Hustling is a Key Part of the Actor's Life
Actor Gaz Jemeel talks gig-work, representation, and the ultimate goal.
For Gaz Jemeel, 26, hustling has been a constant and dominant part of his rising career as an actor. As a student, actor, and property manager, his life has always been a whirlwind combination of staying financially afloat, honing his craft, and constantly pushing the boundaries of meaning and representation in contemporary media.
Freelancing, says Jemeel, and the constant commotion of multiple jobs and projects, has allowed him to pursue his passion for acting, which he initially came into as a college student at UCLA’s School of Television, Film, and Theater. “I had first intended to be an engineer,” Gaz notes, “and I tried to stick with that, for a long time.” He explains that, having come to the United States from Pakistan for his higher education, the shift in academic focus was unexpected. “A big part of my life was breaking out of the South Asian mold–I didn’t want to be a doctor or an engineer, and that was difficult for me to accept and act on. I ended up graduating with a double major in political science and acting.”
After college, Gaz recounts how he spent three years exploring different kinds of acting, and trying to understand his role as an actor both on the stage and in life. “I finally discovered the Meisner technique,” he says, “and it felt like, in about five minutes, all of my problems were solved.” The Meisner Technique, as Gaz explains, is one of many types of acting (“There are as many techniques as there are actors,”) that focuses on staying present in the moment. “It’s about staying still–not anticipating what’s about to happen, not thinking about the next line. It’s about being in your time, in your space, and in your body.” This is in contrast with Method Acting, another popular technique, which calls for the actor to bring up a memory–happy, sad, or otherwise–that elicits a desired emotion from the actor. “It’s not particularly healthy in my opinion,” says Jemeel. “You get stuck in the past, and instead of moving with the scene you’re rooted in a previous temporal frame. And some memories don’t need to be dug up and aired out over and over again.”
Another crucial tenement of the Meisner Technique, according to Gaz, is listening–not just to words, but to tone, body language, and behavior. “The Meisner Technique really changed my outlook on life,” Jemeel notes, “It really helped me relate to people, and to not just the paranoid in my head about something someone once said.” Its importance and impact on his world view prompted Gaz to structure and organize his life around the technique. “I was in Los Angeles when I found the Meisner Technique; the teacher I wanted to study with was in San Francisco. I didn’t want to leave LA for obvious reasons, but I needed to know more about this, so I relocated and enrolled in a two-year acting intensive in the Bay Area. And I’ve been here since.”
His move to San Francisco in 2017 seriously tested Gaz’s dedication to acting. “A few days after I moved, I got a job at Starbucks,” he explains, “and I worked the night shift there.” Jemeel’s day started at three in the morning, when he would wake up and head to the coffee shop, where he worked eight or so hours, after which he would return to his home, sleep or work on his school assignments, go to school, come home to sleep, and then start the day again. “It was miserable,” he recalls.
But his routine began to improve when he was offered a position as the property manager of his apartment building. “I took that job, and then a friend suggested I apply for a job as an actor at the San Francisco Dungeon. They hired me on the spot, and that’s a steady acting gig, which is practically unheard of. I have a third job that I go to a couple of times a week at a restaurant. All of this is on top of school–and it’s absolutely insane.” Of his acting position, Gaz notes,
“It’s amazing. I’m surrounded by actors and I get a steady paycheck and I get to do something I love. The madness of all these gigs is totally worth it, because the hustle lets me practice my art.”
He adds that ultimately what keeps him motivated is the responsibility actors and people who work in the media have. “You can have so much social impact through films and acting–media is a gift, but it’s also something we have to be sure to curate well.” He explains, “I get to be on stage and screen, and I get to represent an image that people aren’t necessarily used to seeing in these visual spaces. So I want to be a part of changing perceptions on minorities in America, whether they’re like me–Muslim, Pakistani, and immigrant–or otherwise.” He continues to note that media is a way to ask and probe without preaching.
“My work is an ode to representation. I want to give voice to marginalized communities–to make sure that they have the ability to speak and be heard, and that they have a space to grow and exercise their freedom.”