Some leave big decisions up to fate and hope the wisdom of the universe takes them in the right direction. Others make choices more deliberately, weighing pros and cons and taking full control with the ultimate decision. It was a little bit of both strategies that took George Mason High School graduate Danielle Hoetmer from small roles on a high school stage to spots on primetime television shows, including an appearance next Wednesday on the CBS crime drama “Criminal Minds.”
Some stage time in Mason musicals like “Guys and Dolls” and a theater class had fostered her love of acting. She’s a lifelong performer, from singing “Tomorrow” as a child anywhere she went out of adoration of Little Orphan Annie, to taking on the more formal roles the future would bring. It wasn’t until her senior year at Mason though that Hoetmer seriously considered a career as a professional actress. She applied to a theater program at a nearby school, the Shenandoah Conservatory at Shenandoah University. She said if she was accepted, if she got a scholarship, she’d take it as a sign that this was what she should be doing.
She started in the conservatory’s musical theater program upon graduating from Mason. While she sang in middle school and high school and enjoyed it, the demands at the college level were no comparison.
“Once I got to the conservatory, things got real,” Hoetmer said. She had trouble keeping pace; her former classmates are now Broadway regulars. As a sophomore struggling in her program, she evaluated her situation – “a heart to heart with myself,” as she describes it – and decided instead to focus on standard theater.
“That’s when I really started to excel,” Hoetmer said, “on a fast track.”
By her junior year, she was landing roles in competitive main stage shows at the conservatory. She was cast as Mayella in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the troubled young woman who falsely accuses a black man of raping her. It was a turning point, Hoetmer said, and proof that the decisions that led her to this moment were the right ones.
“I saw in myself what I could achieve, and the depth and magnitude of emotion that I could portray,” Hoetmer said.
Leading roles followed, first in “Marathon ‘33” as Baby June and then, playing against type, in “The Taming of the Shrew” as Katherine. By the time she graduated, she had already signed on with a local theater company and would tour the country performing children’s theater. When her run with the company ended, she chose Chicago over New York as her new home base – her singing and dancing days were behind her, she explained, and she wanted a city known more for theater and less for musicals.
Television acting wasn’t so much on her mind back then; she was taught theater and that’s what she knew. She joined another acting company, and while working in improv-based theater she met some colleagues who acted in commercials.
“I kind of fell into it,” Hoetmer said. After only a few auditions, she booked her first commercial spot as the product-burdened woman who could have just used Pert Plus shampoo. She’d later laughingly sip margaritas with TV friends in a commercial for a Mexican restaurant and play high-tech video games with a TV family. To date, she’s booked about a dozen commercials, and even spent a few years on the other side of the camera as a commercial producer. Commercials became her main vocation, but the roles she’d once performed beckoned.
“I loved what I was doing; I was already a commercial producer, but my true acting was being lost,” Hoetmer said. “You don’t get roles like Mayella in a commercial. There’s no real depth of character. That’s what I was missing.”
It took seeing that an old friend had become a TV series regular to steel her resolve.
“It hit me like a ton of bricks. That’s where I need to be if I want to make that happen,” Hoetmer said. “I knew I had to find my way to LA.”
In Fall 2009, she did just that, and now she’s doing what it takes to find work as a television actress. She waitresses to bring in a steady paycheck, takes acting classes, auditions, and “on those rare, beautiful occasions, I’m shooting,” Hoetmer said.
Since moving out to Los Angeles, she has taken on small roles in a handful of TV shows such as “Private Practice,” “Outlaw,” and most recently “Criminal Minds,” where she will play a Florida diner waitress looking for bigger and better things. As for Hoetmer’s own bigger and better things, she hopes to one day land a recurring role on a TV show.
“My ultimate goal is to be a series regular, and to work up to that is just getting as many TV roles as I can.” Hoetmer said. “That’s a daily endeavor. Meeting new people. Sending out headshots. Doing auditions. Trying to make it, one day at a time.”