Please introduce yourself. What do you do? Why? What do you want people to know about you?
Hi! I’m Jackie Dallas and I’m a TV and film actress based in Los Angeles. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked on popular shows such as Stranger Things, Criminal Minds, 13 Reasons Why, and in feature films with legends like William Shatner and Morgan Freeman.
I absolutely love what I do and find every day exciting and different. As a kid, I could never decide what I wanted to be when I grew up, and being an actress allows me to be anyone I want. One day I can be an empathetic flight attendant, another day a hard-nosed detective, and being able to slip in and out of various characters really lets me explore all of the lives that I wish I could have.
It also allows me to travel all over for work and I love to travel! I recently got back from working on Magnum PI in Hawaii and I remember hiking to the top of a trail after work one day and just thinking how incredible it was to be there.
What qualities make you different and unique from everyone else in the industry?
One thing that a lot of people may not know about me is that my original career was as a doctor. I completed medical school, an internship as a surgeon, and had reached my last year of pathology residency when I made the decision to be an actress.
I didn’t know anything about the industry and never took any formal training with exception of high school drama, but I took all of the disciplines and work ethics that it took to become a doctor and applied it to becoming an actress.
Anything from doing massive amounts of research about the business and craft, to taking classes and workshops, attending networking events and in my downtime, any administrative work, such as building a portfolio of work, self submitting to any opportunities I could find, creating and editing demo reels and even trying to build a social media presence and a professional website.
I approached acting as a business, rather than a dream, even though it was. I knew that the odds of “making it” as an actor are slim already and coming into the industry late in the game, without training, and as an Asian American woman nearing 30 was going to be an immense challenge, so I did a lot of research into the business part of the industry such as the process of auditioning from submitting to booking, how each industry position fit into the wheel from agents to producers, and most importantly, what it was that they were looking for in their actors.
I prepared my materials to allow me to pitch myself as professionally as I could and took a lot of risks, some that worked out, others that didn’t, but I gave it everything I had and with a little bit of luck, I am where I am today.
Describe THAT moment when you realized you’re doing what you were born to do.
I remember choosing to go to medical school because I honestly didn’t know what else to do with my life. I come from a family of doctors and growing up in an Asian household, the expectation was that I would follow the same path. However, I did it on my terms, attending a school in the Caribbean because I thought that if I had to study for hours at a time, I might as well do it on the beach.
Once I moved into the clinical patient care portion of my training, I thought “now the fun starts”. I can apply what I had learned from books and actually DO things! I moved to NYC where I had always dreamed to live as a girl from a small town in Florida, but what I didn’t realize was how grueling the work would be. Incredibly long hours, usually over 80 hours a week, little opportunity to sleep undisturbed through the night, and a constantly high-stress environment knowing that your choices would impact the lives of the patients you treated.
After my surgical internship in NYC, I realized that I needed something a little slower paced. I switched to a pathology residency in Chicago, starting from year 1 of training all over again in my new specialty in a new city, and while that gave me the lifestyle I could comfortably sustain, it didn’t excite me the way I had always pictured my career would.
It was just another job and after a few years, I found myself hitting the snooze button every morning and watching the clock to leave in the afternoons. Then, life presented me with a choice. My husband, fiance at the time, who I had met in medical school, got accepted into a program at Stanford in California.
We had already been in a long-distance relationship for 2 years, hopeful that we could finally be reunited in Chicago to complete our training, but suddenly, it appeared that we would be apart for another 4-7 years if we both wanted to become licensed physicians in our specialties. Realistically, that would have been near impossible and less than ideal relationship, and we had to have the discussion of what we would do moving forward, prioritize our careers and risk separating, or one of us move and attempt to start over again.
In the end, we both realized that we loved each other and wanted to make it work. I had never fully found satisfaction in my career, despite pursuing different fields and we decided that I would be the one to move to California. After all, I was also no stranger to moving to new places and starting new chapters of my life again.
I began to plan what I would do when I move to the West coast and I started playing with the idea of pursuing acting. It was something that I had always wanted to do, being a child performer at local theaters in my hometown, attending theater camp and being an active member of the drama club in high school, but this was the first time that it seemed like it could be a tangible reality. Besides, my medical degree wasn’t’ going anywhere and if I had to start over again anyway, why not try to finally work towards something I was actually passionate about.
I remember going up to my program director the day before my Christmas break, and telling him that I was not going to be renewing my contract for my final year and feeling like a huge weight had been lifted. It was an uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing, and terrifying conversation, but deep down inside, I felt like I was finally making a step in the direction towards the life that I was born to live.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to go through and how did you grow through it?
The biggest challenge for me was warding off the gnawing seeds of self-doubt and regret. The first few years were difficult as it is an adventure of perseverance and determination to get your foot in the door and your first credits for your resume, most of which are unpaid gigs that matter more for the experience than the paycheck. However, I still needed to work.
I had a little bit of money saved up, but to make ends meet, I had to take on a variety of part-time jobs that offered the flexibility to still audition and take off days if I were to book something. I had nearly overnight gone from being a doctor with financial security to going back to bartending, dog sitting, event catering, and doing brand ambassador work like handing out fliers or drink samples at stores. All the while, watching my previous colleagues moving forward in their careers, buying homes, raising families and defining what I had always considered success.
It didn’t help that I knew most, if not all, of them had expressed to me how they thought it was a silly decision I made to walk away from a career I had spent 12 years working towards. I will give an immense amount of credit to my husband who was incredibly supportive and encouraging with my career and probably single handedly kept me motivated, but it was hard to not feel at times like I had made the biggest, stupidest, most recklessly impulsive decision of my life.
What kept me going was the sheer determination to not let that be the case. I simply would not accept that failure was an option, and I learned to savor the small victories and milestones that came with acting. My first booking in any project, my first leading role in an indie, signing with my first manager, and then my first agent.
I remembered celebrating when I finally became SAG-AFTRA eligible after years of hustling and my first audition for a primetime TV show, even though I didn’t book it. When I finally booked my first costar role on a Netflix show, I finally allowed myself to breath a sigh of relief because at that moment, I knew that everything was going to work out.
Who are the TOP 3 people you’d want to meet that could elevate your career or business? Why these specific individuals?
This is such a hard question… I’m glad that I can pick three people because there are so many people that I would love to meet and work with within this industry.
From a career perspective, I would love the chance to work with Christopher Nolan who has made some of the most successful films in recent Hollywood history. Even having a small supporting role in one of his blockbuster movies would be a game-changer for an actress like me right now and I just feel like I could learn so much from working alongside the A-list actors who bring these iconic films to life. Plus, all of his movies just look like they’d be so much fun to make!
From a personal geeky genre perspective, I would also love to meet Kevin Feige who created the immersive Marvel Universe. I’m a total geek when it comes to comic-inspired films and shows (also looking at you Christopher Nolan in the DC Universe) and I would have so many questions about how he was able to envision such an integrated franchise that juggles multiple storylines, inspiring character arcs, and fan service so successfully.
And if I was able to get cast in any of these projects, I would be so giddy I’d probably cry.
The final person I’d choose to meet would be Reese Witherspoon because I remember learning of her as one of the first empowered females to take control of her own career and the female narrative in Hollywood as an actress turned producer. She took the opportunities granted by her successes as an actress and created her own production company Hello Sunshine which churns out so many incredible stories that highlight roles for women.
I draw so much inspiration from women like her who use their platforms and privileges to help elevate those around her in meaningful ways towards equalizing the playing field. Plus, she just seems like a really cool person to just get a cocktail with.