With more than 30 years in the industry and big-name credits like Hidden Figures and The Color Purple under her name, Maria Howell has learned a thing or two about the business along the way. She also knows the voice-acting world and has worked on both Minecraft: Story Mode and Final Fantasy XV: Comrades. Howell’s familiar with the business behind the camera as well. She recently executive-produced the short Bewildered, in which she starred opposite Keith David. Howell also has a passion for giving back, which includes encouraging and advising other actors. She sat down with Casting Networks to share her thoughts on how to have a strong acting career.
1. Know Yourself
“Know who you are and trust that you’re the best ‘you’ possible. I know who I am, and it helps me make better decisions on what I will and will not do. I won’t take just anything. I turn things down because I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror and be okay with what I see. People may criticize that and say that I’m not truly an actor because I have too many restrictions. But I’ve been doing it for 34 years and have been consistently working during that time. My values are my values, so nobody should try to project onto me what they should be. So know who you are and have your personal integrity.”
2. Know Your Calling
“Even as a kid, I knew that my calling was to help people and to encourage them. So as I navigated through life, that was always a part of what I was doing. I wasn’t thinking, ‘I gotta be all rich and famous for the purpose of being rich and famous.’ I want to be successful so that I can help people. Knowing your calling ensures that your life will be purposeful. A career in the industry gives you a platform, so use it.”
3. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
“When I feel that little envy monster coming up, I hurry up and shut that down. I don’t compare myself to others because it wastes time. I once auditioned for a national commercial, and my close friend went in for the same role. She booked it. I went and prayed about it and realized that she was meant to get it. I’d booked national spots before, but this was her first. So I was genuinely happy for her, and it freed me up in my energy. The next national commercial I auditioned for, I booked. And I know it was because of my attitude adjustment.”
4. Learn the Business of the Craft
“There are the basics, like knowing your skillset and where you fit in the industry. We’re not all meant to do the same thing. The business side of things can range from doing your research before an audition to knowing how to do your taxes properly. There’s a lot to the business of the craft, which also includes networking. The idea is not to just collect business cards. It’s about building relationships and being patient as they develop. One example is when I met Keith David when we worked together on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles back in the ’90s. Over the years since then, we developed a friendship. Then last year, we got to star opposite each other in Bewildered because the director, Gregor Wilson, also worked in production on The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and he wrote the lead characters for us. So when it comes to building relationships, it needs to be genuine. Can you ask them about their kids? Do you know what type of cheesecake they like? I can tell you that Keith likes pumpkin!”
5. Give Back from the Get-Go
“Start giving back now so that you have the pattern in place as you proceed in your career. Because that’s what life is all about: helping each other. I’ve always had a heart for my hometown of Gastonia, North Carolina. Even when I was first starting out, I would go back there and speak at my old high school. I would read stories on tape and give them to students at my former elementary school as a part of its literacy program. So don’t wait. Even if you think that what you’re doing is the most minuscule thing, you don’t know who it’ll inspire. I have had people come back years later and tell me that they remember me speaking at their school.”
Actors who take Howell’s words to heart will be able to develop a strong sense of self in an ever-changing industry. They can identify their callings and avoid the trap of comparison. Along the way, true friendships can be formed and people can be inspired. And who knows? If you follow Howell’s advice, you may find yourself starring opposite Keith David one day, debating the best flavor of cheesecake.