José "Tony" García is an actor who made the move from Chicago to L.A. earlier this year. His recent credits include Superstore, The Chi, Proven Innocent, Empire, Chicago P.D., Chicago Med, and Shameless, among others. He also heads up the Instagram account The Practical Actor where he provides acting advice and guidance. Tony and I met a few years ago while working together as interns at a casting office, and recently I interviewed him to learn more about his decision to move from Chicago to Los Angeles.
José Antonio García
How long did you live in Chicago before moving to LA?
I had two "Acts" in Chicago. I first lived there from 2003-2008, then from 2011-2020. We moved down to Houston in 2008 to be closer to [my wife] Sarah’s family and for a change of pace. We quickly realized we missed Chicago terribly as well as all the friends we still had there, so we moved back just in time for Snowpocalypse in 2011. Good times!
What do you miss most about Chicago?
The CTA, believe it or not. We sold our car back in 2013 and pretty much lived off the CTA and Lyft. LA has public transit, but it's just not as efficient. We have a car now and it's great, but I do miss being able to just hop on a train and let somebody else do the driving. I'll admit, I'd probably feel differently if I was actually still there taking CTA during this pandemic.
What made you decide to move to Los Angeles?
Opportunity. My last few years in Chicago I really started focusing more on TV/Film work. The Chicago market is great, but it does have a ceiling. I got the opportunity to work on a lot of the shows in Chicago, so I found myself staring at that ceiling. The LA market is the biggest in the country. There is no ceiling here. If a Chicago show gets cancelled, it's kind of a big bummer. If a show gets cancelled in LA, there's 10 new shows to take its place. Simply put, it's a numbers game, and there's just a ton more opportunity out here to find work in the TV/Film world.
You moved at the beginning of the pandemic. Did that have any effect on your decision to pack up and go?
Yes and no. We'd been planning this move since 2019, it wasn't just something we decided to do a few months prior. When March hit and everything started to shut down, we were already way deep into our planning. We did stop for a minute and discuss whether we should keep going or come up with a Plan B. We quickly decided to keep moving forward and come out. We'd been working on it for so long it just felt like we had to keep going no matter what. If we were going to be stuck somewhere, might as well be stuck out here. Plus at that time, we were all still under the impression that things should be going "back to normal" by July, so of course we wanted to be in LA when things opened up again. Moving during all this oddly worked in our favor as well, because everything and everyone was operating on high alert. Being super careful, super detailed, and making sure that everything was handled safely.
How has the reality of living in LA differed from your expectation?
It has differed quite a bit. Because so much has been closed or at least not opened all the way, we haven't really gotten the "LA Experience" so to speak. We've certainly gone here and there and have gotten to the beach a few times, but everything feels held back. Nothing is operating at full potential or capacity, so it's just a "less than" version of everything. And since all of the auditions I've gotten out here have been Self-Tape or via Zoom, I haven't gotten to go to an LA Casting office in person, so I can't even compare that experience. It's kind of like going to the Target on Elston, or the one by UIC, and then going to the one on Belmont and Clark. That's a weird analogy, but yeah.
With auditions and many productions moving to a virtual format, what have been some of the challenges in adapting to the new normal?
Making sure the mess is well hidden behind my pop up backdrop! I count myself somewhat lucky. I started familiarizing myself with doing self-tapes a while ago and had been slowly building my arsenal of equipment. I picked your brain pretty much every time I worked with you on a self-tape! Feels like I've been preparing for this "new normal" without even realizing it. The challenge then became making sure I had the right tools to get the job done and not just a bunch of unnecessary bells and whistles. Practicing my setup so I can get it up and ready quickly and not having it be a burden every time I have to do a self-tape. I'm still fine-tuning things to help expedite the process. I'm currently looking at creating a permanent set up so I can just hit the on switch on everything and be ready to go. The other side of this coin is maintaining an elevated sense of energy and commitment. It can be easy to relax a little too much with your self-tapes when you're in the comfort of your own home. That "in the room" feeling is gone, so you have to be able to create that energy for yourself. We don't have casting directors giving us notes, asking us to try it differently, or even a sense of how we might be doing based on the energy in the room. We have to be able to produce and perform in a vacuum, on top of now also having to be good at lighting, rigging, cinematography, sound, etc. Being able to create that world for yourself becomes that much more important when you've got a pile of dirty laundry and your dog doing unmentionable things to your throw pillow just off camera.
What advice can you give actors who might be considering a move to L.A.?
Come out for a visit. Get a feel for the place. Have a plan and commit to that plan. "I'm willing to travel" is one of the biggest lies actors use. Talent agencies and casting directors are not going to take a chance on anyone whose presence is dependent on the efficiency of Southwest Airlines. It's just not going to work. The new growing standard of accepting self-tapes is certainly going to open doors for some people, but being a local hire is still very much a thing that a lot of productions are not going to budge on. Especially with the dangers of traveling right now, they're just not going to do it. Find the right people out here. Everyone is an "actor" out here, everyone has a "project" they're working on, everyone has "connections," and there's a reason I'm putting all those words in quotes. Stay focused and do the work. That part doesn't change. Everything is just bigger and more plentiful and more spread out. Don't allow yourself to get overwhelmed.
Lastly, what is your favorite thing about L.A.?
Street Tacos!! Holy crap they are everywhere and they are all delicious. Dine at your own risk, of course, we are talking about street meat here after all. But dang, just good tacos everywhere. The ocean. Nothing like salt water. Lastly, fitness is a religion out here. Even casual fitness. I'm hoping some of that rubs off on me.