I recently coached a very talented client for a series regular role on a major cable drama pilot. This actor has a considerable amount of top tier film and TV credits and is, by all mainstream standards, extremely beautiful.
I called the casting director—a major casting office—for feedback a few days after her audition. When I got the casting director on the phone she said, “Oh yes, I remember her, she was excellent. Let me check my session notes. Oh here it is, yes, not beautiful enough.”
The Subjective Nature of Beauty
Suffice it to say, I am a man of great self-restraint. As you can imagine, there was a part of me that suddenly morphed into this client’s mother and wanted to shrilly bark at this casting director that my client looked like a pageant winner and a stand-in for Gwyneth Paltrow, and how dare she suggest anything to the contrary. But I thanked the office for the (candid) feedback and amicably ended the call.
The conversation definitely brought to light an issue that riddles the city of Los Angeles like a plague. This is a city that contains some of the best looking people in the nation, and few actors ever feel they’re beautiful enough (men included). There’s a good reason for this: It’s a part of the culture here, more so than in New York, I assure you. This is the culture that welcomes plastic surgery with open arms, where I’ve heard agents say, “I’ll represent you, just get your nose fixed,” where friends tell other friends that “a boob job would just even out your proportions.” A place where my male students won’t touch the tortilla chips at our bar nights because they’re on a low carb diet, because their reps said they have to lose weight and get a six-pack before they submit them for leading man roles.
Here’s the thing: In Los Angeles in this business, there’s no shortage of people to remind you where you stand in the looks department—almost anyone here in a mild position of power is eager and willing to tell you. If you’re not a 10, boy, you’ll find that out fast. But even the clients that are 10’s are still under pressure to not lose or screw up what they’ve got, and to get subtle enhancements (injections, mild surgeries) to enhance their divine genetic code. Essentially, no one in Los Angeles is free from scrutiny and insecurity—not even those we consider luckiest.
Other actors help reinforce this culture of insecurity by making each other feel insecure, by applauding each move for cheek implants, each dinner of Swedish fish and celery, and each attempt to emulate the appearance of the model or celebrity of the day. When in reality, actors need to be embracing the weird and asymmetrical stuff that makes them distinct.
You’re Not a 10: Use It to Your Professional Advantage
Look, the remainder of this article is not going to be some attempt to convince you to love yourself for who you are, along with your crooked teeth and acne. I’m not a self-help guru (and common sense should nudge you in that direction anyway). Nor do I have the energy to try to convince anyone that they need to love the things that drive them crazy in the mirror. Nor will the rest of this article tell you to pack it up and move to Iowa where those mid-America folks will definitely consider you a perfect 10 (if only it were that easy…).
Rather, I’m here to tell you that it’s time to leverage the lack of perfection in your appearance to your advantage.
There’s been a revolution in the last 10 years that indicates we are more willing to accept the interesting face. It’s almost as though the media is loosening up: Just as we’ve shrugged off the notion that the perfect TV family has to have two white parents and a smiley, fresh-faced set of kids (one of each gender, of course), we’ve also shrugged off the idea that a leading man/leading lady has to look like they stepped from the pages of the A&F Quarterly.
Now, more than ever before, people are willing to agree that beauty is subjective. Just look at Lena Dunham, Zooey Deschannel, and Jenny Slate—all female actors who have been told repeatedly (and continue to be told) that they don’t meet the traditional benchmarks of beauty.
Sure, about half the agents, managers, and acting coaches in Los Angeles still haven’t caught up, but it’s your job as actors to be aware of that. It’s your job to showcase your singularity and individuality during your next headshot session—and not get made up and photographed so you represent some glamour boy/girl.
One of my trademarks as a coach is that I help my clients use their unique personalities to find their acting singularity—the exclusive combination of attitudes and behaviors that make them a complete original. This process involves discarding and torching any impossible or arbitrary beauty ideal. Success as an actor isn’t going to happen if you try to imitate others. So now is the time to showcase a personality and aesthetic people have never experienced before—yours.
Who remembers the first time they had a Frappuccino? I remember when I had one for the first time. In New York, in 1996, and I thought, Hot damn, that’s pretty good; I’ve never had a coffee drink quite like this. Interesting, provocative, and daringly different actors like Jenny Slate, Zooey Deschanel, Lena Dunham, Seth Green, and Jonah Hill all figured that out: They took everything about them and turned it into a “hot damn that’s different” selling point.
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