I'm having trouble figuring out my "type." I'm sort of ethnic looking, though no one can ever figure out what I am (I get Persian, Italian, South American, European, Armenian, etc.). An acting teacher told me that though I was beautiful, I wasn't "classic looking" and I should market myself toward character parts. I have no problem with that, but when I've asked others to honestly tell me what parts they see me playing, I've gotten "doctor," "funny, cute-yet-awkward Zooey Deschanel type," "dark roles like a drug addict," and "definitely an ingénue." One casting person said I was "too girl-next-door"; another said I was "too exotic." I always thought it was good to be able to play many different parts but now I hear that you should play one type well initially, then, once you're established, explore others. How should I market myself? Do I leave it up to agents and casting directors? And should I even bother with commercials?
There are several questions here. Let's work backward.
Yes, you should pursue commercials. Ethnically ambiguous is in. Yes, you should look to the people who deal most often with casting to guide your ideas about your castability. And yes, while you may have a wide range, as casting director Gwen Hiller and I agree, "no one is shopping for versatile." So it's important -- particularly early in your career -- to aim for the types of roles professionals can most easily see you playing. Let's look at how to figure that out.
First, disregard the opinions of nonprofessionals, inexperienced peers, and anyone outside of the business. Uninformed input can drive you crazy. Now, I understand that even the professional feedback you've gotten has been all over the place, but narrowing this puzzle down to just those opinions makes it easier to solve. Next, look for the pattern that emerges as you get called back and/or cast professionally. Those roles provide more reliable indications of type. And I promise you, in time, a pattern will emerge.
Follow the actors to whom you're often compared. Note the roles they play.
Get a range of top-notch, professional-quality headshots that suggest your most viable types -- what I call your "A market." Then, use the one that best fits each role for which you audition. You may need a quirky/funny look, a lower-class look, a professional look, and in your case, probably one that suggests exotic ethnicity. (Important: Don't dress in costume or portray characters. Headshots should always present a side of your real-life self.)
In a flooded market such as ours, there's no room for vague branding. We need to look like how we sound like how we behave like how we dress, and have shots to match.
Figuring out your type is a process. If you're represented, listen to your agent or manager on this one. If not, submit for whatever you think you can play, and see how people respond. Think of it as a fun experiment, and let time and experience provide clarity.
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The Working Actor
How to Win Jobs and Market Yourself
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