There’s a category of actor that surely has always existed, but in my daily dealings with the industry I’m hearing a lot more about them now than ever before. I call them, the "Re-Entry Actor." The actor who started out pursuing the biz back in the day, left for whatever reason, and now, usually years later, is trying to get back in.
That’s my story, too. And I can share some hard won wisdom about what to expect when you’re expecting success as an actor when you’ve been away for a while.
In my case, I went to college on an acting scholarship, but in my sophomore year, I assessed the odds of making a living as an actor – at least in the near term – as pretty close to zero.
So I pursued a second major: journalism. I worked for more than 20 years as a TV news anchor/reporter/host. It was a very successful and rewarding career, but I always accepted the reality that as an actor, I had bailed – without so much as waiting on even one table.
Then, ten years ago while living in New York, I re-entered the acting world. Here are four things I wish I had known then.
1. Take classes, but really investigate how they fit your needs. I ended up in several different classes that turned out to be cheap psychotherapy sessions for most of the other “actors.” There was no way to know this by reading the ads, or even in an interview with the teacher. I was in week five before it dawned on me that none of my classmates ever auditioned for anything; they just came to class. For me, it was a colossal waste of time.
2. Expect to be treated with less respect than you got in your other career. Isn’t there enough rejection from auditions to keep us all humble? Do the gatekeepers (agents, managers and casting directors) really need to be on such a high horse? I’ve heard casting directors lecture re-entering actors, who’ve paid for the advice, that they “must not make stupid mistakes” in front of someone with power over their career. “OMG!” I heard, “Did I tell you about the wannabe actor who MISSPELLED a casting directors name on a mailing?! MISSPELLED IT! Her headshot went directly to the circular file.” Harrumph.
I had an agent tell me once that it was “stupid for an actor to expect agents to ever attend a showcase.” When I asked, mildly, “Why do the showcases then?” he actually said “I don’t know…to feed your ego? And it is not appropriate for you to talk to me in this way.” Really? As an adult this attitude is, uh, inappropriate at best, and an invitation to step outside at worst. I know re-entering and beginning actors are a dime a dozen, but why is it acceptable to treat them as if they are?
3. In film acting, you only whisper. This was not the case when I was in school. But the improvement in sound equipment and the proliferation of ADR has helped spawn a new style of on-camera acting.
In researching the world of movie extras I actually worked as one once. In “The Departed” I was the guy sitting just behind Matt Damon in a restaurant scene. He was talking across a small table to Vera Farmiga. Talking is the wrong word. I was no more than five feet away from them and they couldn’t possibly hear a word the other one said. In the film, this conversation seems totally at normal volume. In person, you needed to be a lip reader. So take a tip from Matt and Vera: whisper.
4. Be careful how you present yourself. Yes, I too played Hamlet in school. Is that on my resume? I’d love to have it on there, but since it was 122 years ago it speaks most loudly of the intervening years of not doing noteworthy roles (while I wasn’t acting). It’s very much a “what have you done lately” exercise when making your case for being picked.
Should you announce you’re re-entering? Some casting directors and agents will be smart enough to wonder if you’re older than 35 and they’ve never heard of you, why that is and will inquire. Some will be smart enough to know that being out of the business might have actually made you a more resourceful and a fully rounded actor. But others will say to themselves, “Ugh, just what I don’t need, a no-name, middle-aged dreamer.”
And some of them will say it to your face.
Brad Holbrook is the founder, chief cook, and bottle washer of www.ActorIntro.com, a Manhattan studio that creates video marketing tools for actors. He also trains and coaches actors in the skills required for performing on camera, privately and in group classes. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Brad has spent his entire adult life in front of the camera. After getting degrees in theater arts and journalism, he first worked as a reporter in a small Midwestern TV station. That led to a 20+ year career as a reporter, anchor, and host at stations across the country. For the past several years, he has had the chance to scratch that acting itch again, and has worked as an actor on NYC stages, as well as in network TV shows and studio films. Currently he plays a TV host in The Onion News Network’s continuing parody series “Today NOW!”