You may know Nancy Stafford from her work as Michelle Thomas on Matlock, or perhaps you’ve seen the “Queen of Christmas” in a number of Hallmark films. The actress’s résumé runs long, and she recently starred in a romantic comedy entitled First Lady, as well as an Act One Advent short film that was shot entirely on Zoom. During a break from shooting her latest project, Paul’s Promise, Stafford took time to virtually sit down with The Greenhouse Journal to share a number of takeaways she’s learned during her successful journey in the industry. Keep reading for some career advice that goes deeper than the business of being an actor, straight to the heart of things.
I think we tend to look at failure as the worst thing that could possibly happen. You may do everything you can to avoid it, but in my experience, failure has often been a real gift to me. And some of the greatest things I’ve learned about myself and about others have been through my failures. One example is when I experienced a “dry spell” after being blessed with working three TV series in a row as a series regular. I was ready for the next thing after the last one wrapped, but no one was knocking down my door. Eventually, I received an offer to host a fashion and lifestyle show on CBS, but I didn’t want to do it because I thought it was beneath me as an actress. I needed the work, though, so I finally accepted it and ended up doing the weekly show for 10 years. Out of it came the opportunity to write a blog called “Nancy’s Notebook,” which was perfect since it allowed me to start writing about what true inner beauty is and speak to women and teens all over the country.
As a result, a Christian publisher from Random House asked me to write a book about the topic, and it all happened because I failed to book another series during that dry spell. Sometimes, the best things that happen to us grow from what we perceive as failure. Doors can open what we never could have imagined.
I think that in this industry, especially, it is so easy to be seduced by the pressure put on us to be a certain way. We are prone to believe lies that say we’re not successful enough, young enough, or just good enough. I can say for myself, as a believer in Jesus Christ, that I have this incredible gift of knowing in Whom my strength, identity, and value lies. That protects me from the ups and downs of rejection and hard circumstances, which can tempt us to compromise different aspects of who we are. And that segues nicely into my next piece of advice.
I’ve said no so much and turned down a lot of work, which has sometimes led to parting ways with agents. They would assume I didn’t want to work, but that was not the case. I didn’t want to be a part of projects that said things to the world that conflicted with my values. It’s important that you don’t let your conscience be compromised, which also extends to how you allow others to treat you. The entertainment industry is not always the most respectful toward people so I’d advise learning how to stand up for yourself and saying no when you’re convicted to do so. If you stick to your guns and refuse to be treated as less-than, you’re going to sleep a lot better at night.
Oftentimes, actors are thinking a lot about themselves and what they need to do for their careers. But we’re just one small part of a bigger picture. We should always be on the lookout for how we can help others, asking ourselves, “Who needs encouragement, hope, or affirmation today?” Sometimes it’s just a matter of treating someone with great respect or kindness or love. That also extends to giving back to others by teaching, mentoring, and sharing what you’ve learned. That’s what I love about The Greenhouse.
Stafford surely “walks the talk,” as evidenced by her taking the time to discuss the things she’s discovered along the way that could benefit other actors. She even extended the offer of providing a link to her personal Facebook page, her preferred form of social media, for those wanting to connect. And more wisdom from the actress can be found in the multiple books she’s penned, available on the official Nancy Stafford site.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Cat Elliott is a writer for The Greenhouse Journal. After graduating magna cum laude from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a Bachelor of Journalism, Elliott moved to L.A. to work as both an entertainment news writer and a SAG-AFTRA actor. Her industry knowledge and TV/film experience lend themselves to both positions. Two of her favorite on-set moments include “giving birth” during a period piece entitled The Mistress and laughing her way through a fun Honda spot. Elliott’s on-camera work also includes a stint as a reporter and anchor for an NBC-affiliate news station. In an example of art mimicking life, the actor is often solicited to play reporter roles. She additionally has some casting and directing credits under her name and draws from this unique mix of entertainment experience to craft articles for The Greenhouse Journal.