Your sweet spot is the specific behavior you propel into a character that’s singular to you. Your ability to recognize it and then radiate it to your audience is your launching pad for tangible artistic success. In no way is this to be confused with those annoying shop talk words like “type” or “niche”—it’s behavior so completely unique and precise to you that you can’t help but excel at it. For example, if your agent dismissively labels you as “girl next door” your sweet spot might be: girl next-door-who’s-really-smart-and-really-troubled. Your sweet spot helps you zero in on a deeper level of specificity on what you bring to a role and character.
In previous articles I described the actor’s "tip”—the one-of-a-kind fingerprint [or mark] of personality you leave on your performance. Unlike a “tip,” which is often an unavoidable part of an actor’s personality, a sweet spot is something you can actively cultivate—much like a persona. It’s an exclusive combination of attitudes and behaviors that are distinct to you and that you connect with in a manner that is simply matchless. I described Zooey Deschanel’s rareness as an “…almost impossible balance of sexuality and oddity...She’s an oddball—and she hides none of it in her acting.” It’s her awareness of this rarity and ability to magnify and radiate it when acting, which makes her singular.
The naysayers who grumble, "Oh, this will just narrow your choices and possibilities as an actor" are dead wrong. Identifying, marketing, and targeting your sweet spot roles can give you a firm foothold in an industry thirsty for something we haven’t seen yet—something new! It leads to those breakthrough roles that will ultimately create a platform to prove you can play other character types and genres.
A client of mine who recently launched her career by booking a very popular recurring role on “New Girl” honed her Sweet Spot for years, ultimately arriving at: fragility combined with morose deadpan humor. When she discussed her audition with me, it was clear that she let her sweet spot shine, saying: “It felt easy and fun like it was right in my ‘wheelhouse’…it didn’t feel like I was doing anything.”
Discovering your Sweet Spot starts with recognizing those behaviors and attitudes you emit brighter and sharper than anyone else. It takes some digging to get at. If you take the example of Zooey, she’s essentially saying, “I’m sexy. No, I’m not sexy, I’m weird,” over and over again. This comes from two very real places inside of her that believe exactly that: “Yes, I’m sexy—no wait, no I’m not.”
Zeroing in on your sweet spot is really hard to do because people don’t have the objectivity to see the behaviors, neuroses, and attitudes that make them rare creatures. As human beings we can be so dense to our own qualities—and it’s not our fault. Often all we lack is an outside perspective.
Do some market research! Talk to your friends and family and ask, “So, what’s different about me?” Make a list and look for patterns and see what you gravitate to and see what themes keep coming up.
An Oscar-winning client once confessed to me after wrapping a huge feature film without a new project lined up, “I know this sounds crazy...but I’m terrified I won’t work again.” Your sweet spot helps you work again and again because it creates continuity to your career and a guide for picking good projects.
And just because an actor is famous and working, does not mean that he knows his sweet spot. An actress like Hillary Swank has a sweet spot, but is clearly not aware of it. Her sweet spot definitely involves taking on masculine energies/challenges, and it would behoove her to select parts that include one or both of these aspects to some great or small extent at all times. Thus, it’s easy to see why she shines in something like “Million Dollar Baby,” but not in “P.S. I Love You.”
On the other hand, Philip Seymour Hoffman knows his Sweet Spot in that nearly all of the characters he’s played from the “The Talented Mr. Ripley” to “The Master” have some aspect of sexual deviance and addiction present in them to some extent.
Cultivating your Sweet Spot is especially important and necessary in Los Angeles where leading woman/man supermodel looks and generic personalities are a dime a dozen. It’s more fun and dangerous to be the curiosity in a group of cookie cutter actors, and it will allow you to create a more memorable performance.
You may at that moment feel like a carbon copy of a veritable actor stew. But relax, it’s just an illusion. Your distinct personality will always set you apart!
Joseph Pearlman is a private and on-set coach for Hollywood’s top actors, musicians, and comedians. He works with clients like Zooey Deschanel, and also coaches presenters for all the major award ceremonies including the Oscars, Grammys, and Emmys. Joseph Pearlman Coaching was voted Best Acting Studio in Los Angeles by Backstage’s 2011 and 2012 Readers’ Choice Awards. Joseph Pearlman Coaching is also located in New York. Joseph Pearlman Coaching offers private coaching and classes from beginner to working professional.