In this day and age many individuals usually choose one career path and stick by it for many years just out of personal security, and don’t really take a chance to follow all their other dreams. But not people like actor Ken Jeong (who went from being a doctor to a-list movie star), William Sanderson (who was a lawyer until he until he got the acting bug), The Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik (who graduated from UCLA with a PhD in Neuroscience), and actress-turned-veterinarian-turned-actress again, Hillary Hickam!
Just like Dr. Jeong and some of the others who have switched professions, Miss Hickam is also educated in the medical field, and has recently turned her attention back towards the silver screen. After traveling the globe saving animals, and helping to run a highly successful Hollywood-based pet clinic (where stars like Paris Hilton used to hire her to help with her pet pig), Hillary is back into the acting fold she once pursued during her younger days.
The Levity Ball sat down with Hillary in Hollywood to learn more about her vet days and passion for acting…
When did you first know you wanted to get into the entertainment industry and acting?
My first big role was playing Mother Nature in a second grade play. I had done a few small plays before that, but somewhere between playing the goddess of nature and the wicked witch in the school Christmas play (true story) I was forever hooked. I am also a classically trained pianist, so I started performing in front of large audiences at the age of 5 and I knew I loved the spotlight from very early on.
You used to work at Playwrights Horizons in New York, and we’ve read that you even babysat actress Scarlett Johansson during one of the plays… tell us more about this!
Well, “babysat” could be an exaggeration, as even at a very young age Scarlett was poised and sophisticated and certainly self-sufficient. However, I was an intern at Playwrights Horizons while Scarlett was rehearsing one of our new plays and, along with my good friend who was a casting associate there, we were charged with making sure she had everything she needed… and got her homework done too.
You also worked in NYC with the late Joan Rivers… how was that experience?
Oh man, what an honor. She was delightful and warm and she breathed life into every space she occupied. I will never forget sitting next to her in the makeup room just talking about New York and acting and she reached over and pinched my cheeks. She was someone who could get away with that and make it seem utterly charming and not patronizing. She was extremely generous to work with as an actress. What an amazing woman.
Switching to Los Angeles, you took a break from acting and worked as one of the top veterinarians in Hollywood, where all the stars go… who were some of your past celebrity clients, and were their dogs well behaved?
Indeed, I had one of the most exciting jobs any veterinarian could hope to have and my celebrity clients were charming and compliant. I was a weekly house call veterinarian to Paris Hilton. She had the loveliest indoor/outdoor two story, air-conditioned mini-house for her tiny dogs who were definitely well-behaved. My biggest job there was helping her very active pot-belly pig not get sunburned!
My favorite moment was when Donald Faison came in to see me with his new puppy. When I asked her name, he literally broke out into song in the middle of the hospital singing, “Sandy” from Annie. He is hysterical, and yes, the puppy was dreamy.
And speaking of singing, let me tell you, when Chris Isaak sings to you in the exam room… mmmmeeeeellllllttttttt…
From Grey’s Anatomy stars to Friends stars to 90210 stars to rock stars to Disney stars…I had the biggest names in Hollywood on my client list. I looked forward to seeing every one of them and sorry, all of their pets were extremely well-behaved! (but they weren’t all dogs! I treated rats, rabbits, ferrets, birds, pigs, monkeys, a serval, and even the occasional wolf for them!) Okay, on the down-low: the serval was pretty mean. 😉
You have also taught veterinary medicine to students in Vietnam, Costa Rica, Ghana, and Uganda… which of these places really impacted you most?
The veterinary students in Ghana touched me very deeply. I was teaching the very first class of veterinary students to ever graduate in their country. They were so full of passion and had such a strong desire to change their world. The majority of them hoped to become veterinarians so that they could go home to their tiny villages in the bush and improve their communities. They made me excited to be a doctor and they inspired me to do more for my own community at home.
Now you are back in the acting world… what sprung the change back from being a vet to an actress?
To be honest, I really never left the industry. Even as a veterinarian, I was still asked to do commercials and testimonials as a veterinarian, and I appeared as the expert on various television shows. I also remained active in the theatre. To be honest, I missed the excitement and challenge and pace of the entertainment world. I was approached to do a pilot about my life, Hollywood Vet, and it became impossible for me to not follow my passion back to acting.
How has Hollywood changed since the first time you were in the industry?
Social media, social media, social media….. I feel elderly saying so, but technology has completely altered the way Hollywood Movies thinks! (oh and also…. I used to carry black and white headshots around with me!)
Any advice to others looking at either being a vet or actress (totally different career paths)?
Don’t do either! Vet school is WAY too expensive and being an actor is full of rejection…..
But seriously, if you want to be a veterinarian, focus hard and focus early on science. You really don’t need all that math (that’s what calculators are for), but the sciences are crucial. Also, take every single opportunity presented to you to learn. I have worked at the LA Zoo on every species imaginable, and I have also worked in Italy with race horses. I have volunteered at feral cat clinics and at the Marine Mammal Center… those diverse experiences really pay off and make you a much better doctor.
As far as acting… my advice is really the same! Get experience everywhere and anytime you can. Read a play a day, watch current and older television shows and as Leonardo DiCaprio just said at the SAG Awards this week, educate yourself by watching the history of film. It will inform your craft… and make you proud.
What is the best advice you have ever gotten?
Pray… and pray specifically. All the time.
Where do you see yourself in five years from now, besides being older?
On your television screen and on the movie screen doing what I love and hopefully inspiring people. I also hope to still be caring for the two best dogs in the world, Bronte and Tazzer.
Follow Hillary and her adventures in Hollywood on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/hill811