When you're an actor, it seems like everyone you know is dying to give you their opinion. They just can't wait to tell you all about what you should and shouldn't do: Lose weight. Take this class. Do this. Don't do that. And they always seem so sure of themselves, don't they? They couldn't possibly be wrong, could they?
To illustrate my point, here's a recent post from the BackStage.com message board I moderate when I'm not busy chasing my 10 percent: "Hi. My name's Andrea. I've been told lately by a couple of well-respected industry people that my look is too middle-of-the-road in terms of ethnicity. I am half Persian and half Irish. The people I have spoken with say I need to either make myself more Caucasian-looking or more ethnic-looking. They say I will have a hard time booking jobs, because casting directors and agents won't be able to put me in a certain category. Is this true?"
When I first read this post, part of me wanted to laugh, another part wanted to put my fist through the wall. Andrea's post was so mortifying that I just had to call her. There were three issues that needed to be addressed directly.
The first was her reference to so-called "well-respected industry people." I asked her to be more specific, and it turns out that one was a casting director—and I use that term loosely—who has never cast anything that could be referred to as mainstream. And the other was a smalltime acting teacher who used to be an actor but hasn't worked in more than a decade. Yikes! Can you imagine two people less qualified to have an opinion about anyone's career? This is why you always have to consider the people giving you advice before you decide to take them seriously. Are they really in a position to know what they're talking about? Or are they just trying to validate themselves? I say live your life like a journalist: Always question the source!
Second, I asked Andrea if these two brain surgeons had mentioned how exactly she was supposed to make herself more Caucasian-looking or more Middle Eastern–looking. I mean, were they talking about a Michael Jackson kind of deal where you bleach your skin? Or were they suggesting she walk into auditions with dynamite strapped to her chest? It turns out they never got that specific. I wonder why.
And third, I explained to Andrea that the moronic statement that casting directors and guys like me wouldn't be able to put her in a category is absurd. Exotic is in. I mean, what did these people think? That I would receive her picture in the mail and be totally confused by the sight of a beautiful woman in her 20s who happens to have an exotic look? What would my inner monologue be? "I don't get it. She's not white. She's not black. I'm so confused. Help me, Jesus!"
I want you all to remember that this is a business full of opinions. Everyone's got one. Think of these opinion givers as well-meaning vampires who want to suck the soul from your body. So be nice and listen, but don't forget to question the source. And just to be safe, always make sure you're carrying plenty of garlic and holy water next to your headshots and résumés.