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Meet Trailblazer Gillian Cooper

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gillian Cooper.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Performing has always been a huge part of my life. I was born and raised in San Francisco where, in addition to being your typical kid, I trained as an aerial contortionist and mime in a pre-professional circus troupe until I was 14. I was also involved in theater and dance in middle and high school and after I graduated, I moved to New York to study acting at the Tisch School of the Arts through the Atlantic Acting School. I only stayed in NY for a year before transferring to the University of Southern California and moving back to the better coast. After graduating in 2015, I stayed in LA (I currently live in Venice which I loooove with a roommate and my dog, a cockapoo names Chewbacca) to pursue my career in the entertainment industry. In addition to my acting career, I’m a writer, mainly screenplays and poetry, I do some modeling, work in casting and am a studio coordinator at Rumble Boxing in West Hollywood. I’m very lucky to have a “day job” that I love but acting and writing is my dream and I certainly don’t have a back-up plan.

Has it been a smooth road?
In some ways yes and in some ways no. I’m extremely lucky and grateful that I was raised by two loving parents that supported my dreams of pursuing a creative career. They were able to put me through college where I studied acting, even though it’s what some might consider majoring in “unemployment” and continue to support to me as I pursue acting and writing full time. From the outside, it might seem like it’s been smooth sailing for me but I think it is important to not compare our struggles to anyone else’s. Your pain is yours and yours alone. Just because something isn’t as “big of a deal” doesn’t make it any less real or visceral to you when you’re going through it. That is something I’ve struggled with a lot because despite how lucky I have been, my road has certainly been rough at times.

I’ve struggled with anxiety for a really long time. The first time I can remember it getting bad was around my freshman year of high school but after being sexually assaulted when I was 17, which also triggered a bout of PTSD that when undiagnosed for many years, my anxiety skyrocketed and I began to struggle with depression. For years, I struggled in silence. It took me about four years until I eventually got into therapy to help me deal with them and it hasn’t been until recently that I’ve really been comfortable talking about any of it. I did a lot of talk therapy as well as EMDR which is a trauma treatment often used for PTSD that tricks your brain into re-living and re-processing the event. It took me 8 years to get to this place but the more I talk about it, the more I realize how many other people are struggling with similar issues (especially when it comes to millennials and anxiety but that’s a different conversation haha). Even though I’ve come a long way, I still have bad days filled with anxiety for reasons that are hard to pinpoint and new experiences can trigger old wounds.

This past Thanksgiving, after only a short 4-week long battle with extremely aggressive pancreatic cancer my Dad died. He was in fantastic health and the doctors were preparing us for some long years filled with chemotherapy and radiation to treat cancer they thought he had a good chance of beating. Instead, his health deteriorated over the course of a weekend and he died only 4 days after his first chemotherapy treatment. It was shocking, and devastating, flipping my whole world upside down in the blink of an eye. And with it, my depression came back. Grief is a weird emotion and I’ve found that it doesn’t show up in the places or times I would have thought. I’m trying to be better about sitting with my emotions during this whole process than I would have in the past. Really trying to figure out why I’m feeling a certain way and let myself experience it instead of trying to push past it. I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to be sad, the opposite of what our society tells us. I’ve also found that turning to things like meditation and breathwork has been extremely helpful. Trying to push through these emotions and tell myself I’m okay won’t make them go away. I have to feel them. I miss my Dad every day, but I am also so grateful for everything that he gave to me and the life he created. He really shaped me into the person I am today and gave me the drive to follow my dream.

I would also argue that anyone, in any creative field, would say it’s a constant struggle. I am constantly being rejected and I would be lying if I said that it never weighed me down. The best way I’ve been able to explain it to friends is that day after day, week after week, I walk into a job interview, am at my most vulnerable and put my heart on the line, and if I’m lucky I get a no (majority of the time you just don’t hear anything). People will tell you that you need to develop a thick skin, but really I think I’ve had to learn to let go. Rather than holding on to the outcome of my audition, I’ve had to learn to walk into the room, do my best and leave it at that. I trust that I am on the path I am supposed to be on, and as hard as it is at times, I have to also trust that the right things are coming to me at the right time. I guess that is my biggest piece of advice to people starting this journey and in life. In many ways, it’s the biggest thing I’ve learned from my dad’s death. To let go and just be present.

Please tell us more about what you do, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I think the biggest through line in everything that I’ve decided to do with my life is story. I really like to think of myself as a storyteller more than anything. I think storytelling as an art form, in all of its’ forms, acting, writing, poetry, music, is so important to society. Life, being a human being with consciousness, is this weird dichotomy. It can feel so singular, so overwhelming, we forget about those around us, that they can relate, empathize, and understand, but at the same time all we want is a connection. Art and storytelling have gotten me through the darkest of times – when I thought that the weight of the world would crush me – because it has the power to remind me that I’m not alone in it. I think it is so important for us to tell stories and start conversations that might be hard to talk about, to forage connection, and remind people that they aren’t alone. As artists, it is our responsibility to heal humanity. That is a huge thing to take on, which is why I think to make it in this profession your heart has to be 150% in it. But without people ready and willing to do that, I think we would be lost. I certainly know I would be.

So far, my personal career has been very acting focused. I mainly do film and TV although I would love to perform in a play on Broadway one day. I’ve done commercials and branded content for companies like Buzzfeed and Wendy’s, Target, and Google, short films that have done runs on the festival circuit and one that was produced by Amazon Prime TV, several web series and a lead role in my first indie feature that is currently in post-production and will hopefully also do a run on the festival circuit. Recently, I’ve moved into screenwriting and I think creating your own content is fantastic. I just finished a short film script that I am in pre-production for, which is a proof of concept for a larger, somewhat autobiographical, feature that I am beginning to write. I’m proud of everything that I have accomplished up to this point but there is so much more than I want to do and I am very excited for what the future has in store.

Which women have inspired you in your life?
This is such a hard question to answer because there are so many incredible women that have inspired me and I feel like I continue to find new ones each day. I think I’m inspired by people that aren’t afraid to chase their dreams and live in their authenticity. Rachel McAdams, Danielle Bernstein, Gretta Gerwig, Brené Brown, Lacy Phillips, Oprah, my mom, etc., etc. I feel like every amazing woman I have in my life from friends to family, to actresses I look up to has some quality that inspires me to want to be a better version of my self.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Personal Photo – Jared Thomas Kocka, White Flowers – Jon Snip

Getting in touch: VoyageLA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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