When I was a young actor, I was obsessed with the idea of “luck.” It really bugged me that certain actors seemed to always be standing in the right place at the right time when it came to auditions and jobs. How come the universe seems to favor some of us and not others? As far as I could tell, there appeared to be no logic—or justice—to this process.
Like it or not, “luck” plays a very big role in the world of show business—and thinking about it can drive you crazy. Trust me. Everyone would love some assurance that fate is going to deliver that career-changing role any day now. Unfortunately, acting is a gambler’s business with absolutely no guarantees of success. That said, there are a few common sense things we can do to improve your chances.
1. Get better. Many young actors shell out a ton of cash for casting director workshops when they should really be spending that money on acting class. Ambition will not make you better in the room—only skill gets their attention. And skill is gained through practice and by observing what works. Even mid-career, experienced actors can get rusty. Believe it or not, every five years, each of us becomes a “new” actor. We gain life experience. We look different. We see things a bit differently. It’s essential to stay “tuned up.” If you’re not happy with your auditions, consider hiring a coach or taking a class to sharpen your skills and reignite your enthusiasm for the art form.
2. Make work. Yes, that’s right. Create a vehicle for yourself. Don’t worry about getting paid. Worry about the fact that you’ve been sitting on your butt for six months with nothing to do. Many careers have been jump started by initiating the “what-have-I got-to-lose” rule. If you’re not a writer, then go through your address book and find somebody who is. Offer your services to organize a free reading of one of their scripts. Know any directors? Any producers? Technology has never been more friendly to actors. Make a short movie. Make a web series. Find a “barn” and put on a show. And when that’s done, come up with another idea and do that. You will learn the magic of collaboration and meet a zillion people in the process—people who might be in the position to help you out later on down the line.
3. Network. I know. I hate that word too. But here’s an interesting fact: “networking” is not the same as “sucking up.” Networking means that you are out in the world, meeting people, and taking an interest in them. Yes, that’s right. The most successful “networkers” I know are actually interested in what others are doing and are capable of asking a few basic questions. If you know someone who is genuinely talented, then genuinely support them and their efforts. Invite them to your party, and you might get invited to theirs. Meet their friends and let them meet yours. Yes, career-making opportunities sometimes arrive via social situations. I met my former agent at a party. I met my current agent when I went to see a friend’s movie and my new rep and I got on the same elevator together.
I suppose the best advice I can give is to remain patient. Things take time. Trends shift. Stay open and informed and try not to be utterly consumed with ambition. Nothing is more crazy-making than that. If you are talented, skilled, and enthusiastic about your life, chances are luck will visit you. Then it will desert you. Then it will return out of the blue. Such is the business of acting. As the late, great character actor, Walter Matthau once said, “All you need in this business is seven or eight really big breaks.”
David Dean Bottrell has recently guest starred on “Mad Men,” “Justified,” “Save Me,” “NCIS,” and “True Blood.” He’s probably best known for his recurring role as the psychotic “Lincoln Meyer” on “Boston Legal.” He teaches two popular acting classes in Los Angeles. For more info, contact DavidDeanBottrell@gmail.com.