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Before his career took off, 'The Hate U Give' star Russell Hornsby played Santa to make money

When he was first getting started as an actor, "The Hate U Give" star Russell Hornsby did whatever it took to pay the bills. "I did a lot of crazy stuff, because I was in New York and I'm an actor and I'm broke," he tells CNBC Make It.

One winter, he accepted an assignment to walk around the streets of New York City dressed as a jolly St. Nick. "I played Santa Claus, running around the streets, like, 'Hey!', doing the Santa dance, all this crazy stuff," he says. He also walked the streets dressed as a pilgrim around Thanksgiving and attended corporate events in a teddy bear suit during the holidays.

These gigs weren't glamorous, Hornsby says, but he never considered any job beneath him, especially when he needed the money.

In fact, he says, the worst advice ever received was not to take a position just because it didn't pay well enough. In the early 2000s, when he was around 27 years old, he got cast in the ABC show, "Gideon's Crossing," and shortly after the series wrapped, he was offered another project at a much a lower rate. He wasn't sure if he should accept.

Hornsby turned to a friend for advice. When he revealed how much the job paid, "they said, 'You're crazy, that's not enough money, don't take that job,'" he recalls. However, "something just told me, 'I don't think I should listen to you.'"

"I subscribe to the slow nickel theory. You take a little bit at a time. You always make better of what you have when you don't have best." -Russell Hornsby, actor

He asked another friend for input. This time, he got a different response: "Is anybody else offering you that? Or anything more?" When Hornsby said no, his friend told him, "Well, it sounds like you don't have a problem. You should take the job." He did.

The lesson: "Something's always better than nothing," Hornsby says. "I subscribe to the slow nickel theory. You take a little bit at a time. You always make better of what you have when you don't have best."

Hornsby's career has taken off since his days playing Santa. He's starred in NBC's "Grimm" and Showtime's "The Affair," with roles in 2018's "Creed II" and 2016's "Fences."

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