Throughout my years as an acting coach, I’ve seen actors attempting to launch A-list careers and achieve major success by trying to fit through the same small door as everyone else—attending cattle call workshops, sending postcards, practicing gimmicky acting techniques taught by Madame Ooh La La, taking non-craft-related personal empowerment classes, etc.
On the one hand, I don’t blame them. Many careers actually have been forged on the formula of: receive audition, perform well at audition, book job, repeat process, get noticed in time. If this approach is working for you, congratulations. Move onwards and upwards, dear friend.
However, if one aspect of this particular formula isn’t helping you, it might be indicative of the fact that you’re embracing too much of the herd mentality. The herd mentality is a term that I use in this business to refer to “widespread beliefs” that permeate throughout the minds and mouths of actors that can actually be crippling and prevent the actor from moving forward. For instance, ideas like, “you need an agent to book work” or “casting directors don’t want to meet actors without credits” or “leading men/ladies have to be traditionally handsome” or “strong characters don’t show vulnerability.” Obviously, the bulk of the ideologies connected to the herd mentality are based on fear. Take the first example. If “you need an agent to book work” is absolutely true, then the actor can stay in a safe zone of inactivity. It’s not up to you to shake the tree, it’s the agent’s job. Therefore, you don’t have to face your fears of what will happen when you pick up the phone or start making some scratches on the old drawing board.
If you accept the idea that “leading men/ladies have to be traditionally handsome,” and your charmingly crooked nose and confetti freckles won’t suffice, then you get to just stay in the safe zone of what you’re used to: character roles. Now I have nothing against character roles –they’re often the more interesting parts, but that’s another article. However, accepting this limiting belief means that you don’t have to jump into the red mist of marketing yourself as a leading man/lady. You don’t have to get leading actor headshots. You don’t have to show up at auditions where all the traditionally attractive actors are and try and compete against them.
There is no one-size-fits-all path to an acting career. Your path to your dreams will be your own—don’t let anyone sell you a system for success that doesn’t come solely from you. You need to be the one swinging the machete and carving the path through the jungle.
The good news is that because there is no one-size-fits-all solution to this conundrum, I can’t instruct you on what to do exactly. It will take some soul searching. What I can tell you to do is first, look at where the failure is, and second, look at where your resistance is.
Try to examine the things in your life that you’re not willing to do right now—given the fact that you haven’t done them yet—and perhaps, examine if the inactivity might be the actual obstacles in your way. These obstacles might just be about pitching yourself to casting directors, writing and performing a one-man show, starting your own web series, or teaching acting to kids. Often when we’re in a situation of failure, we need to look at our own resistance to see what is preventing a solution from coming through.
Consider success in the industry as the ability to get around a brick wall. All the years you’ve spent auditioning and going through the traditional method for success are akin to taking a shovel and attempting to a dig a tunnel around the wall. But it’s not working—and it’s back-breaking work.
In reality, if you want to get past this brick wall, it might just take gathering the courage to either grab a rope and climb right over it or it may take the courage to pick up a sledgehammer and knock right through it.
In this example, climbing or destroying the wall symbolizes the absolute necessity of forging your own path, and shaking off the herd mentality of “land audition, book job, get noticed.” Success is never handed to anyone and no career was ever forged using someone else’s model.
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.