For those of you who are curious, I started my career in Chicago working as a freelance editor. Most of my assignments involved commercials and industrials, but every now and then I would score an independent film. Those were the best because they allowed me to be creative.
When I look back at pictures from those days, I barely recognize myself. My hair was long, I had a full beard, and there was always a diamond stud in my left ear. Ah, the folly of youth…
When I made the move to Hollywood, I did what a lot of people do in this business: I reinvented myself. It took a little effort, but inside of a few years I became a clean-cut agent with a taste for Italian suits.
There are several famous performers who followed a similar path. For example, Mark Wahlberg used to be the leader of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Now he’s a movie star. Bruce Willis was a comedic actor till he picked up a gun in “Die Hard.” Now he’s an action hero. And Matthew McConaughey stepped back from his fading pretty-boy career to become a serious character actor. Now he’s got an Oscar and a possible Emmy.
All right, all right, all right…
Celebrities aren’t the only ones who have pulled off this hat trick. It just gets noticed more when they do it because they’re famous. Over the years, I’ve worked with several unknowns who sparked their careers by reinventing themselves.
About five years ago, I represented a kid named Justin. He was in his 20s and always played the leading man’s quirky sidekick or the nerdy guy who couldn’t get laid if his life depended on it. Justin worked on a regular basis but we both knew his casting options were limited because of his appearance.
And then his dad died.
Justin had to go home for a few months to help his family with the million little details that needed to be addressed now that his father was gone. He was a good guy and I respected him for putting his career on hold. Family always comes first.
When Justin returned, he dropped by my office to say hello and when I first saw him, my jaw dropped open. The kid had put on 20 pounds; he was wearing contacts; and his recent loss had aged him in a good way. Justin still didn’t look like a leading man, but the actor standing in front of me was brimming with opportunity.
Educating the casting community about the new Justin took a while, but everyone caught on after a few auditions and his casting range increased in a major way.
Justin isn’t the only actor I’ve worked with who improved his career by reinventing himself. I’ve had clients drop weight, shave their heads, and grow facial hair. Some got tattoos. Others had them removed. The common quality among all those people was that after making a big change, they all worked more, not less.
Not every actor needs to change who he or she is to become successful, but reinventing yourself is always an option if you’re stuck in neutral. And I’m living proof of that. The decision to shake things up sure served me well when I was just starting out, trying to get a foothold in a brand-new city.
(But when all is said and done, I must confess that I still miss those Chicago dogs I used to get on Clark Street. The Chinese chicken salad here is pretty amazing, but it’s just not the same thing.)
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