An Open Letter to Zelda Williams

Yesterday, Zelda Williams, daughter of actor Robin Williams, wrote an open letter about nepotism and second generation entertainers in Hollywood on her tumblr. It was interesting to me because just recently I had read an article in a magazine about how children of famous actors/singers face a lot of challenges others don’t. The bottom line being that if they don’t follow in their parents’ fabulous footsteps they’re considered failures and if they do they’re considered having their position only because of their famous mom or dad.

Because I had strong feelings towards the subject matter, I decided to write my own open letter. To Zelda Williams, or Emma Roberts, or Lilly Collins, or any other second generation actor…

Dear Zelda,

I don’t disagree with anything you said. It’s very apparent that, as a child of a famous, successful person, you face a different set of challenges than most of us and I’m sure a lot of ugly, uncalled for jealousy. However, the fact that you felt the need to write this letter, and mentioned certain things but not others, makes me think you’re somewhat unaware about exactly what it is that bothers normal, non-second-generation-actors-hating people like myself about “sons and daughters of”…

The bottom line being, that while your challenges may be tough and given by birth, they’re really not much compared to the challenges normal aspiring actors face.

It begins with the education normal aspiring actors would like. Not everyone can afford an acting program at an acclaimed school, or even the less famous acting classes. Normal aspiring actors either have to work years to pay off such student loans, or find a day job just to pay their rent, and then hope they have money left for acting classes. These financial issues bring forth tremendous worry that grows worse as the normal aspiring actor gets older and wants to maybe start a family or settle down. It also weighs an actor down at auditions since they become too important, while being relaxed and free is key to be good.

But let’s assume they get an all-covering scholarship, and only have to make money (in the evenings, on the weekends?) to be able to pay rent, food, a car, gas and all that. No financial worries. Let’s assume they’re supertalented and trained and want to go look for an agent. Almost all decent agents require submissions by referral. A normal, fresh-out-of-a-small-town aspiring actor usually does not know any good, high-up folks in the business, and has to work years to get a decent agent or find a referral, work years just to be seen. Or they have to spend years doing unpaid student films and theater productions, 80% of them of very poor quality, and hope to get noticed. The child of so-and-so, obviously, can skip all these steps and all these years of work. They have connections of gold already.

So now they have an agent and start auditioning for the real stuff. They get rejected 99 out of a 100 times. Very tough, especially considering the financial future, but part of the business as everyone knows. But hey, on audition 212 they finally get a noticeable role in a paying film or pilot. Then they just have to hope it somehow becomes a succes. The chances of that of course grow considerably if there’s already a big name attached. So the impact of the fact that a lot of children-of usually begin in a movie that stars their dad/mom should’t be underestimated. It’s huge. It’s usually a guarantee for a theatrical release, a thing which usually takes years to accomplish for any other actor, if it even ever happens.

So all these three things- money, connections and a part in a production that actually gets seen- are either completely down to luck for most actors or take years and years of hard work and worrying. Children of so-and-so have all these things given to them by birth. Whereas for most actors it’s a combination of talent, hard work and a lot of luck, for second generation actors it’s only about talent. As Lily Collins said herself , these doors are already opened for you.

Of course famous-last-namers have to be nice enough people with a good enough drive. But when you write a letter about the challenges for you it sounds so incredibly ignorant of all that I’ve written above. I don’t take any issue with the Kate Hudsons and Zoe Kravitzes, as long as they realize how incredibly blessed they are and how others face challenges that are a lot harder than proving yourself to be worthy. Most of us face that challenge anyway. Most of us might even want to be actors because of that challenge.

So, Zelda, I really appreciate you starting an intelligent discussion about this subject, and don’t discredit your talent nor any other actor’s with a famous family member.  But you must agree that other aspiring actors have to work much harder to get where you are, and face much more difficult challenges. And agree that a lot of doors are openened for you. After all, how else did Tori Spelling ever end up acting on a famous TV show?


Shanice, a sometimes struggling actress from the Netherlands
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Filed under Other Actors

12 responses to “An Open Letter to Zelda Williams

  1. CeCe

    WOW! Thank-you, well done!!! It is so true..and really if they have a fear of not living up to their parents standards, that is a personal issue in itself to be handled by therapy….did you send this to her?

  2. Cherish from Holland

    Thats a really good letter, great writing! And of course, really inspiring how you’re chasing your dreams!

  3. Hello there!

    First off, can I just say thank you for responding, not with anger and destructive words, but constructive criticism and actual experience. You’re a terrific writer and I really enjoyed reading your response. It’s also fascinating to read the response of someone from another country pursuing acting here, as having spent time with actors from other places their experiences coming here tend to be different as well, though with marked similarities. However, one very important difference between american and european actors tends to be the importance placed on schooling, on joining a program of acclaim and learning from an incredible acting teacher. That adds a whole other layer to the discussion, as most actors do not find there is as much importance placed on that here. Sure, some will go to programs like Julliard (though they tend to focus more on theater), others will come to Hollywood and study with acting coaches or join improv groups, but these are nowhere near as informative, intense or I imagine helpful as places like RADA. Thankfully for the incredible, well-trained and well-schooled european and australian actors coming over here now, more and more casting directors are looking for people who have studied in intense programs. So those hours and hours will, in fact, pay off.

    In any case, I can understand that being a difficult and expensive added pressure to your journey.

    However, I would like to make it clear, as this seems to be the biggest critique of what I wrote, that I in no way meant to discredit or cheapen any other actor’s path. I wrote my letter as a glimpse into what I’ve experienced, and some of the bizarre pressures unique to second-gen’s. But I’m well aware they are nowhere near as daunting as what most actors must suffer through. My intention was never to seem arrogant or whiny, it was merely to do as you have and open perhaps a few people’s eyes to a specific journey. In that way, I sincerely hope I in no way insulted you, and am grateful for your well-thought out, intelligent response. It’s been a joy to hear part of another person’s story. I look forward to hearing more 🙂

    PS. If it’s alright with you, I’d love to repost this on my tumblr. Please let me know, as I will not do so without your permission.


    • Hi Zelda, thanks for replying and not feeling offended (as it was not intended as such). You are completely right about Europe placing more emphasis on acting education. Or at least the Netherlands, anyway. It’s actually something that I have a big issue with, but that’s a whole other discussion. Basically I think the emphasis is out of proportion and produces a lot of actors with the same style. However, even the average LA acting class is very expensive for the average aspiring actor. Especially for those from abroad, who don’t have a permit to work outside of acting jobs. But that is, again, a whole other issue! I’ve followed you on Twitter and hope to keep updates about your Tumblr in that way, since never used the latter before.

      • Thank you again for being the only one who dealt with the letter with grace and intelligence. Unfortunately, since responding to you it’s been brought to my attention that a number of people have become somewhat threatening about the letter I wrote, why I do not know. However, as the letter means very little to me in comparison to my sanity and safety, I believe I will be removing it from my site shortly. However, I look forward to continuing to read your blog, and conversing with you on any number of things in the future. If nothing else, the letter I wrote on a silly whim has brought me to find an intelligent person with which to converse 🙂 Please, never hesitate to contact me and chat.


  4. WOW! I am so pleased that someone wrote something like that. I could just hug you! I am also really impressed by the positive response by Zelda. It is so nice to know that struggling actors are understood.

  5. Nice work, I could not have said it better myself! Everything Zelda has written makes complete sense as well and she has a great point, we’re just travelling on completely different journeys! Zelda, I respect you for putting your opinion out there and in the end, all of the hard workers will be recognised for just that – their hard work which led to talent, no matter which connections they are born with. The people who are threatening you for your point of view don’t know what their on about… GO GIRLS!
    Love becomingjuliet;
    (An also sometimes struggling actress from Australia, love that term “sometimes struggling” by the way Shanice!)

  6. Thank you for starting this dialogue. It is very eye opening to see both sides of a coin. Thank you.

  7. iago

    Hey Shanice,

    nice post, however, I feel a little different than you do.
    I used to have that same feeling you have, but once I realized the secret to success is to create your own possibilities, I started to enjoy my journey instead of experiencing it as a struggle.

    I’m from Belgium, which is even smaller than the Netherlands and obviously, there is even less work. And yes, it is very hard to get into that small world of performance. It’s all about who you know.
    I was lucky enough to have got acting lessons from a professional actor/ director. He made me fall in love with acting but the most important thing he learned me is to socialize; I used to be very shy and afraid to express my dream of wanting to become an actor.

    Now, when I go see a play in a theatre, I always introduce myself to the actors after the performance, I can’t imagine this being possible in LA for example. Belgium is small but I learned to use that to my advantage, like 2 days ago, I was out clubbing and I saw an actor I knew from a tv commercial, I introduced myself to him and had a nice conversation.
    We might feel unfortunate not to be born in the US but that doesn’t has to be a bad thing, I’m actually starting to like the smallness of my country.

    Anyways, great post and keep up the good work!
    Btw have you seen Oxygen already?



  8. manoncarphotography

    Great discussion!! Thank you for your honestly and sincerity on the struggles we actors go through on a daily basis. Much luck in your journey!

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