Lee Norris (BA 2004 in English & Communication)
Professional Actor and Development Executive at Prix Productions in Raleigh, NC
Tell us about your current job role and employer. What are you currently working on?
I’m a professional actor and I also just started a new job as a development executive at Prix Productions, a film and TV production company based in Raleigh, NC. On the acting front, I have a movie coming out in 2020 called “Greyhound” starring Tom Hanks, and a Christmas movie airing on Lifetime with some of my former “One Tree Hill” cast mates. At Prix Productions, I’m helping to develop two feature films that are in various stages of production.
What key personal and/or career experiences led you to where you are today?
Juggling my senior year at Wake while simultaneously filming the first season of “One Tree Hill” was one of the hardest, but most important experiences of my life. I was so fortunate that the professors and staff understood that I’d been given a unique opportunity with the show, and they worked with me to balance my classes with my filming schedule so I could fulfill my obligations to graduate on time. It was chaotic, but totally worth it, because I got to walk away with my college degree and still be part of this show that would carry my career for a decade. It taught me that you don’t always have to compromise. Instead of choosing between school or the show, I took on both, and the payoff has been incredible.
More recently, the decision to move from Los Angeles back home to NC has been a defining experience. Career-wise, it made sense to stay put in LA, but my wife and I wanted to raise our newborn son closer to our families in NC. Ultimately, we decided it was more important to move home and be closer to family regardless of what it meant for my career. Fortunately, since the move, I’ve been able to continue working on various acting gigs and also taken on the production company job. This was the right decision for us as a family, and it’s also reaffirmed for me that there’s not just one path to success. You can make an unconventional career move and still succeed and find happiness.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job? How do you navigate that challenge?
Lack of stability is the most challenging aspect. Unless you’re one of the few big name actors in Hollywood, it’s inevitable to have lulls in your career. As a child actor, I learned from an early age how fickle the entertainment industry could be. When I was lucky enough to land a long-running series that provided some financial stability as a young adult, I didn’t take it for granted and saved as much as I could to ride out slower periods that I knew would come later.
Evolving has also been helpful. I’ve grown my skill set and found new opportunities off-camera that make me less dependent on acting jobs. The Alumni Personal & Career Development Center was instrumental in helping guide my search for a more traditional work role that led to my current development job. Lauren Beam, in particular, helped me figure out how to present my non-traditional work experience in a way that made my resume more appealing. That office is such an invaluable resource for alums, and I can’t recommend them highly enough.
What advice would you give to Wake Forest graduates about developing their personal life habits after college (finances, health, values, work/life balance)?
Balance is crucial. No matter your line of work, you have to take care of yourself mentally and physically, or you’ll suffer. I think a big part of that is finding outlets and meaningful relationships outside of work so that your identity isn’t completely tied-up in what you do. This gives you more freedom to evolve, grow from mistakes, and transition into new roles. Let your source of pride and strength come from the people who love you, and not from whether you’re crushing it or falling behind in your career.
We know that relationships are important for any kind of development. How do you build and maintain your network?
One way I build my network is by trying to be as authentic as possible with everyone I meet and work with. So much of what we encounter now is filtered or based on perception, and I think that leads us to crave authenticity in our relationships. I’m not perfect at it by any means, but by trying to be kind and genuine with others, I feel like I forge more meaningful connections. This, in turn, helps me stay in touch and I find that people are more willing to help out when they can. Outside of that general philosophy, practical tools like social media, Linked In, and college alumni meet-ups have been helpful.
Tell us about your mentoring relationships. What impact have these relationships had on your career and life?
Starting out as a child actor, my parents were the most immediate and impactful mentors in my life. Though neither of them had experience in the entertainment industry, they taught me the importance of being professional on set, treating others with kindness, saving money, and getting an education. All of that helped me navigate the transition from child actor to adulthood. I also had some amazing professors at Wake Forest who nurtured my talent and growth as a person, and who are still valued advisors and friends. Cindy Gendrich, Sharon Andrews, Brook Davis, and Mary Dalton are just a few who mean so much to me.
What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are interested in working in your industry?
You have to truly love what you’re doing because there’s a lot of rejection involved. You also have to be open to learning from others, but at the same time, not let other people define you or tell you what you can do. Do the smart, practical things to gain experience like working in theatre to build up your resume, and remember that even though it’s often an ego driven business, people ultimately want to work with others who are collaborative.
What’s next for your career? What future goals or plans are you pursuing?
I’ll continue to seek acting roles that interest me, but I’m excited to explore this new opportunity of developing films and TV shows. It’s fun to put the knowledge and experience I’ve gained after more than twenty years in the business to use in a different way.
Story published in November 2019. For current updates about Lee, visit his LinkedIn page.