The confidence to act
By the time she was four years old, Mandy McMillian ’97 knew she wanted to act, but she kept the dream to herself. “It’s kind of like saying you want to be a princess; many people don’t take you seriously when you say you want to be an actress,” she said. “But by the time I was in the sixth grade, I knew it firmly and never really let it go.”
McMillian’s determination led the Independence, Ky., native to Los Angeles, where she has lived since graduating from Transylvania, carving out a career as a working actress. Her work has progressed from appearances, and then starring roles, in commercials to parts in popular television series and movies, but her favorite acting job so far was the Tylenol Cold commercial that enabled her to join the Screen Actor’s Guild, a necessity for working actors in L.A. “I couldn’t be a serious actor without it. I screamed and cried and jumped up and down with my roommate while my agent was on the phone, just shaking with excitement,” she said.
After getting her start in commercials for companies such as Office Depot and Buick, as well as Tylenol Cold, McMillian began getting roles in television series and a TV movie. She has appeared on the NBC series Medical Investigation and Las Vegas, the NBC soap Passions, the CBS series The Unit, and the CW network’s Gilmore Girls. She also played a supporting role in the Hallmark Hall of Fame Movie of the Week Our House with Doris Roberts.
McMillian’s decision to move to L.A. was a natural one. Her friend Stacie Walker ’97 was planning to attend graduate school in California, and the two traveled together. “We moved out without knowing a soul. We just packed up whatever would fit in our cars and drove cross-country. We found an apartment at the end of the first day we looked and started from scratch. We had one folding chair, a microwave, a phone, and a TV that sat on the floor. We had nothing, but we were very happy.”
When it came to life in L.A., McMillian wasn’t sure what to expect. “I came here thinking, ‘Okay, I can act, where do I go?’ It literally took me years to figure it out and I’m still working on it,” she said. “It’s a very complicated business. There are acting classes galore, but there’s really not a place to learn ‘the business of the business.’ I’m getting the hang of it and playing the game better now.”
Although she did some acting prior to college, McMillian credits her Transy drama major for providing the background she needed to pursue her goals. The intimate nature of the drama program allowed her to be involved in almost every theatrical production that took place while she was a student.
“I have friends who went to larger schools with giant theater departments, but they got lost in the shuffle,” she said. “I had lots of acting under my belt by the time I graduated, and Dr. (Tim) Soulis emphasized the educational aspect of the program. Realizing that you can always learn from a situation is helpful in any aspect of life.”
McMillian’s recollections of performing in Carrick Theater (she graduated before the Lucille C. Little Theater was built) are emotional. Her last performance at Transy was in a starring role as Golde in Fiddler on the Roof in Haggin Auditorium, and one of McMillian’s fondest memories. “Connecting to a sold-out audience in that gigantic auditorium was amazing,” she said. “That connection is everything. It’s why actors do what we do. I get misty just thinking about it.”
These days, McMillian’s main career goal is simple—she wants to continue to work. “Specifically, I’d love to get on a sitcom,” she said. “Ideally that would be my regular gig, with the occasional movie during hiatus, but when it comes down to it, I want to be a paid, working actor. That’s it.”
In addition to sitcoms, McMillian would love to do a horror flick. “I had the privilege of working on a short film with a talented up-and-comer in the horror world, Paul Solet. I had an absolute blast on that shoot and loved all the fake gore. So now I’m itching to be a zombie or get eaten by a zombie or something fabulously disgusting like that.”
McMillian cautioned, however, that a career in acting isn’t easy. “This is a tough business and so many people get discouraged and give up,” she said. “My advice to an aspiring actor would be, if there’s something else that will make you just as happy, do that. If not, pursue this career with everything you’ve got and stay positive. There will always be roles you’re too fat for, too thin for, too ugly for, too pretty for. You can’t let that stuff get to you. Your confidence has to come from you—not cockiness, confidence.”
McMillian has no plans to leave L.A. “The fact is, the business is here,” she said. “This is where the jobs are. I’d love for this to take me around the world, though. And, someday I want to perform on Broadway. I don’t know how it will happen yet, but it will happen.”