Sometimes the ups and downs of trying to succeed as a Hollywood actor wears on Tampa native Alexis Carra. When it does, she leans on her friends in the women's group The New Hollywood— friends who always find a way to build her up. The encouragement Carra gets from her support network is one of the reasons she's been tabbed to deliver the afternoon keynote speech Sept. 9 at the 2016 Working Women State Conference.
Carra, whose credits include starring on the short-lived series Recovery Road and guest appearances on shows such as NCIS: Los Angeles, The Mentalist and Anger Management, traces her drive back to her West Tampa roots.
The Berkeley Prep graduate grew up as the daughter of a strong-willed Hispanic mother who worked as a psychiatrist and an abuela who served as the matriarch and pushed her to carve her own path.
With her ambitions fueled, she went on to Yale University where she graduated cum laude with a degree in theatre studies.
Carra recently spoke with Tampa Bay Times staff writer Ernest Hooper about the challenges of acting, continuing to make her own way and how it might not be a mistake to compare yourself to others.
What are the challenges of trying to make it as an actor?
I think the biggest challenge is you're kind of in the hands of other people all the time. You don't get work unless you get hired. That seems like most jobs, but in acting, you're going from gig to gig. It's hard to get a job that lasts. If you land on a TV series it has to be a hit. My TV series got canceled. It's a challenge to keep working enough to earn a living. It's kind of feast or famine.
What keeps you going?
I'm in a women's group, and in some ways they have my back. Sometimes when I'm questioning things, when I'm down about things, I know I have a group of women to reach out to, to share how I feel. I know they're going to listen, encourage and help put me in place where I'm looking at solutions as opposed to staying on the dark side. They say you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with, and I think to some extent that's true. It's important to be in a community of people who will lift you up when you're down.
It said in your bio that you have a lot of musical theater experience. Do you hope your career takes you back to that passion?
Every once in a while, I do a show out here. But I'm married and I just can't think about myself. I've been thinking about auditioning for some things in New York and putting out there what could happen in New York. It did get my juices flowing to be in New York. My first love is definitely musical theater and the stage.
Tell me about growing up in Tampa.
I have to tell you, when I was 16, 17, 18, I couldn't wait to leave. I knew it was time for me to explore something else, but I loved growing up in Tampa. I loved the kids I went to school with at Berkeley. I love the kind of community I came out of in West Tampa and the part of my heritage where everybody was an aunt. I love that part of Tampa's Cuban culture. If I ever decide to change paths and take a career path that's more consistent, I feel like I have Tampa. It's always there with its family values. My family is so close.
So you've obviously drawn inspiration from your mom and other strong women in your life. How will that shape the message you will deliver at the women's conference?
I think it's just woven into the fabric of who I am. My mom was the breadwinner of my family. She taught me a lot about being invested in myself and being my own person. She would say that as a kid I was defiant. I would say I asserted my own opinion, and that's because she's opinionated. My abuela, she's the matriarch and she's very strong and opinionated. They weren't afraid to teach me I could live my own life. They were really modern women.
So you understand the challenges of being a "modern woman?"
As moms, wives, entrepreneurs, women put a lot on their plate. And then when they go to sleep and close their eyes and they're alone with their thoughts and their feelings, they wonder about what they're doing. But I think women have to learn to be kind to themselves and be loving and passionate with each other, to not be in competition with each other but to be in connection with each other. It's never about competing with others, it's about competing with yourself. Then, you're not so worried about what they're doing, you're not worried about looking a certain way or being a certain way.
One thing you shared in a recent article is that women shouldn't be afraid to compare themselves to someone they may perceive as more successful. Can you elaborate on that?
I think it's a slippery slope. Comparison is the death of creativity because you're focused on another person, and you can't get in the brain or heart of another person. But it's natural to compare. It's human nature, but if you can look at it in a different way, you can flip it upside down. If you just ask, "What is it about that person that is so great?" and then look back at yourself, it can stifle you or hinder you from moving forward. You can end up stuck in that mode. At the same time, it can inspire if we're willing not to judge ourselves.
That's when you can flip it inside out. If you recognize an awesome quality in someone, ask them about it. Acknowledging another woman is a way to connect. It makes another person feel good about themselves. You can connect through kindness. "Hey, I've been working on this myself and you're so good at it. How do you do it?" I think you might be surprised that they're willing to support you. Making a connection is so much better than sitting in the car and brooding and being mad.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.