The first time Ziming Jim Liu stepped in front of an audience, it left a huge impression. Well, maybe more for him than the crowd.
The 13-year-old debuted in two background roles — a fish and a playing card — in a middle school production of Alice in Wonderland. But it got him hooked.
That chance to shine under the spotlight led to more acting. Then he took film classes in high school. “The more I did,” he said, “the more I was sure this is what I want as a career.”
When it came time to pick a college, the native of Qingdao, China, quickly gravitated to USC, drawn by its prestigious theater program and location in the heart of the entertainment industry. He knows his dream of becoming a creative force in Hollywood — in acting, screenwriting, producing and other pursuits — will be tough. But the rising senior at the USC School of Dramatic Arts has already found supporters along the way, chief among them an alumna who has already walked the path he hopes to take.
In the midst of a lot of things over which I have no control over, I am most proud of the company I keep. I love people and I love community.Adrienne Visnic
Through Society 53, the USC Alumni Association’s student ambassador leadership group that connects students with alumni mentors, he found Adrienne Visnic ’14, a Los Angeles actress and singer. She volunteers her time with the USC Alumni Association Board of Governors. The USC School of Dramatic Arts alumna also fell in love with the stage as a child, inspired by an acting teacher at an art camp when she was 7.
Liu can ask the working actress about her passion projects, like a reimagining of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park she produced with a fellow Trojan on a shoestring budget, or how she landed a recurring role on the ABC drama Ten Days in the Valley. For Visnic, being a mentor helps her build her network of contacts and give back to her alma mater, where she also benefited from advice from talented entertainers.
“In the midst of a lot of things over which I have no control over, I am most proud of the company I keep,” she says. “I love people and I love community. I believe firmly that you are who you surround yourself with. I choose to surround myself with positive, hardworking dreamers with goals and a hunger to succeed, so I am constantly inspired to rise to the occasion.”
It’s a refreshing counterpoint to Hollywood’s reputation as a cutthroat industry. Liu and Visnic spoke with USC Trojan Family recently about how they inspire and support each other as they strive to bring their art to the stage and screen.
Why is having a mentor so important in entertainment?
Visnic: Especially right after school, it’s so important to solidify your relationships. You never know where your projects are going to go, even if you aren’t paid for them at first. Some of the projects I did early on got into huge festivals, and that never would have happened if I hadn’t believed in the project and the people I was working with.
Mentoring also serves as a reminder of why you chose to pursue this career path in the first place. These graduating seniors are entering the industry with fresh eyes and are willing to share their fierce joy in their art. They serve as a reminder of what makes storytelling beautiful and the craft of acting as an act of service. Being able to share knowledge that I’ve gathered over the years is a great way to help future artists thrive.
My dad, one of my greatest mentors, always says luck is when preparedness meets opportunity. I’m a firm believer that if you work hard, put yourself out there and act on all the things that you can control, then everything else will fall into place.
Jim, what kind of advice has Adrienne shared with you?
Liu: Right off the top of my head, I remember in our very first meeting, Adrienne told me about getting her SAG and Equity cards. That’s the union stuff. Some would argue that’s what makes an artist official. I would personally disagree with that, but it’s one step into the industry and really important to know about. She talked about how she transitioned into the real world after she graduated, and I found that really helpful.
Also, when Adrienne hears about a project, she lets me know if she thinks I’m a good fit. She has connected me with many of her friends in the industry for various opportunities, like a gig or an internship or job. Having this network of artists who are looking out for each other is really cool. It’s so good to have someone who knows her stuff to lead me in a personal way.
Visnic: I’m very much a kindred spirit — I’m young at heart, and I love being around people who are so excited about telling stories and being part of this industry. I still feel that so strongly, and it’s probably why I come back and seek it from the USC Alumni Association Board of Governors and the USC School of Dramatic Arts. The age difference — it really doesn’t matter. I just want to be around people who are passionate about what they are doing and help them connect with others. Why not share the wealth?
Liu: The other thing that comes to mind that Adrienne told me is to just keep going. As an artist, it’s really similar to every other job. You have to put in your time, like a doctor. You have to go to school, you have to practice. You’d be surprised at how many people you can “beat” just by persevering and doing what you truly love. She constantly reminds me to remember why I wanted to get into this in the first place, why I want to be an actor and writer and do art in general. It’s so easy to get lost in this industry, so that is very important to remember.
My ultimate goal is to write, produce and act in the same project. I really enjoy the process of creating something out of nothing and how different disciplines in the arts complement each other.
Visnic: You just have to want to do it. If you have the desire and want to do it, you’re going to keep going. This last year was a testament to any actor or artist in a creative field — if you still want to do it, more power to you. Jim is a perfect example of all the things people look for: a hard worker, kind, the type of person they want on set. So, I tell him to keep going. If it’s what you want to do, keep going.
I want to produce multiple projects for myself and tell stories that I believe in. I want to be a series regular. I want to sing. I want to produce events that curate a community of artists who support, hire and cheerlead one another. And a personal goal for myself is to continue to find joy and fun in what I love to do.
Adrienne, why did you want to become a USC alumni mentor?
Visnic: When I was in school, it was so nice to have people outside school who were friendly and who I could go to for help. That’s one of the main reminders that I often pass down to people: Ask for help. More often than not, they will want to help because you share the same USC background. You have so many things in common. Being a mentor came naturally because I love building that type of community. The bigger your network, the more you’re able to get jobs, support people creatively and connect to others.
Liu: This is a fun fact: I knew about Adrienne, that this person exists, before she was assigned to be my mentor. I don’t think our time at USC overlapped at all, but it turns out that every professor of mine knows Adrienne. Every class, someone knows her. She also pops onto social media for so many events in our school, and she has a beautiful website and Instagram page. A lot of my peers started following her a long time ago. She’s so well-known in our school.
Visnic: OK, I’m hiring Jim as my other manager! He’s going on my team! It’s so fun, and I just enjoy giving back in that way. It’s great to come back and be with people who understand why we got into acting in the first place. That’s so special to be around.