… When I first started acting, I was advised to work on reducing my accent and correcting my lisp. So, I went to work with Sam Chwat, a renowned New York dialect coach who sadly has since passed away. Very proud of my progress, I started showing up at auditions trying to sound all American, but I ended up sounding like a bad impersonation of a female John Wayne and as to be expected that didn’t lead to booking any jobs. The lesson learned was: Keep on working on your dialect but find your own voice, bring yourself to the part, and stop hiding behind a voice that isn’t yours.
I had the pleasure to talk to Stephanie Szostak. Stephanie Szostak (pronounced “show-stack,”) is a remarkable French-American actress with an extensive resume of notable film and television appearances. Born in the suburbs of Paris, France, she embarked on a journey that led her to carve a significant mark in the acting industry.
Stephanie moved to the United States after high school to study business and play varsity golf at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Her academic journey culminated in earning a Bachelor of Science in marketing. Following her graduation, she ventured into the marketing field with a role at Chanel in New York City. However, a modeling opportunity presented at Chanel nudged her towards the glamorous world of acting when she was 29.
Stephanie’s acting career blossomed with a remarkable debut, sharing the screen with Meryl Streep in the critically acclaimed movie “The Devil Wears Prada” in 2006, where she portrayed the French Vogue Editor, Jacqueline Follet. This role set the stage for a series of notable appearances in successful projects, including roles in “Iron Man 3,” where she impressed as the villain Brandt, and “Dinner for Schmucks.” Her versatility is evident in her performances, showcasing a range of emotions in comedy-dramas like “We Bought a Zoo” and action-packed Marvel hits.
She extended her talent to television, bagging significant roles in series such as the USA Network’s drama “Satisfaction” and a recurring role in ABC’s series “A Million Little Things,” portraying Delilah Dixon, further solidifying her place in the industry. Stephanie has demonstrated a profound ability to delve into her characters, a skill that earned her a Best Actress award at the BendFilm Festival for her role in the independent film “Satellite.”
Apart from her on-screen ventures, Stephanie dedicates time to share her experiences, speaking on vital subjects such as overcoming failure, the sensations of being an outsider, and the essence of living authentically. This vocal advocate for mental fitness developed a personalized playbook amidst a career crisis fueled by imposter syndrome, a tool she views as a daily practice for mental health. Eager to help others on their journey of self-discovery and growth, she crafted the Self!sh Playbook, promoting mental fitness and personal growth.
Stephanie currently resides outside New York City, cherishing life with her husband, Britt Szostak, and their two sons. Whether on-screen or off, Stephanie continues to captivate audiences with her authenticity, proving that it is never too late to follow one’s passion, and a change in career paths can indeed lead to fulfilling one’s dreams.
Yitzi: Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn about your personal origin story. Can you share with us the story of your childhood and how you grew up?
Stephanie: I grew up in the Paris suburbs. I am half-French and half-American; my dad is American and my mom is French. My dad is Jewish and my Mom converted to Judaism. I only mention this because, although we were not religious, my Jewish background played a significant role in shaping my identity growing up in France, a place where there weren’t many Jewish kids in the schools.
One story that comes to mind is from first grade involving a classmate named Olivier. My dad had mentioned that Olivier might be Jewish because of his surname. Eager to find a connection, I approached him in class and asked if he was Jewish. He denied. I persisted. Eventually, he admitted to being Jewish but asked me to keep it a secret due to a fear rooted in a family experience. That incident somehow stayed with me, making me realize the depth of my heritage and its implications at a very young age.
Growing up, my happy places were dancing, playing golf, and horseback riding in the summer when we visited my dad’s family in the US. My childhood was filled with cherished memories, including some wonderful times with my brother, who was eight years my senior. There were also some tough times, my brother struggled with a heroin addiction and passed away when he was just twenty eight years old. As anyone who’s lived with someone battling addiction knows, that can cast a shadow on a family’s happiness. The journey with him through his addiction was a painful period, bringing a level of uncertainty and the constant fear of impending disaster.
That’s a glimpse into my childhood, a period marked with rich cultural heritage, happiness, but also shadowed with the pains of addiction within the family.
Yitzi: So, what brought you to this career as a successful actress?
Stephanie: I studied business in school and later moved to New York City to work in corporate America, including a position at Chanel. However, throughout this period, something felt missing, there was a lack of connection to what truly spoke to my heart. This little voice kept suggesting, almost whispering, “What if you tried acting?” Eventually, at 29 years old, I decided to listen to that voice and enrolled in a theater class in the city.
I remember doing my first monologue in class, and although I couldn’t grasp what exactly unfolded, there was a deep connection to myself, and true realization that I needed to pursue this.
Yitzi: What an amazing story. Considering your successful career, you must have a treasure trove of fascinating stories and encounters. Could you share one or two memorable moments from your career that can give us a taste of what your journey has been like?
Stephanie: Ten years into my career, after ten years of hustling, I got my first lead role in a studio movie. Despite having successfully navigated the audition and callback process, when I got on set, alongside some of Hollywood’s comedic icons, I found myself grappling with self-doubt. I lost my confidence, felt like I didn’t belong, and feared that for sure they’d realize they’d made a mistake in hiring me. This fear and anxiety impacted not only my performance but also my well-being. It was an internal battle that was invisible to others but very much affected me.
At the time, I perceived this as a failure to handle the pressure. However, looking back now, I value that experience immensely. It forced me to introspect, work on better understanding myself, and seek tools to decouple my self-worth from career achievements and other peoples’ perceptions of me. It was a painful but ultimately a precious lesson that fostered personal growth.
Yitzi: Amazing story. I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability in sharing that. It’s often said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Do you have a story about a humorous mistake you made when you were first starting, and the lesson you learned from that?
Stephanie: When I first started acting, I was advised to work on reducing my accent and correcting my lisp. So, I went to work with Sam Chwat, a renowned New York dialect coach who sadly has since passed away.
Very proud of my progress, I started showing up at auditions trying to sound all American, but I ended up sounding like a bad impersonation of a female John Wayne and as to be expected that didn’t lead to booking any jobs. The lesson learned was: Keep on working on your dialect but find your own voice, bring yourself to the part, and stop hiding behind a voice that isn’t yours.
Yitzi: Could you tell us about a person who had a profound impact on your life, perhaps with a story about them?
Stephanie: Oh, choosing just one person is tough because many people have played a significant role in my life. However, I want to mention my husband, with whom I’ve been married for 27 years. We met when we were 19 and 20, and at that time, I was quite shy, introverted and deeply engrossed in my studies. In contrast, he was the jovial one, constantly making others laugh though not particularly focused on studies. Despite our differences, we fell in love, dated for a few years, and eventually got married.
Throughout all the phases of my life and career, he has been my staunchest supporter. Even when others questioned my decision to leave corporate America to become an actress, he encouraged me to go for it. Just a few years ago, when I was up for my last TV role, I was hesitating to take the job because the show shot in Vancouver and us living on the East Coast, made it very complicated. I was focusing on all the challenges and he brought up all the exciting aspects and finally said “Do it. It will be an adventure.” And it was. A beautiful adventure.
Our tale together has been a good one and through it all he has encouraged me to take risks, pursue my passion, and grow both personally and professionally. And the greatest gift of all? We managed to bring two pretty cool kids out into the world.
Yitzi: Okay, let’s pretend for a moment that you were the queen of Hollywood. What positive changes have you noticed in the last five years, and what changes would you initiate going forward?
Stephanie: I have to admit, just imagining myself in this position seems daunting! I am more comfortable helping people on an individual basis, fostering personal growth on a smaller scale. Hollywood, as we know, is in a complicated place right now because of the strike. I hope individuals can come together to enhance fairness for actors and artists and that ultimately we can all get back to creating stories that resonate with our realities and evoke a sense of recognition, hope and progress. That’s what I would like to see.
Yitzi: You have accomplished so much in your career. Can you share any upcoming projects or things you’re excited about? Where do you see yourself in the near future?
Stephanie: Acting projects are on hold due to the strike. However, I am thrilled about a passion project of mine — my first book titled “Self!sh” which is slated to release on October 10th, coinciding with World Mental Health Day. It’s a workbook that will guide you through eight exercises to create your personal Playbook for life — a tool I created for my own emotional well-being.
Five years ago, I got tired of learning new tools, and then forgetting these tools, learning new skills, and then forgetting these skills, getting inspired, motivated and then losing that inspiration and motivation. So I created a playbook to collect all these ingredients and feed my mind with all that helped me do life a little better.
Self!sh is a workbook, for YOU to take a little time for YOURSELF. Create your playbook, your personal place to turn to every morning, and reconnect what truly matters to you, so that you get to bring more of what you cherish and value to the world and those around you. That’s SELF!SH.
I created this book with Give an Hour, a national mental health organization. The workbook encompasses eight self-reflection exercises rooted in positive psychology that guide you to explore your past, present, and future. You will gain awareness of how far you’ve come, what you’re capable of, what you want for the future, and what can help you get there. You’ll also get to read remarkable stories of resilience, recovery, healing, and joy from National bestselling author John O’Leary, and Give an Hour ambassadors Bryan Abrams, Eric Christiansen, Elle Mark, Showtime Shawn Porter, Allen Levi Simmons, and Bob Stead.
I’m also happy to note that 50% of my proceeds from the book sales will go to Give an Hour, serving a charitable cause.
Yitzi: This is our signature question. We like to ask this in all our interviews. You have achieved a considerable amount of success now. Looking back, are there five things you wish someone had told you when you were just starting out?
- “If you are right for the part, there’s almost nothing you can do to mess it up. And if you’re not right for it, there’s almost nothing you can do to get it.” An acting coach told me that ten years into my career, I wish I’d heard it earlier.
- No one can do it like you, don’t hide trying to fit into what you think the casting director or director are looking for. Bring yourself to the part.
- When you are not working, treat that time like an athlete in the offseason — train, explore and keep learning.
- Train your mindset, it will give you the endurance to stick around and keep showing up.
- Maintain a personal life outside of your career, as that will not only nourish you but also potentially make you a better actor.
Yitzi: That’s great, really beautiful. Could you share with our readers any self-care routines you maintain to help your body, mind, and heart thrive?
Stephanie: Every morning, I make a conscious choice not to turn my phone on for the first hour of the day. I enjoy my morning coffee while reading a page from “The Daily Stoic” by Ryan Holiday, and then I fill out my “Five minute Journal.” I meditate and before I check in with the rest of the world I watch my Playbook with music that I love. It is a grounding routine that gives me a safety net throughout the day, helping me keep “good thoughts” top of mind.
Yitzi: Here’s our final question, and it’s an aspirational one. Stephanie, given the platform you’ve built, you have become a person of considerable influence. If you could inspire a movement or spread an idea that would bring the most good to the highest number of people, what would that be?
Stephanie: I would encourage everyone to create their personal Playbook to empower them in their unique journey of self-discovery, learning, and growth!
Before ending the interview, I just had to share that my parents have always supported me, though they are in France. Typically, when I mention my engagements, they respond positively but rather casually. However, when I mentioned that I was being interviewed by Yitzi Weiner, who studied to be a Rabbi, my dad’s excitement went through the roof! He even sent me an elaborate email discussing my great-uncle, Rabbi Benjamin Frankel, who founded the Hillel Foundation, just to emphasize the significance of this interview. So, through this, you have helped me make my dad proud!
Yitzi: That’s a wonderful connection to have. Did you ever get the chance to meet your great-uncle?
Stephanie: No, I never met him. In fact, my dad never met him either. He passed away when he was just thirty.
Yitzi: It is quite unbelievable that despite being so young, he managed to create the foundational setup for the Hillel movement. That is truly remarkable.
Stephanie: Yes, the initiative for starting the movement came when he was studying at the University of Illinois, I believe. He and his roommate observed that Christian students had a dedicated hall to gather for religious activities and to foster community bonding. They felt the absence of such a space for themselves and decided that there needed to be a similar setup for students like them, which led to the inception of the Hillel movement.
Yitzi: What an inspiring story. Please extend my regards to your father and wish him a wonderful new year.
Stephanie: I will certainly do that; he will really appreciate it. Thank you.
Yitzi: How can readers keep up with your work online? Where can they pre-order your book and continue to support what you’re doing?
Stephanie: Thank you for asking. You can find me on Instagram @StephShortstak, my website is www.stephanieszostak.me and Self!sh is available for pre-order today. I’m looking forward to hearing feedback from those who use the workbook and create their playbook!
Yitzi: I’m really excited to share this. It’s been such an honor and a pleasure to meet you and learn from you. I wish you nothing but continued success.
Stephanie: Thank you so much, Yitzi.
Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Actress Stephanie Szostak Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.