Taking on Hollywood: Altoona native had a re-occurring role on ‘American Horror Story’
Former Altoonan, actress Jennifer Lynn Warren lives in North Hollywood, runs her own podcast, does voice over work for animation projects and had a re-occurring role on “American Horror Story” to her credit. By most standards, she’s an industry success, yet she isn’t ready to rest.
Like most actors, she auditions — a lot — and knows rejection.
As a way to help others navigate rough Hollywood waters, she established a podcast called “The Hollywood Actor’s Guide to Surviving the Film and TV Industry.” She also coaches fellow drama enthusiasts and has a long list of voice-over credits with Damn Dirty Geeks and Mystery Science Theater 3000 Revival League.
She doesn’t come back to Altoona very often, instead, prefering family and friends visit her. Her mother Cathy Fagan still calls Altoona home as does her younger brother Bobby Fagan. Her older brother David Warren lives in Pittsburgh.
Facebook keeps her connected to Altoona Area High School friends like Tim Baker who lives in Altoona.
“It is great to see her do so well,” Baker said. “We were in the drama program at AASD together and both worked on the integrated arts project. It is a bit surreal seeing one of your friends on a huge show like AHS. Jen is an amazing person and has worked very hard to get where she is. It is a long road from AAHS to L.A. and she has done it with class and without changing who she is.”
He remembers Warren“s “great personality and spirit from our school days. Jen was always a good friend. She could be a little quiet and to herself at times, but she was a hard worker and great to be around.”
When Warren talks about “American Horror Story,” excitement fills her voice.
“My character — I played Kathy Bates’ on-screen daughter (Borquita LaLaurie) — and died three times and eventually was zombified,” she explained, adding most of her appearances occurred in season three. “It was extraordinary to work with Oscar and Emmy award winning actors and go head-to-head with them on their level. It was a dream come true.”
Acting first whispered in her ear when she played a squirrel in a second grade play and became louder in high school when she and other Altoona Area High School students attended “West Side Story” in Pitts-burgh. Traffic congestion had them sitting in their bus at the rear of the theater, she said, “I could see the actors coming out of the theater and for the first time, I realized (acting) could be someone’s job — that they are getting paid to pretend.”
That “aha” moment is when acting became her prime passion and replaced Egyptology (the study of ancient Egyptian history, language, literature, religion, architecture) in her interests.
Altoona Area High School drama club adviser, Nanette Anslinger remembers Warren well and the two remain in touch.
“At AAHS she performed as the ballerina in a hysterical production of ‘You Can’t Take It With You,’ “ Ans-linger said. This required Warren to dance en pointe, “She was incredibly convincing — and she’d had no dance training! Acting was definitely her forte, even as a sophomore in high school. She then portrayed one of the daughters on our production of ‘Fiddler on the Roof.’ But she was always inventive; so as well as she performed in traditional plays, she really shone when it came to using her individual creativity.”
Anslinger and art teacher John Skrabalak formed a grant-funded performance group called “Do You Call That Art?”
“Jennifer was an integral, inventive part of the originality of that group,” Anslinger recalled.
Fagan said Jennifer has been entertaining others since she was 6 when she would sing and dance on the deck of her grandparents’ back yard.
“She was always very creative and she tries everything,” Fagan said. “It’s the way she is and very independent. She’s always been a ‘I want it and I’m going to go for it’ girl.”
Initially, When Warren wasn’t happy with a Pittsburgh-area college after a semester, her mother said, she stopped at Indiana University of Pennsylvania at open auditions. She came out of it with a role and fully-paid tuition for one year.
“She was getting what she wanted at IUP,” her mother said.
Anslinger also recalled Warren’s switch in colleges and said it demonstrates Warren’s confidence in her abilities.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in drama — and a minor in dance — from IUP, Warren left for New York City.
“I couldn’t figure out how to make New York work, so I did the stupid thing that girls do and followed a boy to Houston, Texas,” she said, pursuing acting gigs in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Shreveport, Louisiana and obtained her Screen Actors Guild card.
She took the advice of character actor Pruit Taylor Vince and moved to Hollywood in 2010.
Vince received an Emmy Award in 1997 for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his role as serial killer Clifford Banks during the second season of the television series “Murder One.”
“I’ve met many famous people through him as he is well-connected, but it really is more about who sees your work, who likes your work,” Warren said, adding acting isn’t an easy career due to rejection, unpredictable cash flow and L.A.’s high cost of living.
“I would say if there is anything else you want to do — go do that. This is one of the most difficult careers on the planet. You spend 99 percent of your life unemployed. Ten to 15 times a week you’re going to auditions and often being selected has nothing to with talent but rather being the right person for the right job at the right time. You are constantly hustling with two or three jobs on the side,” she said. “You have to want to do it more than anything else in the world.”
Staff writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.