated by the times whether things are slow. I went through a period where I was a little bit more picky after I had success in my… There was probably a little bit more shine on whatever star I’ve ever had. I can’t remember an experience where something that I got involved with turned out badly. I’ve had a really blessed life. I’ve really worked with remarkable people. I’ve never had really bad experiences with folks at all. Now sometimes the project turns out different than you had envisioned it. I’ve been in a couple of projects where I shot what I thought was the script and they’ve changed things afterwards, and that’s been frustrating because the project takes a turn that you didn’t sign on for. Man, I’ve been a lucky guy.
Gene: When you were working for… And again, you’re independent here. These are your customers, the people that are hiring you to do whatever roles that you were doing and the projects that you were working on. How did you deal with people that you did not necessarily get along with or that you disagreed with? Did you find yourself just saying, “Listen, this is just what you got to do to make this person happy?”
Matt: Well, you’re speaking about a producer or director or somebody like that.
Gene: I am.
Matt: With what I do, Gene, it’s a very collaborative effort. I know that I’m no more important than the makeup artist. I mean, you’re put in a little bit of a silo as an actor, you’re the one that’s in front of the camera. I really try to keep in mind that I’m no more important than anybody on the set because it is such a collaborative effort. All of these people that are around me are there to make me look good whether it’s the DP or whether it’s the grip or the makeup or hair or anything like that. I know how lucky I am. I know how lucky I am to be in the position that I’m in. You’re always going to have disagreements with directors because you’re going to have a vision of how a scene should play out and maybe he has a different version… Or vision of that.
Matt: The collaboration is really what I find more wonderful than anything else because we’re all working towards something, we’re all working towards a goal here. If I can contribute in that way and… An actor’s there to really serve the director, we really are, he’s the one that’s been living with it. And the writer, which we desperately want to come back to work here. I’m there to serve the script, and the director, and hopefully make the project better.
Gene: Great attitude to have. I only have a couple more questions for you. I mean, you’ve been great and…
Matt: Love this.
Gene: Well, your insights are just so valuable to me personally, and I know also to our audience. One thing I didn’t ask you about… And again, we’re talking business owner to business owner here is your competition. I mean, I have some clients that ring their hands over their competition, I have some clients that ignore their competition, I have some clients that study their competition. Over the years, how have you dealt with other actors that going after the same roles as you where that you might have won or lost out to them? How have you dealt with your competition?
Matt: Well, I don’t know that I’ve ever looked at it as competition. There are so many ways, Gene, that… There’s so many reasons why you don’t get the job. And 99 times out of 100 I think any producer or director or casting director would tell you, it has nothing to do with the work that you did, it’s you’re too tall or you’re too short or you’re too heavy or you’re blonde or you’re a little too old or I’m going to hire my cousin. There’s so many things… There are so many variables within my business. I’ve got friends that say, “I don’t know how anybody gets a job because it’s really hard to get a job.” I came up with a lot of great folks that are just killing it out there. Bryan Cranston won. Bryan and I started together back in the early 80s together. Bryan is out there doing so many wonderful things, and boy, it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy, he’s just aces he really is.
Matt: I don’t think I’ve looked at it as competition. You do the work, you do the best that you can do on the day, and you really have to forget it because… And a lot of times I’ve been so lucky that really things have come back to me as a yes and as we’d certainly like to work with you. But I think you have to look at the work that you put in on that day as you did the best you could let it go. And that’s taken me a while to learn as well, Gene, that’s not something… I’m not speaking like this was a can of corn. I’m speaking with having been in the business as long as I’ve been in it I don’t think I’d trade that youth for the wisdom that I have now because the wisdom serves me far better.
Gene: It’s funny I feel the same way. I mean, I’m in my late 50s now and it is… I wouldn’t want to be 30 years younger, I really… You feel…
Matt: I’m with you, right?
Gene: Right. I mean, as long as you have your health. I mean, just knowing what now you view the world that much differently and with so much more peace than when I was that much younger. I don’t know if you feel the same way.
Matt: Boy, you’re speaking the truth there. There is a peace that comes with age. Are you a married guy? A family, kids?
Gene: Yeah. Same as you, I have three kids as well. And that’s the other thing. I look at people that have young kids and I think of all the issues that they go through, all the things that are coming down their way, and you’re going to get through it and you’ll enjoy it, right, but it’s good that…
Matt: Well, my kids have kids now. My son has three. We just had a new granddaughter last week…
Matt: Up in the Seattle… Thank you.
Gene: I’m envious.
Matt: And my daughter has two. My youngest is getting married in November here in Los Angeles, very small. I look at my son with three and he’s 35. I mean, I’ve been there, you’ve been there. This grandparenting’s a pretty good gig because…
Gene: It is.
Matt: We’re all in and then we’re all out. But I look at him and I try to talk to him. He’s a really wonderful kid and we’re very, very close, I was the best man at his wedding. I think if you could pick a better day I don’t know that you could pick one better than that to be your son’s best man. You sort of forget to don’t you Gene when you look back? When I look at my son and my daughter…
Gene: It’s a blur.
Matt: Taking care of these kids, I turn to Mary and I go, “Man, how did we do it?” You just do it and you forget how you did it.
Gene: I know, I know.
Matt: Every day is like Groundhog Day. We’ve really been really blessed too with the partners our kids have chosen. And hopefully, you’ll realize that one day too with your kids if you haven’t already. They really…
Gene: We’re in the midst of experiencing that as well and so far so good. I mean, wrapping things up, Matt. You’ve done great, right? I mean, you have lived a great life, you’ve been very successful as an actor. I mean, you have a lot to be grateful for. And you’ve managed to balance your work and your family life somehow in a really difficult profession, a very demanding profession. Whereas here you are at this point in your life and everyone is together in good shape. My question is… And there’s no one answer to this, but what advice do you have for others that are in demanding professions like yours, that also have demands of their families and their personal lives to sort of keep it all together? What did you do over the past 30 years or what combination of things did you do that worked for you to get you to where you are now?
Matt: Oh boy, Gene. I put it off to dumb luck. I would put it off to…
Gene: No, you’re going to give a better answer than that. It can’t be all dumb luck.
Matt: I put it off to the marriage that I’m in, the relationship that I’m in. I would also put it off to surrounding myself with like people like myself. I’ve got some remarkable people in my life. There’s an old saying, “If you want to smell sweet you surround yourself with the seller of perfume.” I have got those people around me every day of my life. People that think like I do, want to help anybody they can help in any way which is… I live my life with gratitude from the second I get up in the morning until when I go to bed because I know what I have, I don’t take for granted what I have. I’ve ridden myself of people that don’t live that way.
Matt: Gratitude is the only way to go. Going out of your way for somebody is the straightest path I know. That’s where I start my day and it’s where I end my day. I’m the luckiest guy, Gene, you’ll ever meet. My luck took an even greater turn with the folks from The Hartford, and I mean that sincerely. You’re looking at really the luckiest guy in the world.
Gene: Well, Matt, thank you so much for joining me. I loved our conversation, I learned a lot as a business owner.
Matt: You’re very nice, I don’t know about that.
Gene: Really nice to chat.
Matt: I really enjoyed talking to you, I could talk to you all day. You’re an accountant, you have a small business as well? I mean, you’re a business owner.
Gene: I do. I have 10 employees. It’s a financial services firm outside of Philadelphia. I’ve been doing that for about 25 years and loving it. We have that much in common is that we both have good, strong family lives with good spouses, and good kids, and all that.
Matt: Great. And good people around.
Gene: And good people around, it’s really important. Matt, thank you very much we really appreciate your time.
Matt: Gene, thank you so much for reaching out it meant the world to me and I appreciate it so much.
Gene: Good thing. Hold on for a minute. Everybody, I’ve been speaking to Matt McCoy, an actor and a spokesperson for The Hartford. Everyone, thank you so much for joining us. My name is Gene Marks, you have been watching and listening to the Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. If you need any help or tips or advice in running your business please join us at smallbizahead.com or SBA.thehartford.com. Again, thanks. We will see you again soon, take care. Thanks so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Hartford Small Biz Ahead podcast. If you like what you hear please give us a shout-out on your favorite podcast platform. Your ratings, reviews, and your comments really help us formulate our topics and help us grow this podcast. So thank you so much it’s been great spending time with you. We’ll see you again soon.
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