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The Working Actor

Dyeing to Work, Vultures With Vouchers

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Dyeing to Work, Vultures With Vouchers
Dear Michael:
I am a 22-year-old female with long blond hair. I look like your typical ingénue/girl-next-door romantic lead. However, I act more like the cynical best friend. Because of how I look, I am constantly being called in for roles that fit the blonde stereotype. But once I actually audition, most casting directors are surprised to see that my acting does not fit my appearance. Most of the time, these auditions end with me being called back for the sinister best friend.

I've been going back and forth with the idea that if I dye my hair a darker color, I'll start to be seen as the characters I'm most comfortable portraying. I also should point out, I've been told that my blond hair makes me very commercial. What are your thoughts? Do I dye my hair to give myself a better shot at the roles I feel best suit me, but sacrifice a more commercial look? Or does it not even matter at all?
—Blond and Confused
New York

Dear B and C:
Back when I was young, I dated an actor with a dilemma that was more or less identical to yours. She looked like a cheerleader but had this brilliant, off-center, slightly twisted, slightly dark sensibility. Now, I've always had a weakness for the girl-next-door type, and I loved her blond hair. Nevertheless, I told her that if she wanted to have a career, she was going to have to go brunette. She didn't take my advice, and never had much of a career. (But man, was she cute.)

In marketing ourselves as actors, I think it's important to really take a look and make sure that our various elements match each other to create what we often call a "total package." In other words, we need to sound like how we look, look like how we behave, dress like the roles we tend to play, match the type in our headshots, and so forth. The guy who looks like he plays dangerous and powerful characters can't come in all apologetic and sweet. The woman who always plays nuns and Midwestern schoolteachers doesn't need a sexy, glamorous photo. So, if your true nature belies your blondness, you may be creating confusion, which is likely to be detrimental. As a fan of blondes, it pains me to say it, but you might need to go brunette, at least for a while, as an experiment.

As for whether blond hair is more "commercial," I think that's less the case than it once was. Back in the 1950s and '60s, most people on commercials looked like Barbie and Ken. But that's changed. Now it's all over the place. Watch commercials. Do a tally. See how many brunettes are selling products now. You may be surprised.

But even if blond hair is more commercial, it won't work for you if it doesn't match your essence when you show up. They may call you in based on the photo, but in person you may not be the girl they thought you were. As you've said, you're getting called back for the other roles, the ones suited to brunettes. And then you're going up against actors who have the right looks for those parts.

Sounds to me like it's time to come over to the dark side.


Dear Michael:
Although I know how I feel about the question I'm about to ask, I would like to hear a professional opinion. I was recently asked by an agent of questionable reputation to sign with him. Among the things he suggested I do, he included calling a woman who he said would help me in becoming a member of the Screen Actors Guild. Although I decided not to sign with him, I called the woman out of curiosity. She told me that her husband owned a production company and that for a fee (about $1,200 if I remember correctly) they would secure you three days of background work on a SAG voucher. How legit is this? It seems like a shady way to go, if you ask me, but I'd like a second opinion.
—Voucherless in L.A.
Los Angeles

Dear Voucherless:
Wow. That pretty much takes the cake. I don't know if I've ever heard of anything more clearly, boldly, and shamelessly illegitimate. Mind you, shady methods like this may actually work. People might be able to get their SAG cards this way. But how disgusting of this woman and her husband to take such opportunistic advantage of nonunion actors. And yes, it's beyond illegal. Me, I'd turn them in without a moment's hesitation. Then again, I tend to get a little hotheaded about stuff like this.

Good for you for spotting a sleazy situation and avoiding it. You'll be so much better off in the long run.

This brings me to something I've been contemplating lately: being willing to embrace where we are in our careers. That's a tough one for us. We always want to jump to the next level, whether we're ready for it or not. We talk about "breaking in," which, if you think about it, means entering where you aren't supposed to be. And I've begun to wonder: What if, rather than trying to rush the process, we just did the things before us—the gigs we can get now, the opportunities to which we currently have access? If we're at a place in our careers where advancement seems impossible, maybe it's not time yet. I know that may not sit well with some readers, but think of the zillions who line up for hours to audition for "American Idol." As viewers, we can see that many aren't ready (and in some cases, may never be) to be professional singers. But each of those people thinks he or she is a musical superstar who only lacks the right exposure.

If you're contemplating doing something as desperate as paying someone in order to illegally obtain your SAG card, take a step back and think about what you're doing. If that's the only way you can get in the door, maybe it's too soon for that particular door. Sure, you can sneak in or break in, but then what? You've got your card, but how will you get seen for SAG projects? And then what if you do get seen? You'll be auditioning against actors who earned their cards legitimately. Suddenly, beating the system isn't such a bargain. I'm not saying you shouldn't be ambitious or assertive, but sometimes there's something to be said for honoring the process.

Questions for The Working Actor? Send an email to theworkingactor@gmail.com. Thank you!

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