From Puget Sound to Hollywood

Darby Stanchfield '93 Communications

Darby Stanchfield '93 (Communication Studies major; Theatre Arts minor) has pursued an acting career since graduating from Puget Sound. Currently starring in ABC's hit series Scandal, Darby returns to campus to talk about life in the limelight, and the perseverance required to get there.

The end of the year is almost upon us, and with the approach of graduation comes a great deal of anxiety about our lives once we leave school. Thankfully, actress and Puget Sound Alum Darby Stanchfield ’93, star of hit ABC series Scandal, came to campus to meet with current Loggers and talk about her unique career path.

Even for students who are not interested in theatre or acting, Darby, who was a Communications major with a minor in Theatre Arts, had some fantastic insight and advice for anyone who feels daunted looking at life beyond the University of Puget Sound.

Instead of going to Hollywood immediately following graduation, as is often expected, Darby took some time after graduation to explore her career options before making the plunge, attending graduate school at the American Conservatory Theatre.

Darby's story thrilled the audience of almost 200 Puget Sound students at Kilworth Memorial Chapel. But don’t fret if you missed her fantastic talk! She sat down with two Career and Employment Services student staff members to talk about how her time at the University of Puget Sound has affected her career path.

Christy Kondo [CES Student Staff]: Just to get started, we were curious about what your favorite role that you’ve played has been and why.

Darby Stanchfield: Wow. The answer is whatever role I’m currently playing. Really! There are different roles that hold favorite memories, but really when I’m working on any given role at that moment I’ve completely fallen in love with that character and I am fully committed to her point of view.

Obviously Scandal—Abby from Scandal has been a really special experience. Probably because I’ve gotten to live with this character for three seasons and so I’ve learned more about her than some of the other characters that I’ve played on TV.

Another one that really stands out is Helen Bishop from Mad Men. It was such a unique role to have on that series because she’s a little ahead of her time and one of the few females who’s not a love interest of Don Draper. Such an interesting, complex, strong woman.

CK: That’s fantastic. So, we’re student staff members—we were wondering, did you work while you were in college?

DS: I wasn’t ever in a work study program at Puget Sound. I did a summer job, though. Waited tables and did double shifts all summer long, six days a week. So I worked really hard. I also—all of the jobs that I had before college—I saved fifty percent of everything that I made from any job so that I actually paid for my first year of college by myself. But when I was here, no, I just was fully just in class—I was fortunate enough to have parents that were able to help me financially.

CK: That’s fantastic that you saved up for your first year, that’s huge.

DS: Yeah, that is huge. I mean it’s not—the tuition was half of what it is now, but at the time it was. My dad graduated from college but my mother did not, and he barely did through community college, so they really emphasized getting an education as something that was valuable in my family. So I was really intent on getting a good college education.

Sarah Balaz [CES Student Staff]: [whispering] I wish I could teach myself to save money.

ALL: [laughter]

DS: It was a rule in my household as a kid, so then by the time I got to [college] it became literally this habit, even now when I work I put a lot of it away for a rainy day. It’s never too early to start.

SB: Well, I’m graduating in May so…I’m going to need to learn the saving situation. I know that you were a Communications major, that’s my major...has there been anything from being a Communications major that helped you with your career, anything you’ve taken away from that sort of education?

DS: Yes, I would say there were many ways in which my Communications classes in specific has helped me. I was taught to critically think at UPS, so I wasn’t just regurgitating a bunch of information, but I was asked to have a point of view and I was asked to make an argument to defend my point of view. And then in that argument to have a thesis and back it up with evidence, and I feel like that has served me well in acting in that it is a business. I am an independent contractor; I have agents and managers and publicists that work for me, and my ability to give them an argument or reason as to why to work for me or why I want things done a certain way – Just the skills I learned in some of those basic Communications classes have totally served as a foundation help  me conduct my business. Also, we did media classes that talked about social media messaging, like the study of semiotics, I was really pushed to examine who my audience was, what the messaging is, how is the messaging being delivered so that as an actor, although I’m not producing content, when I read a script I’m identifying who’s my audience. And after I identify who the audience is, that’s going to help me make choices as the character, whether it be behavior choices or even how to dress, whether like if it’s for an audition or if I’m doing a part in a show. So just breaking down the script, identifying the audience, identifying the messaging. It also has equipped me with [figuring out], “Do I want to do this character?” You know, those sort of tools that allow me to go, “You know, I think I’ll pass on this one, I’m not so excited about the way it’s written, or the level of the language, or I simply don’t like the audience that it appeals to.” Maybe it’s about the male gaze, which is not so much up my alley. I could go on, but yes, my Communications major has helped me ad nauseum, like even in other ways. But specifically in my acting career, which is kind of cool!

CK: We were wondering what advice you would offer to students who are just entering the workforce.

DS: I think, for me, it took me a couple years to really land in having the guts to really pursue acting. I mean, I sort of knew that I wanted to do it, but I tried a different number of jobs, and some of that helped me decide what I didn’t want to do, and I would say not to panic during that. If you don’t totally know or you don’t totally have the dream job on the first year out, or two years or three years or five years? That’s life. And part of your experiences in those first jobs are just going to continue to help you learn on what you do and do not want to do. I think also – I knew what I wanted to do pretty much, but I had to build up my confidence level – that’s not going to be an issue for some people, some people are going to be incredibly confident, but having a vision, having the vision of what you want to do and then really checking in with yourself throughout the year, couple years, or over the years, for me I still do. And making sure that whatever it is you’re doing (for me, it’s agents and managers and people who work along with me) making sure they have the same vision that I have for myself. So it doesn’t really matter what job you’re doing, but if you’re wanting to get into the field of education, do you have a really good mentor that you can reach out to? Even after school, to find those people in the workforce that you look up to, that maybe have more experience than you in a certain way. Those are just some aspects that might speak to people.

SB: What was one of the first jobs that you had right out of college?

DS: Well the first job I had out of college was going back to waiting tables. I worked at Chandler’s Crab House which is this restaurant in Seattle on Lake Union. I worked on and off there for years, like through school, so after school I went back there and then I also did some temp work through an agency, but you know all the while I was auditioning for theatres in Seattle, really trying to become an actress. I was also trying to apply for these jobs that were in my field, these were just temporary jobs that were helping me pay rent.

CK: We were talking earlier about learning what you do and do not want to do - I’m guessing some of those jobs were more of the “what you did not want to do”.

DS: Yeah, I actually applied for a job in the corporate world. It was some entry level like secretarial work. I was a communications major and I applied for KIRO TV in the journalism department. I was out searching for my place and I still didn’t have the guts to say that I wanted to be an actor. So I interviewed with this corporate job and somehow I convinced this woman to give me the job and then I turned it down. I was like I do not have the heart, no it wasn’t the heart. I didn’t have the stomach to go into this company and do this job. So I was all over the place

CK: At least you can be honest with yourself, that’s rough.

DS: Yeah, it is. It’s rough.

SB: That makes me feel better!

DS: I also think that’s real life. You guys, I don’t know how your experience has been, but I find that adults will ask you, “What’s your major? And what are you interested in? And what are you doing next?” And they kind of expect you to have an answer and have a plan.

SB: The questions I get asked on daily basis!

DS: My question was, “Oh, you wanna be an actress, what have you been in?” “Well, a bunch of plays in college.” I didn’t want to say I wanted to be an actor because I was going to get that question you know, that inevitable question of like, “So what are you doing? What is your next step?” You know, “What company are you gonna work for? What is your five year plan?” I found that be really frustrating to deal with.

SB: How do you think your experience at UPS specifically has affected your life?

DS: Hmm, I really enjoyed the small community aspect of this college, you know? I wasn’t - I think I did one class that was a lecture that was geology that was part of the core curriculum. I was in classes with you know 15, 20 maybe 30 at the most. I liked the intimate setting and small group learning of this school. Having access to professors I also grew up in a small town so I was looking for that. I feel like I got a really good education here at UPS. I learned a lot of things but I also forgot a lot of things that I learned. I also really learned a lot not in the classroom, you know you almost learn more not being the classroom. You learn more in the community in you know a dorm where only woman live, the socialization and relationships that you have and friendships that you and roommates, and who’s going to clean the bathroom this week. That stuff is just people skills and relationship skills. You are learning who you are as an adult. It helps carve out what kind of person you are. Like, “Oh, I really need to live with this kind of person in my life” or, “Oh, I’m a real go getter I need to be with a go getter. Oh, I really need to have supportive friends in my life.” I mean you learn all that stuff. You know … how did UPS specifically help me? I can’t compare it to any other school because I was here for four years but I learned inside and outside the classroom. And it was awesome.

SB: What else were you involved in on campus?

DS: I’m so excited to hear that this still exists, but Kids Can Do! - I was involved in that. The other thing I was involved in was before recycling was a work study program. I was part of a crew that would go around and put cardboard boxes and label them and every Sunday night we would collect it. One of the guys had a pickup truck. We would take all the stuff to the recycle bins at the end of campus. And if you were having a bad day you were like smashing glasses really hard and then. There was another faction of this group that got it through the administration to make it a work study program so somewhere in my four years, I think my second or third year, it became a program. I was heavily involved in the theatre. I did a bunch of productions. I did most of the plays that were going on. Those three things were the most organized things that I did. Then you know classes and parties and you regular stuff.

CK: What would you be doing now if you weren’t acting? Let’s just say you suddenly weren’t able to act for some reason. Like a fairy waved their wand and you couldn’t act. What would you choose to do with your life?

DS: Such a good question. You wanna know something crazy? I’m so focused that I’ve never answered that question. It’s not ever been up for debate.

Thank you, Darby Stanchfield, for taking the time to talk with us about your career path! If you are feeling like you need some guidance towards your future career, stop by the Career and Employment Services Office in Howarth 101 – we’ll be open all summer on weekdays from 8:30-4:30 to help both current students and graduating seniors!