I know quite a few teachers, and they've all told me the same thing. A large part of an actor's training is learning how to clean the wax out of his or her ears. That's why when I attend a workshop I always focus on the performer who's not talking. I ask myself, "Is he in the moment, listening carefully to his partner, or is he just waiting to say his next line?" That's how you separate the wheat from the chaff.
Now here's the lesson you need to learn: Listening skills are important in all parts of your career, not just when you're performing.
I represent an actor who had some mainstream success when he was younger but has recently hit a slow patch. A few weeks ago, I scored an audition for him on a pilot about police corruption in the '50s. Think "L.A. Confidential." My client was reading for the role of a federal agent who investigates a group of dirty cops.
The thing is, this actor always has a few days' worth of facial hair. I've known the guy for years, and I've never seen him clean-shaven. Naturally, federal agents in the '50s weren't scruffy. I told him to shave for his audition so he would look right for the period, but did he listen? No, because he had a big date that night, and he wanted to look hot. So the fool got laid, but he didn't get the part. I hope she was worth it.
Cathy is another example of an actor not using her listening skills. She's a friend of a friend who's always bugging me for career advice. I first learned about her newest issue when I spotted this status update on her Facebook page: "It happened again. Another industry type has told me to lose weight. My soul can only take so much. I'm a healthy woman who deserves to work no matter what I look like."
Amused, I gave her a ring to get more specifics. She explained that over the last few weeks, both her agent and her manager had asked her to lose some weight. And now, right after an audition, a casting director told her the same thing.
Cathy is an attractive girl in her 20s. Is she a big, fat person? No. She just needs to drop a few pounds so she can compete in her category.
I tried to explain that the feedback was no big deal. It would be easy to lose that weight, so why not? After all, if three people tell you it's raining, you might want to grab an umbrella before you step outside.
But God forbid an actor should listen to reason. Cathy started whining about having to deal with this crap. She felt it was a personal attack. I explained she wasn't a character type and that cutting back on fries might present her with more opportunities, but Cathy refused to listen to me or her agent or her manager or a casting director. So that's it. Game over. At some point, her reps will probably drop her, and she'll end up working as Melissa McCarthy's stunt double.
If you want to succeed as an actor, you have to learn how to listen-especially when you're getting advice from professionals. Did you hear that? Did you?