I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: despite rumours of everyone being fake and out for themselves in Los Angeles, I’ve met some of the most genuine, kind and giving people there. Samba Schutte is one of them. (Yup, that’s Samba and not Thriller era Michael Jackson.) Samba is a Dutch-Mauritanian Actor who moved to Los Angeles on an O-1B visa a few years ago. He is now a regular at The World Famous Comedy Store and recently played the lead in the film Haleema that premiered at the Berlinale Film Festival.
I met Samba on my last trip to Los Angeles, and he’s helped me a lot with informing me on the visa proces and keeping faith while waiting those long, long months. And he was kind enough to want to share this information with you too!
When did you know you wanted to be an actor?
From a very early age I remember loving to get dressed up and make people laugh. Like the Superman costume my mother made me when I was five. But I remember when it first hit me that I wanted to become an actor: I was seven and I was watching the play Oliver Twist being performed at my school in Ethiopia. I remember sitting in the audience and seeing all the actors shine on stage, having so much fun and making the audience laugh. I told myself: “this is what I want to do”.
How did your career start?
I moved from Ethiopia to Holland when I was 18 to go to college. At an open mic I tried to perform a comedic monologue, but what ended up coming out was my very first standup comedy set. I started to do standup and a few years later in 2006 I decided to participate in Holland’s biggest national comedy competition. To my great surprise I won, and that’s what launched my career as a professional (i.e. handsomely paid lol) actor and comedian in Holland.
When did you start considering moving to Hollywood and why?
I always knew I wanted to be an actor in Hollywood. Ever since I was 12. My dad got me Steven Spielberg’s Director’s Chair for Christmas, a CD-ROM game where you wrote, produced and directed a movie along with Steven Spielberg at Universal Studios. It was amazing! And ever since then I knew that Hollywood was my destination. While working in Holland, I knew that I was preparing myself for an international career and I gave myself until 2010 to be as good as possible and then somehow make my move to Los Angeles.
What was your first time in Los Angeles like?
It was in 2006. I loved it because I did all the touristy stuff. It really felt like home. But then I would see how Hollywood Boulevard was just full of homeless and less fortunate people, and that’s when I realized that LA also had a whole other side (which I would soon discover when I moved here).
How did you go about meeting agents?
I took part in a showcase program in 2009 called ‘Hey Hollywood Here I Come’ which invites international actors to audition in front of about 20 agents. I got seven callbacks after doing a comedic monologue. I met with every single agent, but not all of them wanted to sponsor me for my work visa, so that filtered down my choice.
What did you do once you found a sponsor/petitioner for your O-1b visa?
Once I found an agent willing to sponsor me, I signed with their office, found an immigration lawyer and returned to Holland to begin my visa application, which took nine months. (We feel you here, Samba – Shanice)
What was it like receiving approval from immigration and what were the weeks after like?
It was the best news ever after a stressful period, which taught me a very valuable lesson in patience and faith. After screaming in excitement for about two hours, it was time to make serious plans for moving to LA now that it was official. Having enough savings, packing, saying goodbye, having enough savings…
What was the hardest thing about moving to LA?
LA is such a big city – the size of my country Holland. So especially in the beginning it was hard to find a social and supportive circle of friends. One can get very lonely here because of being so caught up in the ‘desperation typhoon’ that exists among so many artists here. That’s the negative energy that exists here: everyone out for themselves, desperate and seeing everybody else as a potential threat. But once you step out of that and are able to see it for what it is, you realize the joy, gratitude and excitement you have for being able to be here- among the best of the best- to pursue your childhood dreams. It took me a year to really settle in and develop this perspective.
Also, international actors who are not aware of how things work in Hollywood (headshots, resumes, networking, casting websites etc.) really need to prepare themselves as best as possible because once you move here it may seem like there is SO much to do, and you can lose yourself in that. In fact I just recently wrote an e-Book for international actors moving to LA – a sort of ‘survival guide’ with all the vital tips to make an effective start in Hollywood- which will soon be available.
What is the biggest difference between auditioning in the Netherlands and auditioning in LA?
In LA there are 300,000 actors and in Holland there are maybe 3,000. It’s just such a different world here. Auditions are quick, they demand a high level of confidence and skill and you must really be aware of what makes you stick out from everyone else who kinda looks like you. That’s right, there are MANY other actors who look like you also auditioning – but when you know what makes you unique, you are a step ahead.
Have you ever hit a low after moving, and how did you get through?
Focusing only on acting and performing can be detrimental if you don’t have a life outside of that. I struggled with that at first. You need to have a hobby, a social activity or know people outside of the industry to stay balanced. There is so much we go through as actors and artists when we’re in the industry, making it’s nice to have that space to breathe, gain perspective and get back in touch with yourself from time to time. It makes you a better actor. Once I found that balance, everything became so much more enjoyable and was no longer a race, a need or a desperation…
Finally, some advice for other actors that consider moving to LA?
Follow your dreams, always. But know that by coming to LA you are basically deciding to go to the Olympics of the film industry. The very best work here. So make sure you have enough experience and credits from back home, that you have developed tough skin, a strong sense of who you are. Also accept that it will take time. Don’t be one of those actors who leaves after a year because it didn’t work out. If this is your life passion, then give it a chance to come to life. Be patient, have faith and always work on what you feel you need to develop to be an even better artist. They say it takes 10,000 hours to truly Master a craft: be willing to go the distance my friend.
Like this blog? Show some love by sharing it on Facebook or Twitter or help support it by donating. And don’t forget to sign up for free e-mail updates by clicking on the I Want to Follow button on the upper right!