Final Analysis: Illeana Douglas

Actress Illeana Douglas discusses rejection and how it's helped her career.

By Carlin Flora, published July 1, 2007 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Actor and director Illeana Douglas, a sly and self-effacing comedienne, has a special knack for getting canned. At age 19, she was thrown out just four hours into her gig as a coat check girl after unwittingly defying the orders of a mob boss. Years later, she managed to get herself fired by her director, agent, and manager, all in one day. Known for her charming roles in Ghost World and To Die For, Douglas, 42, was in the CBS show Shark and is developing a reality program about celebrity garage sales.

Why have you been fired so much?

If you're smart you have a tendency to be over-analytical. You're curious and you ask questions, but it sometimes seems like you're trying to be superior. I always had the best intentions, but things seemed to escalate.

Has 20 years of auditioning thickened your skin?

I never really have accepted rejection. With auditions, you're trying to get people to agree to hire you. They're more likely to prefer vanilla or chocolate, and I'm coconut. I realized that early on. You just need to find one person who believes in you and thinks you're talented. If you're different, you're going to find fewer people who like you, but the people who like you, love you.

How are you different?

In the way I think and in what I find funny. I grew up in a family of artists and politicians. They never gave me rules or boundaries. And my mother is Italian—she has a Felliniesque approach to life. But in school, it was very much emphasized to me by teachers that I was different. I was the class clown, so the students loved me. They were entertained. But the teachers squelched my enthusiasm.

What is the worst criticism you've ever received?

Sanford Meisner, an acting teacher I had at the Neighborhood Playhouse, once said to me, "Your scene was like watching a concert pianist realize halfway through the performance that he had failed to lift the lid of the keyboard."

How do you feel about rejecting other people?

It's much harder to do the firing or the breaking up. Once a boyfriend broke up with me, and he almost became angry because I essentially agreed with him. I mean, what do I have to offer him? Does he really want to go with me to the flea market every Sunday?