0000009_sanchez2-retouchs_9147By Stephanie Maura Sanchez

“What!?!  You were in the Navy? But you’re so feminine.”

That’s the response I usually get from casting when they scroll to the bottom of my resume where I have listed under additional experience: “4.5 years as an officer in the U.S. Navy.”

It’s not the norm in this business that the actor in front of you is a combat veteran, especially not the norm if she’s a woman.  And then their follow up questions are usually one of three:

What was it like?
Why did you do it?
Did all of the guys hit on you?

What was it like?

Tough.  I had a lot of responsibility at a young age, got very little sleep, and was yelled at a lot by my commanding officer and department head.  I often worked 20-hour days, had multiple jobs, and subsisted on processed food and a lot of caffeine.  Oh, and I was also despised by my male peers for outperforming them and sexually harassed on a regular basis.

Why did you do it?

I was young and proud.  I wanted to be a badass.  I saw G.I. Jane and it inspired me.  I had something to prove to myself.  The truth is, at 17 when I decided to do Navy ROTC at the University of Notre Dame, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  So I don’t know for sure why I did it.

But I’ll tell you what—I’m extremely glad I did it.  It was a gift.  It gave me a real value of myself and a solid sense of what I can do.  When I’m nervous before an audition, I can just remind myself “I drove a freakin’ ship.”—An 800-foot, 40,000-ton warship, carrying 3,000 people, marines, all of their equipment, tanks, and aircraft, etc. etc. etc.

My service gave me life experience—which is interesting to the people that want to hire me.  When they ask me about my experience, it’s not just about where I trained as an actor.  I have all kinds of adventures and sea stories to tell.   And my experiences help me as an actor.  If I have to play out a high stress situation, I have plenty of high stakes experience to connect to from my time in the Navy.

Also, between jobs, when times are slow—which can be maddening—I don’t feel trapped, because I know that being an actor is a choice.  I know that truly, I can do anything.  I don’t have to prove that to myself.  I already know it.

I think the answer to “Why did you do it?” comes more from reflection on my experience than on my initial decision to join the service.  A close friend of mine always says, “You are where you are, because of the steps you have taken.”  The Navy was part of my journey to becoming an actor.

Acting takes courage.  You have to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone.  A person who goes in the military, or decides to become an actor, is not agreeing to play it safe.  They are choosing a life of adventure, of uncertainty, of adapting, and overcoming.  To be an actor is to be a warrior.   It takes constant courage and constant resilience.  You’re putting yourself out there saying, “This is me.  This is what I got.  Take it or leave it.”  And if casting’s answer is “Leave it”, or they shoot you down, you dust yourself off and keep on truckin’.  That’s the job.  That’s what we signed up for.

Did all the guys hit on you?

Well, not all of them.


Stephanie Maura Sanchez is an actor in Los Angeles.  She is a combat veteran having served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  She has had several TV appearances including a recurring role on ABC’s “Revenge.”