The Hollywood Sign

Trevor Nagle on Acting

Trevor Nagle is a working actor with more than 40 speaking roles in movies, TV shows, and live theater to his credit. He also does voiceover work and industrial films. In this episode, I talk to Trevor about what a day on set is really like, the unique challenges of auditions, and what separates successful working actors from those who drop out. There’s also a great big swerve about halfway through this episode that I think you’ll enjoy.

You can connect with Trevor on LinkedIn, and be sure to check out the episode page for a full show transcript. By the way, did you know there’s a Department 12 Newsletter? It’s absolutely free, so please sign up and give it a shot.


This transcript is AI-generated and may not be completely accurate. Please do not quote myself or any of my guests based on this transcript.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the Department 12 Podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Ben Butina and joining me today is Trevor Nagle. How are you today, Trevor?

Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.: I’m doing great. How about yourself, Ben?

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: I’m doing great too. Thanks for asking. So, Trevor, you’re a working actor. You, you had more than 40 principal roles in films, TV shows and productions.

You’ve also done voiceover work and industrial films, and, and this is a world that, that I don’t have any access to. I think most of my listeners don’t have any access to it, other than, behind the scenes featurette on DVDs and Blu-rays. So, could you tell us how you got started?

Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.: Sure. You know, I, think similar to a lot of actors, You know, I was certainly involved with, with theater as a kid, in high school through college and never really envisioned that it would, , be something that I would pursue professionally.

 But got the opportunity a number of years ago to to initially just get on a set and, and kind of observe. Kind of the [00:01:00] movie making process. And, and I think in doing that, it kind of kickstarted and, and re-lit that passion for for acting and for drama. In that process, I, I, I met a, a lot of background actors, extras on, on set, and I was just having a conversation with them as they were kind of sitting in this back room waiting to, to be, to be pulled onto set for, to, and be used for that day.

 And I discovered that a lot of them were working actors and, and who were, who were doing periodically doing some background work in particularly in, in some larger films to get, get, get exposure to get a payday. And, and and you don’t make a lot as a background actor, but For a lot of working actors, you know, it, it’s a feaster famine type endeavor.

So you’re, you’re constantly looking for, you know, if I have a free day and I know that, that, [00:02:00] you know, Tom Cruise is, is filming a movie down the street and they’re looking for background actors, I’ll get on there. So a lot of working actors kind of do that. But in talking with this group, I, I, I, I got the sense I, I began to understand that, that most of their work was in, in principle, in, in speaking roles in, in various, various levels of films.

 So I asked them, you know, how, how does this even work? And, and through those connections you know, they, they started kind of mentoring me around, Hey, this is how. This is how the entertainment industry works. This is how you submit for things. This is what you needed to do in order to create a package to be attractive to casting directors or, or attractive to, to agents.

 So I, I kind of just slowly o over the course of probably about a year or two Started following their directions and started putting a package together and, and started really just trying to figure out. But so much of this industry is kind of learning as you go. And so it’s, [00:03:00] it’s really been an evolution over the years to the point where I’ve been quite successful.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Very cool. What’s a day in the life of a working actor like? So, you know, a typical day from when you arrive on the set to when you leave?

Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.: Sure. I, I, I think that there, there’s two things that I would differentiate. One is the, the, the typical life of an actor when you’re on set, which is, which is probably less of, of the time than a typical day when you’re not on set.

But when you’re on set, you know, typically you, you’ll, the night before 7, 8, 9 o’clock at night, yeah. You’ll, you’ll get an email or a phone call with your call time. And that may be five o’clock in the morning. It may be. Four o’clock in the afternoon. That’s the time you show up. And, and from the time you show up there it.

It really is a lot of hurry up and wait. You know, you’re waiting for your opportunity to get into [00:04:00] into the wardrobe area, to get your costumes, to get, get fitted for everything. If you haven’t done that previously you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re waiting to get into, into hair and makeup and then you’re waiting for everything else to be ready.

The, the, the process of making a film or, or, or, or, or shooting a TV show. Is so intricate and so in depth. And your job as an actor, I is such a small role of that that I would say I in the course of a 10 or 12 or, or sometimes 15 hour shooting day, it’s, it’s not unusual for you as an actor to actually be on set in position with cameras rolling.

Two of those 15 hours. The rest of the time is really kind of just, just waiting making sure that you’re, that you’re still in the mindset of whatever role and whatever character you [00:05:00] you’ve been booked as. And I think that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s the single most challenging aspect is not kind of going back to your trailer and kind of.

Truly taking a mental break until they need you next. It’s, it’s really just, just that constant preparation and constant kind of staying in that, in that game mindset until you’re actually needed and pulled on set and, and then you do the takes and then typically you’re back, you’re back to waiting again for the next for the next set of, of, of takes.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: That sounds challenging. Another thing that always seemed to me to be pretty challenging is the audition process. You know, if I’m lucky, I have to interview for a job every three to five years or so, and that’s nerve wracking enough. But a working actor is, is sort of interviewing all the time, right?

Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.: Yeah. That, that’s absolutely the case. You know, I think that when, when we look at the numbers, You know, [00:06:00] even for the smallest, you know, a one or two line role on a, on a, on a, particularly on a union film but really in, in e even with some of the larger, non-union and independent projects for a, a single, the smallest role speaking role on that, on that project casting director may get 3,500 submissions for that one, two line role of those.

25, 3500 submissions, maybe 50 of them will get an audition. Of those 50. 10 will get a call back and one person will book that role. So typically y y yeah. Your whole life is, is, I mean, your job really is, is auditioning. If you get the audition, you’ve won the lottery. Everything beyond that is a bonus.

And, and so you kind of a approached that process like that. And I, you know, I think that[00:07:00] You know, there’s been other actors who said, you know, that that’s your job as an actor is to audition. That’s your opportunity to perform and, and, and to, to work your craft for somebody else. And oftentimes you, you, you enter the that process with the, with the mindset that, you know, I may not be right for this role.

And I, I may think I’m right for this role, but I don’t ultimately know what the vision is that they’re looking for. Mm-hmm. And you know, if, if, if I, I’m auditioning for an FBI role That may be perfect for me, I think, but that’s not, but, but I may not be the, the, the person they’re looking for, no matter how well I perform in the audition.

I may do the audition wonderfully. They may say That was fantastic, but we really need somebody who’s over six foot tall for that role. And, you know, Trevor’s five 10. And so you really go into these auditions with the, the mindset that this is the opportunity to get in front of a casting director in front of a [00:08:00] director.

Perhaps not for this role, but for future roles that they’re, that they’re interesting. They’re gonna be casting. So yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s challenging. I mean, that, that’s, that’s part of why, you know, oftentimes you hear that, you know, the entertainment industry, that Hollywood is a, a brutal industry because the numbers just are continuously stacked against you.

And you just have to kind of embrace that. That’s just what it is. That’s, that’s the game. If, if, if that’s not the, if that’s not the reality that that you want or, or can kind of reconcile for yourself it’s probably not the right, it’s probably not the right profession for you. But once you’ve been able to do that, I think it becomes pretty easy.

You know, interestingly, I, I, I was talking with a fellow actor. A couple days ago, and he had actually been a, he had read the other sides for an audition that I had done probably a month ago. And it was for a, a, a well-known director and producer, a a big time [00:09:00] show. And he said this is over the weekend.

He said, well, you know, did you hear anything back on that? And I said, I don’t even remember what that audition was. Mm-hmm. And he said, seriously, it was this huge audition and as we talked Oh, that’s right. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I’ve gotten really good, and I think most actors get to the point where they’re, they, they, they get really good at au submitting the audition, leaving the audition, and absolutely forgetting they did it, because chances are, Nothing’s gonna come of it, and you’ll never hear back.

You, you, it’s, it’s almost unheard of that as an actor, they will contact you and say, Hey, we’ve decided to go in a different direction. The, they, they will, you only know that they’re going in your direction. If they reach back out to you, you just assume it’s done.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Unfortunately, there’s a lot of talent acquisition teams that operate on the same basis.

Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.: Yeah. It’s, it’s that, that whole notion of ghosting yeah, absolutely. Talent acquisition. Absolutely. It’s, [00:10:00] it’s you know, that, that, that’s the reality for us.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: So you mentioned, you know, if you can’t handle the audition process being the way it is, then this probably isn’t the job for you. What else would you say is not a good fit?

Let’s say I’m, let’s say I have, you know, a decent amount of talent in acting and I’ve got some training, so the, the technical chops are down, so to speak, but, What else would you look for that would say, ah, I don’t think this is right for you?

Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.: I think more than anything it’s, it’s understanding that, you know, what’s driving your desire to be an actor.

If it is truly the, the, the joy of, of acting and performing, which again, is your job when you’re auditioning, if that’s what’s driving you, and you just can’t think of anything that you would rather do. And you’ll put up with [00:11:00] whatever in order to be able to act every single day. And that may be acting through auditions.

It may be on set, it may be it, it may be in training. If acting isn’t the focus, if your focus is I want to get famous, I wanna make a lot of money those things can happen. But it’s a, it’s a, it’s a strike of lightning. And, and it’s, it’s one that you don’t have any control over. You can be the best actor.

I’ve, I’ve worked with some wonderful, wonderful, probably the best actors I’ve ever met in my entire life, and they haven’t made it big cuz they’re just not in the right place at the right time. They’re the right project’s, not there for them. And, but they’re unbelievably talented. So if, if, if, and they continue because they love acting.

If, if the focus is I want to figure out how to get rich or make a lot of money or, or, or be famous [00:12:00] one, it’s gonna take, you look at almost all of, of the recognizable a list Hollywood actors, and you didn’t see the 10, 15, 20 years they put in before they got that first big role. That doesn’t mean they were bad actors before that.

It just means they didn’t have the opportunity. They, they, they, that, that, that lightning didn’t strike. So if you’re not willing to just say, I, I’m not here, you know, to, to get rich and famous, I’m here to act. That’s the number one thing that I then, then let, then let’s go for it. Let’s talk about how, how you craft your, your life around a way that allows you to audition, allows you to be flexible and all those things.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Yeah, I can see that. So there’s a lot of preparation. There’s a lot of ambiguity. There’s a lot of auditioning a lot of uncertainty about, I’m sure how the end product’s gonna come out because you do your job, but you don’t know how [00:13:00] everyone else is necessarily doing theirs. So there’s a lot of stress it seems like, associated with this job.

So I can see why. Only really loving the craft and doing the acting would motivate people to stick with it a long time.

Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.: Yeah, that’s absolutely, that, that’s absolutely true. And you, you, you touched on a, a really great point. At the end of product is almost entirely outside of your control. And, and I mean, if, if we think of, of any of the biggest actors who are out there, there’s plenty of films that all of them have.

That were horrible films. And it’s not necessarily because, you know, you know that that actor fumbled. And, and certainly there are times when the actor fumbles too. But, but there’s times where the actor can do everything right. And the film just doesn’t turn out to be a great film, let alone a, a box office hit.[00:14:00]

 So that, that, that aspect of ambiguity is certainly. Prevalent in this industry. That’s true.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: I have a hunch that I’d like you to either confirm or deny for me, and that is that actors in general are a more superstitious lot than the average, or that acting as a profession has a lot of superstition kind of built into its lore.

Am I anywhere close to being right about that?

Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.: You know, I’ve never even, I’ve never heard that and I’ve never thought that. So can you gimme an example of, of what?

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: For example, if you act in Shakespeare, you’re never supposed to refer to Macbeth by name. You’re instead supposed to call it the Scottish play.

I’ve also heard, you know, of actors that have, you know, the lucky [00:15:00] socks that they wear or. Things like that. But the truth is you only hear about those stories cause they’re interesting and they may be the exceptions rather than the rule.

Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.: And that, those are great examples and, and I, you know, certainly have run into those.

But I, I, I think when I wrote, ran into those was, was more when I was early, early on as an amateur When I was in theater, so I don’t, I don’t know if that, if that’s a differentiation between theater, acting and you know, film and television. Okay. That’s a great question. I, I don’t, I don’t, I don’t run into that at all in, in, okay.

In, in film television. But, but maybe that’s just, I, I dismiss the superstitions myself. Maybe I just ignore them. Yeah,

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: My hunch was based on the fact that I’ve noticed that other professions in which the outcome is, is very much out of control of the individual tend to have superstitions and they tend to be like, okay, here’s an [00:16:00] explanation for why this ultimately uncontrollable thing happens.

So sailors tend to have a lot of superstitions. Coal, coal miners. I have some ancestors who are coal miners and they had lots of superstitions because these are jobs where, You know, you sort of high risk anything could happen. And some of those things are outta your, out of your control. So it was probably not a a great hunch, but I’m glad to have it confirmed and I think you are the right person to ask because audience, here comes the swerve.

Trevor Nagel is actually also Dr. Trevor Nagle, and in addition to being a working actor, he’s also an I-O psych consultant. So how did that come about?

Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.: That actually came about before before I kind of returned to the acting world. I had, I had spent you know, after college continue with, with a military career that I’d started as a reservist during college.

Ended up getting out of the military [00:17:00] trying to figure out what I was gonna do was, was working found a job in the corporate world doing leadership development. I, I, I think on, on the assumption that while you were in the military, therefore, you know, leadership which I think is not, is not a particularly accurate, No.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: But there’s a lot of consulting firms that get a lot of mileage out of that idea.

Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.: Absolutely. Absolutely. But I was really doing a lot of leadership development and then internal od consulting for a number of years after, after I got outta the military. And at the time had had a master’s degree in public administration that I gotten while I was in the military.

And was working for a Fortune 400 company internally as a consultant. And that company would, would pay for part of a at, at that point any, any further degree program. Wow. And so I had kind of stumbled across IO [00:18:00] psychology. And I was always one at that point in my career of feeling like, well, if they’re, they’re offering a benefit and I’m not taking advantage of it, I’m just.

Leaving ta money on the table which is probably not the best reason to go and get a PhD. But but it got me, got me started in, in that direction. Finished my PhD. And during, during that process had really networked enough to come into contact with, with other consultants who were out there.

And I recognize that as a consultant, the worst, which is kind of interesting as it relates to our earlier conversation about, Acting the one aspect of consulting that I cannot stand. And I’m not good at it. And I can’t stand it. And I’m not sure which is which is the causal, but either way, I’m not good at it and I don’t enjoy it, is the business development.

But I very quickly figured out that for myself, Kind of affiliating myself with [00:19:00] a number of other consultants and, and almost like, like a bullpen PI pitcher. That as you get bigger projects that you get, you know, you win contracts for if you need an additional I hope type on this project bring me in.

Yeah. And initially it had tied myself to, to about half dozen different small kind of boutique consulting firms in that, in that way. And was getting enough work that I was able to, to leave the corporate world ended up actually in the academic world for about eight years while also consulting.

And that’s kind of just, just built that way. And, and it’s, it’s only kind of taken a backseat in, in, in the last four or five years to the acting just because the acting opportunities have, have become so so frequent. And I’ve gotten so yeah, fortunate in that that at this point I’m, I’m still [00:20:00] doing some executive coaching.

Occasionally, we’ll, we’ll take on a, an IO project. But I love, I I, I absolutely love Iowa psychology. I love I, I love working with leaders and organizations. And at some point I’ll probably go back. I kind of, I’m, I’m writing this this acting as long as it until it crashes, and then, yeah. And then I’ll, I’ll probably head back more, more fully in the IO direction.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Yeah. And you’ll havea very rich set of experiences to draw from. I’m sure. Is there any overlap between these two worlds that you’ve noticed? Any transferrable skills?

Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.: I think they’re all transferrable. I, you know, I think it’s, you know, whether we’re talking about, you know, leadership development or organizational culture, or we’re talking about acting and filmmaking.

It’s all about building in, in, in, in rich experiences that you can then see, [00:21:00] see see parallels. I guess that that’s, that’s, that’s the key is being able to see those parallels and, and, and to be draw, to draw from them. I’m a firm believer that, that whatever richness we can all individually bring to our lives, can educate our experiences no matter what we’re doing.

 So I think, I mean, that’s a really broad, kind of nebulous response to your question, but but I mean, making a film, making a, a a, a television series or in theater, it’s all about teamwork. It’s about leadership, it’s about teamwork. And, and you know, that’s the side that, that’s oftentimes is is thankfully hidden from.

The audience’s view. But that’s the reality. I mean, we, we look right now at, at, at the writer strike and the, the yeah. Potentially upcoming [00:22:00] directors and, and actors strikes and, and you know, you see where, when, when one aspect of the team isn’t able to, to be participating for whatever reason That the whole machine grinds to a halt.

 That’s no different than in any organization. So, so I think, I think there really are a lot of parallels. Yeah.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Is there any specific overlap do you think, between facilitations or facilitating leadership development programs or other training programs and acting?

Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.: I, I would like to think that there’s, there’s a lot of them.

I think that, you know, my my ability to be an effective facilitator to be an effective trainer is hopefully based in, in my ability to [00:23:00] at least to a certain extent, entertain. I, I think that’s an important aspect of learning. And so I, I think even early on, I certainly drew on, on my kind of creativity.

But when you, when you’re talking about about all these different types of, of I O O D interventions, you’re, you’re talking about interventions that deal with, with learning and, and any aspect of learning is. Has got to be entrenched in creativity, how you, how you creatively develop a program for an organization and, and, and interject aspects of their culture that, that tap into that creativity.

If, if, if your audience isn’t open to being creative then their learnings probably. It’s gonna be somewhat stunted in that [00:24:00] process. Mm-hmm. So I think that it, it, it all comes down to kind of the, the, the, the thing that ties them, it, the, the acting and, and IO is that aspect of, of tapping into creativity, whether it’s your own or a, a client or organizations.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: That’s very insightful. Thank you. I just have one more question. It’s gonna get a little in the weeds, but I’ve always been interested in self-perception theory, which for those listeners who aren’t familiar with it, is this idea that we observe our own behavior and then we make inferences about how we feel based on those observations.

So, If I am standing with my shoulders back with open posture, I have a smile on my face just because I’m doing those things, my brain is going to see that in some sense and say, I. Oh yes. You’re confident because you’re acting [00:25:00] confident. And I wonder whether you see anecdotally any confirmation of that theory in your life as an actor.

So for example, you talked about spending a lot of time on set and preparing and just staying in the mindset of the character you’re portraying. Does it change the way you feel for lack of a better term, inside? Or is it more surface level?

Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.: I, I think it’s, it’s when you can do it when you do it well.

I think that, that it’s definitely more than surface level. I, I, I think that there, there certainly is a, a science to you know, neuroscience tells us that, that, you know, if, if, if we’re, if we’re depressed and we can think about. Things that make us happy, it’s [00:26:00] easier for us to, to begin to slide out of that, that depression.

I think that that within acting, the, the aspect of, of, of neuroscience and, and our ability to, to. Train or, or manipulate our, our, our actual emotions is, is critical. And, and a lot of my training has, has come from faith Hibbs Clark, who, whose, whose background was in deception detection and she worked very heavily with, with law enforcement and, and with politicians and, and, and with public speakers on aspects of how do I change my own behavior in a way that that impacts.

How I’m actually feeling as a result. For example if it, it’s not enough as an actor to say, oh, this, at this point in, in this scene, I’m angry. Mm-hmm. You need to feel that anger. If you don’t feel that anger, you’re [00:27:00] just delivering the lines. And that doesn’t mean you can do it in an uncontrolled fashion clearly.

But but there ha, you, you have to be. Within that scenario, within that circumstance, being true to yourself, but being true to yourself means that, you know, if, if, if, if my character is truly angry right now, I need to understand physiologically what happens to my body when I’m, when I’m angry. And I can use that knowledge that, that, that kind of emotional fluency of, of myself to then say, okay, you know, something.

Or, or if I’m scared, if I’m scared, my heart rate goes up, my breathing goes up. Well, if I need to on a, on, on a, a, a protect particular set and a particular moment to be scared and I need to get [00:28:00] myself in, in that scared mindset, I can manipulate my breathing. That will then trigger a, a, a kind of neuroscience re physiological response that mimics fear so that I can truly be feeling fear at that moment.

I think that that, and that’s, that, that’s a, that’s a huge challenge for, for actors, but I think that’s where, you know, at throughout the years as, as we continue acting. That’s a lot of what we’re focusing on with our ongoing training is how do I really kind of tap into that without, I’m not, I’m not a, a fan of or a believer in you know, Diving back into my childhood.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Mm-hmm. Like drawing on personal experience, drawing and trying to transfer that.

Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.: Yeah. I, I think that’s, that’s dangerous. Because I, I, I think that, you know, we we’re, we’re not on set with a bunch of of therapists. We’re, we’re, we’re there to do a particular job that’s, that’s [00:29:00] out kind of outside of us.

So understanding kind of those physiological responses and how that can. Actually, and, and the flip side of that is after that scene where I’ve been really angry, understanding, okay, how do I get myself back out of that and how do I use those same techniques to kind of walk away? So I think there, there are a lot of, of interesting aspects of, of how we can control those.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: That is really absolutely fascinating, and I think we could look at acting as sort of an edge case for the idea of emotional labor, insofar as it’s, it’s part of the job description, right? It’s, it’s, it’s a job that requires you to feel a certain way so that you can express that for the camera. And I think it’s just a, a totally different.

Experience than most of us have at work. I wanted to [00:30:00] thank you so, so much for taking the time to, to talk to us. I, I found the conversation absolutely fascinating and I will be sharing links for you in the show notes. So I encourage people to check those out. Is there anything in particular you’d like to plug?

Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.: No, you know, something, you, you’ve, you’ve got a couple links. I, I’m not a huge self-promotional guy, so I’ll, I’ll, I’ll leave those with, with what you’ve got. But I, I’ve really enjoyed this. It’s been great. I, I appreciate the opportunity to talk.

Ben Butina, Ph.D.: Alright. Thanks again, Trevor. Have a great one.

Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.: All right. You too, Ben.