In 2007, actress Andrene Ward-Hammond was working in sales when she learned she had a tumor. She couldn’t get health insurance, reassessed her career and turned to improv comedy as a way of supporting herself. Ward-Hammond decided that if she underwent a surgery that could kill her, would she feel she was living her best life?
“You’ve only got one life, and if you let someone dictate how you’re going to live your life, you’re going to be completely miserable,” Ward-Hammond told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman on March 1 during a panel discussion at the Savannah College of Art and Design. “Wake up tomorrow morning, no matter what it is. Shoot, you can always restart. The next minute you have is a restart for yourself.”
Ward-Hammond — whose credits include “Atlanta,” “Star” and the Oscar-nominated film “Loving” — agreed with her fellow panelists at TheWrap’s Breaking Into the Business Live series that passion is crucial whether you’re pursuing a career in entertainment or anything else.
“When you get to that red carpet, it’s amazing, but it’s not what you think it is,” Ward-Hammond said. “There will be lonely moments sometime. So make sure that what you’re doing really is for the passion, because you’ll have seven, eight-month lulls where you question everything. Is this really it?”
Steve Mensch, president and general manager of studio operations for Tyler Perry Studios, said he had a similar revelation in his life that convinced him he needed to follow his own path. His father worked in a job where he was counting the days until his retirement, and he passed away just weeks before he could. Mensch didn’t want to feel the same.
“I never want to get up and dread work,” Mensch said. “The message is, you need to love what you do, especially in this business. If you don’t, there are so many people who want the job that you want. It can’t feel like work. You can’t be looking at your watch and going, ‘God, when do we wrap?'”
Ward-Hammond has instilled the same mentality in her daughter Tyla Harris, a 17-year-old actress who so far has appeared in the series “Six” and “Kevin (Probably) Saves the World.” Harris was born into the acting world, but she still had to fight for her place in it.
“I do understand that I have to show this is my passion,” Harris said. “Because even if you get grandfathered, you still have to put in the work to get past that, because no one is going to go off a cute face.”
Ward-Hammond said though that part of pursuing your goals means overcoming your fears and insecurities. As a minority in the entertainment industry, she had doubts about her hair, her body, how she looked on camera and her image in general.
“I discovered that I’m OK with where I am and how I feel about myself when I look in the mirror, because there’s only one of me,” Ward-Hammond said. “Everybody in here has a special gift, a special talent that I don’t think that we all take advantage of, because we’re told it’s not the best route, that it’s not the smartest thing to do.”
Wherever you are in your career, you can reset and find the thing that’s right for you, even if that job is, as Ward-Hammond pointed out, a “professional cuddler” that can make $80,000 a year.
“Whether or not it made me money or not, I wanted to make sure that the quality of work I put out was solid so that it came back to me,” Ward-Hammond said. “Every time you feel like you’ve made a mistake, you always have an opportunity to do something else. Every second is an opportunity to redo. Start again, and start doing it in the direction that makes you most happy.”
Watch a clip from TheWrap’s Breaking Into the Business Live event above.