What do you want?
I’m serious. I want to know what you want as an actor. It’s not the easiest question to answer, is it? Most of you will respond with specifics, like union membership and a decent agent. But I bet after you think about it for a while, your mind will start to venture toward the bigger picture. If you hang out there for a while and wait for the haze to clear, the answer to my question will become obvious. You want to be successful.
Now here’s the rub: How do you define success? Some actors imagine a life where their coffee table is littered with Oscars and Emmys. Others picture themselves taking countless curtain calls on a Broadway stage. Everyone’s different. There’s no right or wrong answer here.
If I were an actor, here’s how I would define success. Success is making a living doing what I love. Yes, it’s really that simple. Hoping for fame and fortune is a sucker bet, like trying to fill an inside straight. There’s nothing wrong with steady work and enough money to live without fear. By that definition, being a successful actor shouldn’t be the hardest goal in the world. So why do so many of you fail?
I’ve given this a great deal of thought, and I believe there are three basic reasons why actors fail. Two of them are under your control. One isn’t.
The first is lack of talent.
Over the years, I’ve met thousands of actors, and I’d say about a third of them were atrocious. I’m talking about posers who are in love with the idea of acting but have no understanding of craft or technique. They’re like writers who don’t read.
The second third is made up of vanilla actors who have an acceptable level of ability but not much more. Some of these people manage to find sporadic work as day players, while others drift off into obscurity. I think this is the saddest group because they’re trapped in limbo, hoping for a big break but without enough skill to capitalize on one when it arrives.
As for the last third, they’re all talented performers who deserve to find success. So why don’t they? Well, some of them do, but the rest fail because talent isn’t enough to succeed in this business.
The second reason actors fail is lack of sense. This is a big one, and I’ve seen a lot of good actors fail because of it. I’ll illustrate my point with an example.
About six months ago, I met an actor at a workshop who had a lot of potential. There was a direct conflict on my list, but I took a meeting with him anyway because I wanted to know more about his background. Afterward, I explained why I couldn’t sign him, but I asked him to stay in touch and to please keep me posted on any developments in his career. Guess what? I never heard from him again. The guy just disappeared. I just checked IMDb, and he still doesn’t have an agent.
The third reason actors fail is lack of luck. That’s the one you can’t control. Either you have it or you don’t.
Some actors, through no effort of their own, just stumble ass backwards into opportunities. I know an actor who got her first agent, a good one, by leaving a note on his windshield when she witnessed someone scraping his fender. Now she’s on a series making six figures a year. You might call that good karma. I call it luck. And I’m taking her with me next time I go to Vegas.
I’ve always believed the key to success is understanding failure. When you know the wrong path, it’s much easier to find the right one. So find out what you’re lacking and start getting your career back on track.