Ten years ago I taught an actress who was then probably around 25, maybe younger. She worked her ass off in class, but at the time I thought her casting was such that she needed to stick it out, get older, and then she’d really be in demand. As it happened, she stuck it out, and has been booking more and more in her thirties. She recently booked her first recurring television job by offer alone, news of which reached me through the grapevine. This textversation followed (edited for clarity):
Me: That doesn’t suck.
Actress: Right? Crazy. Wardrobe already called. Script drafts in my email and I’m still like… Did that really happen?
Me: Told you all those years ago: You just needed miles on the odometer.
Actress: Praise be to perspective. Thank god for living with a writer/director. Seeing his side, I’m a million times more chill now. And when my actor friends call me about stuff, I’m like, “None of what you’re talking about matters. None of it.” I thank you highly for trying so hard to get me to understand. But there were so many things before the things before the things before the things to understand, before I could understand the things you were trying to get me to understand.
Me: What you just said. Yeah. This thing is tricky. Praise be to your sticking it out to find it out.
Actress: Thanks. That’s really the thing. Sticking it out. And the ‘facing your fears’ deal. I think about that all the time now. What does a 20-something know about really facing fears? Like really really. When you get to “really really,” it’s probably not so much.
Me: What would you say is the subject actors talk about, that you want to reply, “None of that matters”?
Actress: Shit, man. For starters – in TV, the lines from the audition are rewritten 90% of the time when you get the gig. So for TV, I’ve ended up like, ‘fuck the lines.’ Sometimes they’re purposefully fake, because they don’t want to leak the plot of the show. So they’re really looking for the quality, the essence of the character, and meanwhile you’re spazzing about the lines. You end up tripping over the lines in the audition, but what you’re really screwing up is your presence in the room, not the lines. But when you come from theatre, and Miller took two years to write those lines – those are the lines you fucking learn. But the TV writer who had to write an audition draft at 3am this morning, knowing the draft will be totally different for the shoot? That changes what you put your emphasis on as an actress. But NO WAY you could have convinced me of that in class ten years ago. Zero chance.
Me: Uh huh…
Actress: Also… that we’re in the story telling business. Not really the acting business. And they will take the essence of the character, the look, the voice – every time, they will take that over better acting. Because the baseline requirement is that you can act. You can’t even get into real rooms until acting well, and with ease, is a given. So let’s say we eliminate 80% of the actors in LA because they can’t really act well. So now there are still tons of good actors, and they’re going in for the real auditions. Once that happens, getting the part is as much about your essence as it is about a specific choice you make. Because this is 2016 and they aren’t just looking in LA, they’re looking in LA, Chicago, NY, London, Australia – and it’s all delivered to their email inbox in an office in fucking Burbank. They’re going to find the perfect fit for their vision. Whatever that is, because the vision is changing, they’re arguing about it even as you audition. There’s only so much you control. Not very much at all. So it ends up being… hard work + passion + nurture the relationships with people who believe in you = people who think about you for jobs = auditions = jobs booked. Rinse. Repeat. Just like you always said.
Me: Got it. Just checking. Yeah – we’re in the storytelling business, not the ‘I’m excavating my personal truth’ business. Sometimes they coincide, but really not often. And even when they do, the better storytelling usually wins.
Actress: Yup. Actors can be neurotic and self-centered, which I empathize with, it’s part of the scarcity and fear about being in this business, I think. But it causes them to lose perspective. They complain and complain. They can barely function well enough to make a good video audition in their apartment. And I sympathize, I was there myself. And maybe I’m a dick, but now I’m like, “Listen, you can’t get yourself in shape to tape an audition for a network show? No way are you getting a network show! You can’t tell the story if you can’t take the time to learn the story, its particular vibe. The vibe of that show. You can’t be a lead storyteller without taking someone’s story seriously.”
Me: In other words, take the story more seriously, and yourself less so.
Actress: Blog entry. Or tattoo. At least one of those.
Me: I’ll go with blog entry for now.