When someone in Los Angeles tells you they are an actor -- and so many do -- the cynic will reply, "Which restaurant?"
For every Oscar nominee, there are tens of thousands of aspiring Oscar nominees -- actors who spend each day hoping and auditioning, waiting and bartending.
Some actually make a living on stage and screen, but 95 percent do not. So when you hear someone say, "It's just an honor to be nominated," believe them -- because in Hollywood, it is an honor just to work.
Virtually every Oscar nominee has an early career tale of woe. Long before "Syriana," George Clooney was in more than a dozen television pilots and not one of them ever made it on the air. But he stuck it out, got his break, and added a little more fuel to the dream factory.
Getting to the Casting Director
Each year, thousands of fresh faces join California's constant gold rush. They spend their savings on head shots and acting classes. If they are talented and lucky, they'll get an agent. And, if that agent is legit, they'll be allowed to meet that gatekeeper of fame -- the casting director.
"We could probably see 500 to 600 people for one role that's not even one of the most significant roles in the film," said Sara Finn, who was the casting director for "Crash."
Tyler Poelle has been in Hollywood a little over a year after earning a prestigious theatrical degree, and knows that the odds are against him when he goes on an audition. But he still wants to act.
"I might sound totally green and just doe-eyed, because I love my job," he said. "I love my job deeply. But the city sucker punches you. You go to bed some nights, and in the midnight of your soul you're like, 'Why am I doing this? This hurts so bad.' "
Just One Break Away
Jolie Jenkins knows the feeling. She gets steady work -- even a role in the season finale of "Desperate Housewives" -- but after several years in Hollywood, she is still one break away.
"I mean, at my level, I have a great agent and a great manager and I'm constantly auditioning for things," she said. "Yet there are projects that I can't get in on because I'm not a name -- even though I've been working consistently for years, you know?"
But even in this most competitive of fields, they find solace in other actors. Acting classes often resemble group therapy sessions as students share their tales of rejection and objectification.
Yet the resentment actors and actresses feel toward the field disappears the second they get their chance to act, says Lesly Kahn, an acting coach in Los Angeles.
"Actors are like junkies," Kahn said. "And I think they're like gamblers. What happens as an actor [is] you do a play or you do a movie or you do a TV show, and you have that feeling. It's like heroin. They just gotta have it."
"If I were to give a piece of advice to an aspiring actor, I would say don't do it," she added.