Several Canadian actors say working a day job while employed in the biz is more common than some might think.
The issue was thrust into the spotlight when a photo of “The Cosby Show” actor Geoffrey Owens working the cash register at a Trader Joe’s went viral.
After news of Owens’ employment was published by multiple media outlets, a legion of social media users and industry workers jumped to the 57-year-old actor’s defence, with some tweeting their own personal stories about juggling multiple jobs during their careers with the hashtag #ActorsWithDayJobs.
Arwen Humphreys, who plays Margaret Brackenreid in the Canadian drama series “Murdoch Mysteries,” said she’s worked on-and-off as a server in Toronto throughout the entire run of the show, which was renewed for a twelfth season in March.
“There’s an assumption that if you’re on a big TV show, that somehow, that’s what you’re doing all the time,” she said in a phone interview Monday. “As an actor, sometimes you’re working and sometimes you’re not, and you’ve got to find a way to fill in the gaps.”
Humphreys “outed” herself as a restaurant worker on Sunday, tweeting her support for Owens after the photo came to light.
She said having to take on a second job is an aspect of show business that many people don’t think about, noting that there’s a common misconception about how much money actors make and how much work they can get.
“This is the reality of being an actor … it ebbs and flows,” she said. “And what people think about it, at the end of the day, is irrelevant, because I can’t pay my rent based on what people think.”
While Humphreys occasionally gets recognized at her restaurant job for her recurring role as the wife of one of the show’s main characters, she said she feels her fans don’t look down on her because of her job.
She fondly remembered one of her younger fans, a 13-year-old girl from Ottawa, who was surprised to see Humphreys when she and her mother visited the restaurant one Saturday.
“That little girl just lost her mind … she didn’t care that I was a server,” she said.
“We’re living as actors, and part of that means is that you have to take these other jobs, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Andrew Phung, who plays the supporting role of Kimchee on “Kim’s Convenience,” said he’s worked in customer service jobs since he was a teenager, starting out as an employee at a mall at the age of 16.
Phung, who also worked at a non-profit organization, kept that job part-time after the first season of the popular sitcom wrapped up.
“I love customer service jobs! I crush those jobs,” he said in a phone interview from Calgary.
For him, the recent coverage around the picture of Owens points to a larger problem of society’s tendency to value certain jobs over others.
He said any job deserves respect no matter what it is, adding that the issue is somewhat personal.
“My mom worked two jobs. She worked early in the morning at a university cafeteria, she’d come home, take care of me during the day, then she’d work late at night at a Japanese sushi restaurant,” said Phung.
“For me, this isn’t just about actors coming together: this is about humans coming together, supporting those who are just trying to make a life for their family.”
“Kim’s Convenience,” which debuted internationally on Netflix in July, tells the story of a Korean family-owned convenience store in Toronto, and the characters’ trials as they try to balance work and family life.
Phung said the show is a less-glamorous look into the lives of customer service workers than other shows might portray.
“I’ve always joked on the television show, ‘Friends:’ ‘When do they work? How do they all afford to live in New York in these beautiful apartments?’ Whereas you watch a show like ‘Kim’s Convenience,’ and there’s episodes where my character and Jung were too poor to go out, or Janet can’t afford rent.”
He said some of his fans tell him they like the show because it tells the stories of real people working real jobs.
Meanwhile, “Mr. D” star Gerry Dee said that even for those who are able to transition to working in showbiz full time, service jobs are often a stop along the way.
After he left his teaching job in 2003, he said he worked as a waiter for years as he ran a hockey school while his acting career was taking off, and it’s ”very common” for actors to take on second jobs because of the fickle nature of the industry.
“I think people would be surprised what the longevity is,” he said. ”There’s no guarantees.”
He said he’s grateful to be able to make money performing standup comedy while he’s not acting, but he notes that not every actor has that opportunity.
Dee added he’s glad to see the acting community stand behind Owens.
“People are coming to his defence, because how do you knock a man or a woman for trying to earn a dollar?”
Alex Cooke , The Canadian Press