Girl Friday: Christine Lakin
Photography by: Isabelle Ratane
Pint-size talent Christine Lakin has a consistently positive attitude after a couple of decades working in television, as well as the endless creativity to generate her own content. At age 12 she landed the role of Al on “Step By Step,” who she played for a successful seven season run. An incredibly talented musical theater performer, she appeared in the stage versions of “Heathers” and Silence!” (of the Lambs), the film “Reefer Madness,” as well as choreographing for TV shows such as “True Blood.” She is a voiceover artist on “Family Guy,” a host on “The Soup Investigates,” a judge on “Internet Icon” as well as the creator of web series “Lovin’ Lakin” and the stage series “Worst Ever.” And that’s only a portion of her resume. Are you as exhausted as I am?! Her boundless energy endears her to everyone she meets and her tips for staying strong in a creative field will inspire you to get out there and create magic in your own life.
You’re one of the few child stars who was able to transcend the typical cliché traps (sex, drugs & rock n roll, anyone?). So many child stars have a difficult time transitioning to adulthood. What do you think it is about your upbringing and personality that allowed you to find post-teen success and stability?
Aw shucks. Well, really it’s all about keeping the heavy drug use off Instagram for starters… kidding, kidding. I’ve been told I’m very “normal” and I think that’s a pretty big compliment as most folks who meet me for the first time probably expect me to be that typical child actor cliché. Let’s be honest, anyone in this line of work, (or any line of work), could end up a hot mess. Young actors have the added complication these days of making every mistake/drunken episode/tough moment public– whether they like it or not, which I didn’t have, thankfully. Being an artist in particular is a roller coaster job, full of great joys and utter rejections, where you’re called to time and time again, to access deep vulnerability and fearlessness only to be told you’re “too fat” or “too short” or “not blond enough” or “too blonde.” I mean, the list goes on.
Fame is fleeting. Success comes and goes. Save your money, do what makes you happy and remember that life is more important than show business.
How anyone makes it through that forest, ripe for disaster and self-sabotage is a feat in itself! For me anyway, I guess it’s a variety of things. First off, acting and performing was always my choice, not my parents. I was never pushed into the entertainment business, never stage-mom-ed or stolen from (all horrible things for a child to endure from the very people who are supposed to protect them). My parents have always been incredibly supportive, if not optimistically cautious, when it came to “The Biz.” Being an only child, they gave me many opportunities to follow my dreams while always maintaining that the most important things were family and school. Academics were paramount in my house and I was expected to go to a difficult academy and get good grades, first and foremost. The rest of it, (performing, career, etc.), was the “fun stuff.” And that’s the other thing– it should be FUN as a child. If it ever felt like work, we walked away. So it was always my decision. And times where I maybe got a bit big for my britches, walking away from it all was the obvious solution. Which of course, I never wanted to lose. Granted, once I was older I had to reinvent myself and in a way, start over again. I had to reestablish relationships with casting and new producers, and make adult decisions about whether to stay in this crazy business or not- which can present a whole other host of problems for people. I guess for me, my entire self-worth was never wrapped up in it. While I absolutely love it and am most happiest when I’m working, I also value having a real life. Fame is fleeting. Success comes and goes. Save your money, do what makes you happy and remember that life is more important that show business. (Garry Marshall coined that one.)
You’re the creative mind and producer behind the wonderfully raw stage series, “Worst Ever.” How did you get the idea to share an actor’s most embarrassing moments with a live audience and what’s your favorite thing about the show?
I was sitting around with a bunch of my artist friends one night having some beers, (naturally,) and we all started commiserating about some of the worst auditions we had gone on. For people who aren’t actors, imagine going on several job interviews where you are required to pretend to be someone else, multiple times a week, for the rest of your life. It’s probably the most vulnerable, cringe-worthy experience at times. No one relishes a job interview! That’s the work! The “job” is the fun! These stories were so insane, you couldn’t make them up. Painful tears of laughter were streaming down my face as story after story–all more embarrassing and humiliating than the next–kept coming. And I thought, this is cathartic.
Painful tears of laughter were streaming down my face as story after story – all more embarrassing and humiliating than the next- kept coming.
This is raw and dark and funny and HONEST and for some reason makes me feel completely better about all the awkward or terrifying moments in my creative life. So I found a little theater in the basement of a Mexican restaurant and asked all these brave souls to come and share one night. I pulled images – some from people’s real lives, some from the internet – and projected them behind the performers, giving the stories some life and reference. Added some music and, BAM! A show was born. We have a cult-like status, having run three years now. My partner, Alec, and I produce every story inside and out at my kitchen table about all kinds of awful stuff, because let’s be honest: There’s a lot of embarrassing to go around: dates, jobs, breakups, family, vacations, holidays, auditions, etc. The thing I love about this show is that it humanizes being human. We all make mistakes. Or have terrible situations thrust upon us. If you can’t laugh at pain, (albeit with strangers over cocktails), what can you do?! I’m so proud of this show and all the laughter it’s given me and our audiences. The LA Times said it was like “theater therapy” and I guess to some degree that’s true! Hell, I think any laughter is great therapy. Life is hard. Let’s laugh together about it! We’re finally making a TV pilot this summer and I couldn’t be more excited to see that dream realized. If you’ve ever felt awkward, embarrassed or shamed, I guarantee, you aren’t the first.
You had a self-created web show called Lovin’ Lakin, (a comedy in the vein of The Office), are a judge on Internet Icon and I just worked with you on another comedy project called “Valet.” What draws you to working in an online format and what advice would you have for other women who want to create their own web content?
The web is the wild west, ladies! Strap on your camera and get out there! I have found so much joy and creative fulfillment in making my own content. Probably because for once I had total control. I could make the brand of comedy I wanted to make. Not only is it more accessible than it’s ever been by means of high quality, low cost cameras and editing, but there are a ton of platforms to have your work seen. It’s like putting yourself through a film school crash course. I learn on every project what I can do better, and I strive to do just that.
The web is the wild west, ladies! Strap on your camera and get out there!
In terms of be successful on the internet, there are multiple factors that can determine that. Like with anything, it’s all about viewership. How do I get people to click away from cat videos on YouTube and watch my show? My advice is know your audience first and foremost. If you’re making a show that caters to 30-something women, the platform you use to market should be accessible to them and you have to continue to push your audience to see it. People are busy-, and the internet is FULL of content now, so that’s the biggest uphill battle. However, a web series can also live forever. People are still finding “Lovin’ Lakin” and nothing makes me happier than getting a tweet or a Facebook [message] about it. Also, with “Lovin’ Lakin” we were lucky enough to get picked up by Hulu and still have the ability to self distribute on YouTube. But that didn’t stop me from entering in web festivals all over. These are great ways to get your work seen, connect with collaborators and other content makers and sometimes, garner an award or two for your project- which can also help you market and sell your show. Some of these fests also have deals now with major networks and cable outlets. It’s very much the independent world of television all over again, which is exciting. I was lucky enough to win at the LA Webfest and got to travel to Marseilles last year to their webfest, which was an incredible journey. I screened at a castle for godsake! A castle! I felt so fancy! More than anything, keep people’s attention. Make it interesting and do something different.
You’re newly engaged! (Yay, congratulations!) Do you plan to have children and have you and your fiancé talked about how you’ll balance raising a family with two artistic careers?
Thank you! The next adventure and best thing I’m about to embark on. Wow, that’s a loaded question isn’t it? I do want children, I always have. I’m slightly terrified about how to juggle that balancing act quite frankly. All my friends have kids now and I have no delusions about how all-consuming parenting can be. We are both artists, which is awesome schedule-wise and terrifying financially, haha. I think you just make it work, sorry to sound trite. I hope that some of these creative aspirations as a producer will pay off in the next few years for me and give me a *tad* bit more structure. My fiancé also draws and illustrates, which is presumably something he can do from home, which could be ideal and something we’d both be happy with. I love what I do and certainly don’t want to give up my career. I’m also keenly aware that the decision to become a parent is inevitably the biggest decision one can make. And with that comes great sacrifices and saying “no” to things and putting your family first sometimes to the (annoying) disappointment of your own ego or life or career or whatever. And frankly, I’ve had enough of me. I’ve been ‘me-focused’ for enough time now. I’m ready to give some little one the spotlight in my life.
If you weren’t in the media business, what do you think you’d most likely be doing?
I’d love to own a pizza joint in a small town. That’s a fantasy of mine. Limited menu, seasonal ingredients, beer and wine and live music on the porch out back! That sounds like a dream to me. I think if I wasn’t acting I’d likely still be doing something on the other side, even if it was working for a studio or corporate marketing. I’m definitely a creative type, not a numbers person. I could see myself teaching too. I really enjoy connecting with people and kids specifically.
You’re also an incredibly talented musical theater performer, (appearing in Reefer Madness, choreographing numerous stage shows and killin it as Jodie Foster’s character in the stage comedy Silence! The Musical). How do you find the time to keep up your chops with everything else you have on your plate?
Ahh! Thank you, it’s hard! Musical theater performing is so demanding physically. When I was doing “Silence!”, (one of the best roles I’ve ever had the chance to play), I had to be really careful with my voice. You basically have to be boring–not go out late, get enough sleep, drink water, not drink alcohol, stop talking on the phone. I mean, it’s a lot of dedication especially when you’re on a show schedule and getting home late, yet getting up early and living other lives during the day. I can’t say I’m constantly as dedicated as I should be when I’m not performing, but sort of like athletes, it’s a mindset you have to get into quickly. You have to train your body/voice like it’s spring training and just get serious about it. But I love live theater more than anything. I am secretly such a theater rat. I’m definitely an actor first and a dancer and singer second and third. I’m in utter awe of people who are true triple threats. That’s just too much talent for anyone to possess.
Let’s be real — you’re in ridiculously good shape. Your legs — c’mon. Why is fitness an important part of your life and what do you do to keep in such great form?
I have gone through the gamut of workouts and diet crazes in my 20s and I finally just stopped all that nonsense. It’s really very simple: eat well and move. If you do things you like that don’t feel like exercise or torture, you’re more likely to do them more often. I have always loved to dance. It’s an awesome release and it feels so good! I do barre classes like Cardio Barre, which are super hard but great low impact exercise and feel like a ballet class to me. I also LOVE Ryan Heffington’s Sweaty Sundays class. It’s incredible and sweaaaaaaty! People in a room all beating to their own drum. I’s good times. I hike with my fiancé and the dog, and I love yoga. It’s become a spiritual practice for me in the last 13 years since I started. It keeps me grounded and centered, limber and strong. I also don’t beat myself up for days I miss a workout. (Hey, I’m busy!) Even if a 15-minute walk is all I can do, that’s surely something! I love to cook too, and thankfully, my fiance is really good at cutting and prepping so that’s something we do together. I get a box of farm veggies delivered once a month from a company called Farm Fresh To You and it’s really great, fresh organic stuff.
I always admire your confidence and upbeat attitude. Can you talk a little bit about staying secure in a business that often seems to be built on insecurity?
It’s not easy all the time. As I touched on earlier, this biz is a roller coaster that isn’t built on fairness. (Or even talent. Okay, I said it!) In fact, there’s always someone younger or prettier or better connected.. blah blah blah. I get down like anyone else, especially if I loose a role or get close on a show and it falls through. Of course that’s disappointing and heartbreaking. It wouldn’t be if I didn’t love what I do. A good therapist now and then is awesome. I totally believe in talking out your fears before they get the best of you or the people you love. Bourbon also helps.
A good therapist now and then is awesome. I totally believe in talking out your fears before they get the best of you or the people you love. Bourbon also helps.
In all seriousness, I usually allow a day of feeling sorry for myself and then I move on. Life is forward motion, always. We don’t have control over every decision that is made on our behalf but we can control how we react to the outcomes. And at the end of the day, if it’s not fun, let’s not do it! Life it too short, friends. It’s also why I’ve branched into other aspects of creativity and performing because there’s always something else on the horizon and it’s a lot easier not to be too consumed with negativity when one thing doesn’t pan out if you’ve got three or four others to focus on.
What are your favorite style tips for other petite girls like you?
Being petite can be tricky. The fit and the scale are always an issue. I know what brands generally work for me and I gravitate there. A good tailor is also a must, as is a good bra and a wearable heel. I’m a big fan of the wedge. Since I’m so short, I wear heels a lot and that’s taxing on your ankles and feet. A wedge or a platform heel is a lifesaver. Plus if you’ve got a long torso or long legs for your height, make the most of what’s long, and you’ll always look just a little bit taller. I’m currently also bringing back the jean jacket. I have one I love so much, (American Eagle), I bought it in two washes. It’s slightly cropped and fitted. Same with a classic navy blazer–I have a great one from J. Crew. It goes with everything and can dress up or dress down an outfit. I’m also careful with accessories. Because man, I LOVE me some big earrings! Must be a tiny girl thing. If you’re going to wear a big earring, watch the rest of it. An earring and a lip is plenty. More than that and it starts to become a costume.
What are the most important lessons you’ve learned from your career? From your personal life?
Do what you love. Whether you get paid or not, always do something you love. Create the life you envision, because you richly deserve it. You’re only competing with yourself and supporting and connecting your friends and colleagues is a win as much for you as it is for them. Don’t try to be superhuman- human is much richer and rewarding.
Don’t try to be superhuman – human is much richer and more rewarding.
Money isn’t everything and simplicity can feel like freedom. Look up. Turn off your phone once in awhile. Get out of town and breathe clean air. Make your friends a priority because for many of us, they are our surrogate families. Make time for your family because they are the only one you’ve got and that matters a lot. Live the most authentic life you can in love, in business, creatively, personally and in relationships. That can mean saying “no thank you” sometimes, which can also feel like freedom. Always talk it out. Don’t be afraid of “I’m sorry” and above all, get to know yourself honestly and get to like that person. Because I guarantee others will feel the same.
Girl Friday is a phrase more common to the 1940s and 50s, defined as “a female employee who has a wide range of duties,” and is most recognizable from the film His Girl Friday. Here at Move LifeStyle, we’re resurrecting its saucy vibe for the title of our last column of the week which profiles inspiring women in the workforce. For more inspiring stories, click here for more Girl Friday Interviews.