My trip to California started in Denver. Long story short, the year before, I drove out West to see my brother. I left my car at his house and flew back to New York. Eight months later, in the midst of another cruel and punishing winter, I bought an airplane ticket and said goodbye to New York City. (Well, not goodby forever. I kept my studio apartment in the West Village — I’m not a complete idiot.)
I got my car and drove from Denver to LA. Thirty miles outside of Los Angeles I pulled off the road and got out of the car. The city loomed in front of me (it was February so there wasn’t any smog). Two profound thoughts occurred to me. First, I thought, “Okay, kid. This is where what you want to do is happening. Let’s get it on.” I was wearing a sweater and had a short sleeve polo shirt on underneath. I took the sweater off and threw in in the car and that’s when the second thought hit me. I was standing outside in a short sleeve, cotton shirt in THE MIDDLE OF WINTER! “Ahhhh, California,” I said out loud. “This is paradise!”
I signed with a big commercial agency right away and met Diane Sanford who would remain my commercial agent (through various agencies) for the majority of my commercial acting career. But getting a legit agent proved to be difficult. The agents in Hollywood weren’t interested or impressed with the off-Broadway shows or the soap work I’d done. Finally, after interviewing with a number of agencies, I signed with Dick Lovell & Associates. Dick was really a one-man band. He said the “& Associates” sounded more impressive. But he was willing to take me on and he started getting me out.
He met some resistance initially but fortunately a Hallmark commercial I shot before I left New York started playing. So, when Dick would call a casting director and say, “I want to submit John Swain.” The casting directors would say, “Who’s John Swain?” And Dick would say, “He’s the guy in that Hallmark commercial.” And they’d say, “Send him in.”
After sleeping on a variety of couches for a couple months I, along with a roommate, rented a two bedroom house in Venice. We were up on a hill, overlooking the beach, one block from the Rose Café. Needless to say, the charm of the studio apartment in the West Village studio dimmed considerably.
Things settled into a comfortable routine – not quite sure why I said comfortable – it was actually a joy ride for me; one filled with exciting twists and turns. I was going on auditions, booking jobs, making good money. Even the auditions for the jobs I didn’t book were fun – I met wonderful people, read for some incredible projects; heck, I was thrilled just to be in the game.
My first big break came on a Movie of the Week, Night Partners. I played a not-so-nice husband — it’s so cool playing the bad guy — and although I didn’t have a lot of screen time, the premiere was well attended, and my agent parlayed my two minutes (two minutes and fifteen seconds to be exact) into more meetings and auditions. Soon I was working steadily on shows produced by Lorimar, MTM, Warner Brothers, 20th Century, and Steve Bochco’s people, just to mention a few.
Life was good…but, and I don’t know about you, but up to that point I’d found it hard to create a balance between my personal life and my professional life. Either one was up and the other was down or vice versa. So, my professional life was going gangbusters and then I got married. BIG MISTAKE. Along with a bad marriage I found the balance that had eluded me, only now both my personal life and my professional life were in the toilet.
But, shortly afterwards, as fate would have it, in the midst of a very, very dark period of the soul, I met the love of my life (to be continued)…