Beverly Hills, 90210 Alum Kathleen Robertson: "I wish someone would have told me to be more gentle with myself"

Yitzi Weiner @ Authority Magazine

Inspirational Women In Hollywood: How Actress & Filmmaker Kathleen Robertson Is Helping To Shake Up The Entertainment Industry

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...First, I wish someone would have told me to be more gentle with myself. When I first started, and sometimes even to this day, I’m a little hard on myself. I put so much pressure on the things I do, especially in the beginning, thinking everything had to be perfect and dialed in.
...Second, I wish someone would have told me not to overextend myself, which I have a tendency to do and always have a little bit too much going on at once. It took me a while to learn that saying no was completely ok.

As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kathleen Robertson.

An award-winning actor. In demand, accomplished writer. Producer. And now showrunner, Kathleen Robertson is the definition of a multi-hyphenate.

As an actor, she was just added to the cast of the highly anticipated sixth and final season of the critically acclaimed Amazon series THE EXPANSE. Robertson also recently wrapped production on TRIAGE for ABC/DISNEY and director JON CHU (CRAZY RICH ASIANS). In addition, she appears in the Lionsgate series SWIMMING WITH SHARKS opposite Diane Kruger, Kiernen Shipka and Donald Sutherland. In addition to acting in the dark thriller, Robertson also created, produced and was showrunner on the project.

Robertson also starred on the Netflix drama NORTHERN RESCUE, the critically acclaimed TNT crime drama MURDER IN THE FIRST opposite Taye Diggs for three seasons and had a pivotal, recurring role opposite Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore on A & E’s Emmy nominated BATES MOTEL. She also garnered much attention for her starring role on the Gus Van Sant, Golden Globe-winning political drama, BOSS as the brilliant, broken and duplicitous Kitty O’Neill, Mayor Tom Kane’s (Kelsey Grammer) press aide.

On the writing and producing front, Robertson and her production company DEBUT CONTENT continue to build an impressive slate of both television and feature film projects.

On the feature side, she is currently writing FLIGHT for Paramount Pictures and Academy Award winner Akiva Goldsman.

She recently completed adapting the acclaimed novel THE POSSIBILITIES for Fox Searchlight and Academy Award nominated filmmaker JASON REITMAN who is attached to direct. Reitman has also attached himself to direct the tv pilot YOUR TIME IS UP that Robertson wrote and is attached to star in. In addition, she adapted the novel LITTLE BEE for Amazon and Academy Award winning actress Julia Roberts. A native of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, Robertson currently resides in Los Angeles.

Kathleen, thank you so much for joining us. Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you share your origin story with us and how you grew up?

I grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, which is described as the “Canadian Pittsburgh”. It’s a very blue-collar, steel city about an hour outside of Toronto. My dad was in interior design and my Mom stayed at home to help raise my sisters and me. Growing up, no one in my family was in the entertainment industry. My two older sisters ended up both being nurses, so for me to have fallen into this career field still baffles me to this day. I just weirdly always knew that I wanted to become an actor, writer, and everything I do now for a living when I was pretty young.

I’m that kid that ended up doing what they said they wanted to be when they grew up. I didn’t have a backup plan, I just knew it was going to work out for me and I never had thoughts like “what if this doesn’t work out”, or “I won’t make it”. Instead, I always thought this is going to work out. While I won’t say that it came that easy, I’ve spent many years working super hard to make my dream work.

When I was first getting started, I was acting in local plays, then started doing small movies for the National Film Board of Canada to begin building up my resume. This was during my early teen years and after a few different TV shows and movies, I moved to Los Angeles when I was 19. I was so glad to have that experience once I got there. It was better than just stepping off the bus in L.A. saying you want to be an actor like a lot of people do.

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You probably have a lot of fascinating experiences. Can you share with us one of the most interesting stories that have happened to you since you began your career?

There are a few that come to mind and some of them have even changed the trajectory of my life. Knowing that I wanted to be an actor, I kept my options open and traveled around for different opportunities. From living in Chicago for three years, working on a series that was shot in New Mexico, another in Montreal, and even traveling to Bulgaria to film “Control” with William Dafoe, Ray Liotta, and Michelle Rodriguez. I remember being in my trailer one night during filming and thinking to myself that this was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

It started to feel like acting was not enough for me and that’s when I started believing that my next role should be focused on writing instead. It was around that time when I started saying that I was a writer, even though no one had read anything I had written before. But it was then that I realized I needed to finish the movie, go back to L.A. and just double down on creating who I was as a writer. Don’t get me wrong, I love acting and probably will always act here and there, it just feels as though there are a lot of limitations to this line of work. You almost become a cog in a part of the entertainment industry’s machine. You’re hired as an actor to stand on a mark, read your lines, and bring someone else’s vision to life with little to no collaboration from others. The more I thought about it, I finally realized that acting just wasn’t what I wanted to continuously do.

Do you have a story about a funny mistake that you made and the lesson you learned from that?

I was working on 90210 and decided I no longer wanted to be on the show. This felt like a crazy thing to do, because at the time, people would have killed to be in my position. I knew my contract was coming up the next year and I let the producers know that I didn’t want to re-sign for another season, and I wanted to move on to my next project. The show was a great experience, but my heart was no longer in it. After I had a meeting with Aaron Spelling and my manager, the producers were assuming that I was just holding out for more money. But for me, I was in my early twenties at this time, had everything I needed, and I thought being honest with not only them but with myself as well was the smartest choice I could make. It wasn’t about the money for me, so why continue doing something I didn’t enjoy? I decided that once I was done on the show, I was going to take acting classes because I had never attended proper lessons before.

I ended up finding a teacher in Los Angeles who I studied and trained with rather intensely. In the months that followed my leaving 90210, all anyone told me was that I had made a huge mistake. Even my son, who is now 13 will say things like “You should have stayed on the show! You could have made so much money!!”. At the time and to this day, I feel like it was the right thing to do and I’m so grateful that I made that choice to be true to myself.

You’ve been blessed with a lot of success in your career. Is there a particular person that you’re grateful for who helped you get where you are? And if you could, can share a story about that?

The person who first instantly comes to mind is Larry Moss, an acting teacher in L.A. After I left 90210, I started working with him three nights a week in the Masterclass he taught in Santa Monica. I remember that it was on the 3rd Street promenade and I would drive over an hour just to get there. I spent six hours, three nights a week learning about so many new things in his class.

Larry exposed me to a completely different side of acting that I didn’t know about, and introduced me to playwrights such as Tennessee Williams and Clifford Odets. Once I started to learn more, something inside of me shifted and I felt more like myself than in any of the acting roles I had been a part of. It was then that I felt as though I had found my true calling. With all that I learned from Larry, I felt as though he did change the trajectory of my life.

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You have a lot of impressive work. What are the exciting projects you’re working on now and where do you see yourself going in the future?

Right now, I have a few projects I’m working on, which include a mix of acting and writing. I’m currently working on a movie that will be pretty big for Paramount and I’m excited because this will be my first studio film. I’m also collaborating on another project with Barry Jenkins and we’re in the works of it now, along with a scripted series I’m working on with Joe Berlinger, which will be for Lionsgate. I loved his work on Paradise Lost so I’m pretty excited to work with him. It’s kind of funny because people are always fascinated with the fact that I don’t write stories where I incorporate myself into it. You see other great female actresses like Brit Marling, Lena Dunham, and Tina Fey who write roles for themselves, and while I have thought about it, I want to keep those things separate. I feel as though simply focusing on just writing what I believe in is what works best for me, versus something that I feel the need to be included in.

I’m a big The Expanse fan and enjoyed your performance. As you know, the show is very popular and there are a lot of resonant messages that connect to contemporary society. From your vantage point, what lessons do you think we could learn from the themes of The Expanse? How could they apply to our society today?

You know, that’s a hard one for me to answer! Traditionally, I don’t feel as though I connect with sci-fi series, but I think the writers and creators of the show do such a great job. The show focuses on such universal, emotional and personal themes in a way that it has never felt like a sci-fi show to me. While the framework is what you would expect in these types of series, I sometimes feel as though it could have simply been a dramatic one-hour series as well.

When it comes to the show, you’re dealing with themes such as family, compassion, trust, and the various relationships of the characters. For example, the relationship between Marco and his son along with the way my character, Rosenfeld, integrates herself into that knowing that if they don’t work to mend their relationship, it would not be successful. I think it was an interesting dichotomy to play with and not exactly what you would think of when you think of a sci-fi show.

There has been a lot of talk about the importance of having a “why”. What drives you to wake up every day and work in TV and film?

For me, being an actor is what comes naturally. It’s the only world I’ve ever known and being a part of the industry is such a different experience than what most people know. To me, it’s about building a community and having a group of people who feel like family. Working on sets, you get to serve as the storyteller and can have so much power over your character and bring them to life, that it’s almost a way to touch the people who are watching you and connect with them on levels you will never know.

I also feel like that is why I was drawn more to writing as well. Writing to me, allows you to explore parts of yourself you might not have known were there including wants, fears, and desires. I recently had my show “Swimming with Sharks” premiere at South by Southwest and I got asked so many times where the idea for the story came from. As a writer, it is hard to explain my process and how some things might have come from a memory I had of a teacher from 5th grade or it could be something I thought up in my head. At the end of the day, I simply enjoy writing and seeing what comes up. Being artistic is so important to me and whether it’s writing, drawing, painting, or even editing, I think doing something that makes you feel less alone in this world is worth exploring.

What are your “5 things, I wish someone told me when I first started my acting career”?

First, I wish someone would have told me to be more gentle with myself. When I first started, and sometimes even to this day, I’m a little hard on myself. I put so much pressure on the things I do, especially in the beginning, thinking everything had to be perfect and dialed in.

Second, I wish someone would have told me not to overextend myself, which I have a tendency to do and always have a little bit too much going on at once. It took me a while to learn that saying no was completely ok.

Third, I wish I could go back and tell myself that this journey is going to be long, and there will never be an exact point at which I will feel like I’ve arrived, I can finally breathe. In this industry especially, you have to remind yourself that every day is going to be work, and there’s a process behind everything that you do. I know that it’s human nature for most of us to keep searching for what is next, but being in a moment is also just as important.

Next, looking back, I wish I would have journaled more, taken notes, and kept more photos. I have times when I look back on an experience when I was in a certain movie with huge actors, and I can’t remember much about my time there. I wish I would have kept up better on my journey for myself, and my kids as well.

Finally, I would say to live in the moment more. Enjoy your successes. When I was at South by Southwest, I was asked several times how it felt to have something I wrote be premiering there and I honestly was sort of in so much shock that I couldn’t think of an answer at that moment. It made me realize that I needed to be present more, and celebrate the wins no matter how big or small because they’re not easy to come by.

Kathleen, you are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Because you never know what your idea can inspire.

For me, I would advocate for something along the line of spirituality, and that is self-love. I believe we all suffer from not taking care of ourselves from time to time and truly loving ourselves for who we are. A lot of us seem to have cycles where we feel as though what we are doing isn’t enough, or even when we are, that we’re not allowed to feel good and celebrate our accomplishments. I would love to see everyone love not only themselves more, but others as well. If we could find a way to be gentler to everyone, including ourselves, the world would be a very different place.

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We’re very blessed that prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person you would like to have either a power lunch, breakfast, or even a brainstorming session with, and why? We could tag them and see what happens!

The first person that comes to mind is Meryl Streep. She is such a tremendous actor and I would love to be able to sit down with her and discuss the possibility of writing something for her to be a part of and watch her bring that to life.

I would also love to meet with Aaron Sorkin, Ryan Murphy, and Shonda Ryans. They are all writers that I have admired and would be curious to sit down with them and learn their processes and chat with them about what they’re currently working on and how they create.

Kathleen, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today! I’m excited to share this story with our readers.

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Yitzi Weiner is a journalist, author, and the founder Authority Magazine. He is also the CEO of Authority Magazine's Thought Leader Incubator, which guides leaders to become prolific content creators. Yitzi is also the author of five books. In 2017, he created the popular, “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” series that highlights the empowering lessons learned from the experiences of high-profile entrepreneurs and public figures. This series has inspired a mini-movement among writers, with scores of writers worldwide profiling inspiring people to share their positive, empowering, and actionable stories. A trained Rabbi, Yitzi is also a dynamic educator, teacher and orator. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife and children.

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