Kate Levering was born an entertainer and starring on broadway before she could legally drink. From her lead role in 42nd Street (which she landed a Tony nomination for!) to playing sassy attorney Kim Kaswell on the long-running Lifetime TV show Drop Dead Diva, she’s stepped into the shoes of several diverse characters while building a successful career for herself.
Today the 39-year old is a mother of three young boys and figuring out her next role in life after taking a pause from her gypsy lifestyle as an entertainer to focus on family. Tune into this honest conversation below about failure, fear and taking time to reflect on your next act — or, read some highlights here.
Tell us about early days in New York as an actress and performer.
There was a huge learning curve as an 18-year old moving to a big city and learning to navigate life — and the subways! I lived in a studio apartment with a friend of mine who helped me find my way. He told me about an audition for a show called Chicago. I bought a $20 ticket and went to the show the night before the audition. I picked an actress out of the ensemble and said I’m going to look just like her tomorrow and ended up booking the job.
Tell us about your career on Broadway and what lead you to a Tony Award nomination.
I went from this understudy to a smaller role where I was noticed and then I played Peggy Sawyer in the revival of 42nd Street and was nominated for a Tony Award for that role. After that I did a show called Thou Shalt Not. I was 23 while this was all happening, really young in my broadway career.
Talk about leaving New York and the next chapter. What happened and why did you do that?
I was in New York performing in Thou Shalt Not and 9/11 happened and it was the first time Broadway had ever shut down. It was a dark show and there was death and New Yorkers really didn’t want to sit through it. It was not well received and it was devastating riding this really big high to have this big failure. I was burnt out both emotionally and physically and I ultimately ran away. It was my first experience with humility and that feeling that my career was crashing down. So I ran away and took a break from theater and focused on television and film.
You literally ran away!
Yeah. I first started with a television show in Toronto and lived there for a year and after that I packed my bags and moved to Southern California when I was 24.
Do you regret your decision? Do you regret running away from failure?
I regret how personally I took it because now, in hindsight at almost 40-years old, I look back at people careers and realize everyone has ups and downs all the time, especially actors. I think that I was so young that it just rocked my world. So yeah, I definitely have regrets and wish someone would have told me it wasn’t a big deal. Luckily, my television career was coming along really nicely so that distracted me for many years.
Talk about it! How did you figure out that new career path?
I moved to LA luckily having really good agents at this point, and started pounding the pavement there which is a totally different monster than New York. It’s sort of a lonely place. New york you’re surrounded by an energy and in LA you’re a bit isolated. That was a new emotional hurdle to jump.
I landed a really cool series called Kevin Hill that shot in Toronto… and later was on a television series for six years called Drop Dead Diva. I’ve left out hundreds of auditions and rejections in between jobs and that’s a whole other piece of the puzzle. The art and the act of getting a job as an actor is brutal.
How did you deal with rejection?
Somebody gave me a really great piece of advice which was try not to be attached to the result of something. For me that meant preparing as best as I could, owning it and really releasing the result of that. I got a better response because I wasn’t going in with this nervous energy or feeling of desperation. I wasn’t attached to what they thought of me. It was hard to do and i don’t know if I could do it in life now, but it was a great mentality to remind myself — to stay in your lane, do what you need to do and don’t worry about what anybody thinks of you.
Do you have any tips for pushing through fear?
Really for me it was just breathing, just trying to release that nervous energy and stay grounded in who I am. It’s so easy to get outside of yourself.
As a mom, how did you figure out when that time is right and how to carve out mom time and work time. How did you navigate those waters?
Its not easy, its the hardest job you’ll ever love. For me I rely a lot on family. I ultimately haven’t worked other than a few small things here and there since the pilot with Cruel Intensions because it took sacrifices from everyone. It didn’t sit right with me leaving my kids at such a young age. Its hard, but you have to do what’s right for your family.
Is there good advice you’ve been given that you live by?
The best business advice I’ve received came from a really early moment in my career which was just to keep your eyes open and our mouth shut. In the entertainment industry you need to just watch and learn. To some extent its good advice but for me I really did do that in the early years. I flew under the radar so that I could learn how it all went down.
What would you tell your 20 year old self today?
I would tell her to enjoy the ride! I don’t know if I was really enjoying it — especially in those early years in New York. It was such a grind, worrying about getting injured or sick. When things are chaotic, it’s really hard to find the joy in it.
Coffee or tea?
Coffee, milk and sugar probably too much sugar.
Wine or cocktails?
Always a margarita!
Dream dinner guest?
Sarah Jessica Parker
Last book or magazine you read?
Probably an US magazine on an airplane when I didn’t have three kids to take care of!
I would love to play Roxy Hart in Chicago or Miss Hanigan in Annie would be hysterical.
Don’t miss Kate’s entire podcast. It’s so good! Check it out along with other Fridays with Flea Style episodes on iTunes here.