Actress Carla Gugino Makes a Case for Finding Success in Failure

Badass Women celebrates women who show up, speak up, and get things done. Carla Gugino is an August 2019 InStyle Badass 50 honoree. 

BAW 50 Carla Cugino
Photo: Hudson Taylor/Headpress/Redux

As a society, we've been taught that failure is bad and success is good. I beg to differ, and here's why: To be an actor is to have a Ph.D. in the fine art of rejection. Every project is tenuous at best. You might not be cast, or if you are, a variety of reasons might keep your version of the character from seeing the light of day. But, in my experience at least, something better always comes along.

Here are a few quick examples.

In 1996 I was cast in Spin City, opposite Michael J. Fox. Halfway into the first season, the great Gary David Goldberg realized they had worked my character into a corner, so she needed to be written out. I left, disappointed, but I couldn't disagree. The silver lining? On that set, I got to work with masters of their craft and met my lifelong soul sister, Connie Britton.

Weeks later I had the chance to work with Brian De Palma and Nicolas Cage in Snake Eyes. This wouldn't have happened if I'd still been doing a TV show in New York. Right after that, Sebastian Gutierrez and I made our first movie together, Judas Kiss. That kicked off a fruitful collaboration that has lasted 20 years (our newest series, Jett, premiered in June).

In 2003 I played the lead in a much-anticipated TV show called Karen Sisco. The show turned out great, but a regime change saw it abruptly canceled. I was devastated, but then a couple of weeks later, Broadway director Michael Mayer auditioned me for After the Fall and changed my life. I soon found myself performing on Broadway in one of the best roles I've ever gotten. I never saw it coming.

My point is that when you think failure comes knocking, there is always another door that opens. I've lost out on a big movie at the same time that I found my dream house. I've starred in "sure thing" television pilots that didn't get picked up and been part of highly anticipated blockbusters-to-be that didn't pan out — but I met some of my best friends and future colleagues on those sets. This has happened over and over. All the people I admire have led lives filled with so-called failures. In fact, what makes them successful is how well they navigate them.

So, the next time "failure" greets you, look it in the eye and say, "Where are we going next?"

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