Just Find What Makes You Happy: Bliss Didn't Come Easily for Christopher Meloni. but Now That He's Found It, He's Eager to Share

By Shinn, Lora | Success, July 2010 | Go to article overview

Just Find What Makes You Happy: Bliss Didn't Come Easily for Christopher Meloni. but Now That He's Found It, He's Eager to Share


Shinn, Lora, Success


When he was a young man, Christopher Meloni's mother gave him a simple gift that would change his life.

At the time, Meloni was conflicted about his career path. Drawn to acting, he loved how it allowed him to slip into different characters and play at different occupations. It would be cool to be a doctor, he recalls thinking at the time, but I just hate hospitals. I want to be a lawyer, but I don't want to study. But I could be Perry Mason.

Meloni had gained a strong work ethic from his parents--his father was an endocrinologist who often worked 16-hour days while his mother was busy at home raising him and two siblings.

As much as Meloni loved acting, it hardly seemed, well, like working. It didn't seem a worthy professional endeavor for the doctor's son. A conversation with his mother set him straight.

"I didn't know what to do with my life," Meloni tells SUCCESS. "My mother said, 'Why are you making such a big deal of everything? Just find what makes you happy.'"

Just find what makes you happy. She made it sound so simple. His mother had given her blessing, and Meloni committed to pursuing his passion. "'I'm going to be an actor or I'm going to die trying,'" he remembers telling himself. "That's a lot of pressure!"

As always, naysayers chimed in: How was he going to make it as an actor? How many others had tried and failed? At first, the negativity upset him, but then Meloni determined their underlying motive: The doubters were voicing their own fears.

"Some people don't want anyone to rise above, go beyond the norm," he says, and it's just part of the human condition. But he didn't have to let them hold him back from achieving his own goals.

Disproving the Naysayers

He took in university drama classes, but his spirit strained against the school setting. After getting his undergraduate degree, he packed up and moved to New York to make good on his promise--he would become an actor. "There are a million and one ways to get to where you've got to go, and you have to find what's right for you."

Taking evening drama classes at the prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse, he worked part-time gigs in construction and bit parts in commercials. Landing his first TV role in 1989, he displayed a wide range of ability throughout the 1990s, playing everything from a dinosaur (Dinosaurs) to a gangster (The Last Don). He continued taking classes until he scored his big break in 1997, with a leading part in HBO's prison show Oz.

In 1999, Meloni's efforts paid off again with a lead role on NBC's popular dramatic series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. During his 11 years playing tough guy Detective Elliott Stabler, Meloni has earned an Emmy nomination and become one of the highest-paid actors on TV.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"I feel as though I've been in a Ph.D. program for acting, but I'm still learning," Meloni says. "If you're on the job 14 hours a day, every day, if you don't learn something, you're either unconscious or actively not trying."

His reputation as a hardworking, exacting actor with a sense of humor has provided many opportunities. Meloni's filmography ranges from comedies such as Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle to film dramas such as Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. He's also been involved in producing and directing.

Meloni is at the top of his game. But he's also blunt about the risks, work and patience required to get there. "Out of 1,000 auditions, I've probably blown 850 and did OK on 150," he says. Of those 150, just a handful of parts came through.

Getting Back in the Game

He revels in a job well done, no matter the outcome. …

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