Alec Baldwin started in soaps.
To get to Hollywood and become a star, which was always his goal, he tells Anna Sale for an episode of the WNYC podcast "Death, Sex & Money," he had to get good at something more difficult than acting: listening.
Although listening, he says, sometimes also involves acting.
As he tells the story, when he initially went to Los Angeles, he felt adrift. His father had died, and he left his mentor back on the East Coast; he needed guidance. So he networked.
He sought out older, successful, well-established people, researched their backgrounds and contacted them. One in particular he met for lunch and, for the whole meal, he let the other man talk.
I did this thing, I mean, as loquacious as I can be at times, I played this game once with two famous men; they were two huge executives at a studio, and, I'm not that smart, but on one occasion, I thought, I'm going to sit and have lunch with them and I'm not going to say a word.
I'm going to read all about them (this was before the Internet); I'm going to find out about their careers.
And I sat and had lunch with one particular guy, and we talked for an hour and a half at a restaurant in Beverly Hills. And he spoke in an unbroken monologue for an hour and a half. And you just couldn't believe how much I really acted – it was the best acting I had ever done in my entire life.
"And then what? And then what do you do after that? Oooo, really? My god, then you did that? Oh my god." And then I kinda meant it, because he was a very fascinating guy.
And the lunch is over, and he calls up my agent and he goes, "I love him!" "He's fantastic!"
You know, and I realize getting out there, it's like this much how talented you are and this much about how much they like you. They want to like you.
He won them over by doing his homework and then listening, by seeming engaging, informed and, most of all, likable. In that respect, it seems, Hollywood is like every other field: Studies have found that being friendly and familiar, not your resume or your experience, is what gets you hired.
As Baldwin puts it, the people in charge "want to work with people they like."
When you don't yet have a network to draw on, one way to get in front of the people in charge is to send a cold email. Although reaching out to someone you've never met can seem daunting, the right kind of cold email — one that shows that you, like Baldwin, did your homework before reaching out and that doesn't ask the recipient for too much — can change the whole course of your career.