Never—until I jumped the casting table from actor to director, casting director, and teacher—had I realized how much inept, incorrect, assumed information about the entertainment business and how-to-be-an-actor is spread by incompetent, misinformed actors themselves.
Some info plucked from the actor grapevine is helpful:
- Audition connections
- Teacher and photographer referrals
- Survival-job leads
- The cheapest, dark bar for getting sloshed incognito
But… then there’s trash-talk that need not be recycled.
When actors spread to fellow thespians spoken falsehoods, assumptions or provide poorly informed perceptions on how to act, or when an actor who can’t elevate their own career beyond "featured" extra (i.e., their silent puss had nanosecond exposure on the screen causing their mother to scream joyfully for her baby) begin telling actors how casting directors, directors, producers, and talent representatives respond to actors, that’s when I need to step in. Excuse me!? For how long have you sat behind the audition table? Since when did you become Dionne Warwick and sign-on to the Psychic Friends Network? Are you able to read minds? Stop spreading bull to your fellow performers. Speak of what you know not of what you guess.
I often wonder…Are the thrashers of guidance-de-manure doing so because of their own insecurities? Are they possessors of fragile egos, compelled to drag others down with them? Do these audition hallway "Dear Abbys" need to "teach" others so as not to be reminded of their own failings?
Or worse and more deviant…Are these omnipresent opinionates spreading false information to thwart and stall the careers of fellow artists as they themselves propel forward while ignoring their own shared false-wisdom?
If ever you encounter an actor dropping the dreaded phrase, “Well they say…” ask them who the hell is that invisible "they"?
If the actor fires back, "My friends who are also actors," ask if their actor-friends are Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, Whoopi Goldberg, Susan Sarandon or alike— actors who have simultaneously been actor-director-producers successfully navigating the business for several presidencies. Or possess a base minimum of experience that has sustained a financially long-term, continual, living-wage from their craft. Then I would take some credence to the advisories offered. But I’d rather have the knowledge proffered first-hand from the originator than mangled in message like a poorly mismanaged kindergarten travesty of telephone.
And if the advising actor responds that the "they" are "casting people, directors and/or agents" ask for names. It’s time to hold the sources accountable.
If the "they" turns out to be sourced from online message boards then I recommend you move on. Don’t seek guidance from an iBot who’s addicted to their iDrone or Crackberry. Find a living soul who has a true sense of reality. Life is not the Internet where anyone with a pulse can near-anonymously vomit verbiage via a keypad. The Internet is the 21st century’s graffiti canvas.
The next time you find yourself waiting on an uncomfortable folding chair in a cramped audition studio hallway or being a cater-waiter staffed by fellow unemployed actors beware of the following "helpful" peers:
- Actors who claim to know everything about acting and the business but their resume is filled with background work, and/or showcases, educational theater, student films, or just a near-empty white void bearing their name and in large, bold, font and underneath is heralded "ACTOR." Just stay away.
- Actors who consistently name-drop celebrities similar to, “Oh yeah, and I just worked with Gandolfini, then had a gig alongside Robbins and Pitt…” chances are the actor is an extra wishing their own career was that of James Gandolfini, Tim Robbins, and Brad Pitt. Stay away.
- Actors who are too, too eager to share "acting" and "business of acting" tips. Ask yourself and them, "Why?" People are often proprietary about what has made them successful.
The artists who honestly share credible knowledge often do so because their careers have met their own definition of success. Or the sharer of insight has a passion to assist fellow artists. There is little-to-no ego involved. These lend-a-hand artists are not generally the actors you’ll find huddled in a serpentine open call line at 6 a.m. for a reality TV blunder.
You want advice in regard to moving forward your career, or for fine tuning your acting skills? Seek the counsel of competent, established, working, professionals who care not about ego but who share wisdom for one basic purpose; to help others succeed.
And when any information comes to you recall my opening statement in my book, "ACTING: Make It Your Business":
“Everything I say is right.
Everything I say is wrong.
There are many opinions in this industry.
Don’t take one person’s word as gospel including my own.
Take what works for you.”
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher, and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple, and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Backstage and is the author of "ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor." For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.