You may have heard this from a well-meaning acting teacher. Indeed, many studios and schools pride themselves on training their actors to be able to "play anything." As if casting directors are going to consider all actors equally for all roles, as in: "Sure, we'll see the 26-year-old Yale grad for the 80-year-old grandpa role. After all, he can play anything!" Sorry, all you versatile actors out there, but it just ain't so.
Obviously, film and television cast with looks and type heavily in mind, but most theater productions also cast to up the realism. This means the "best" actor doesn't always get the part, particularly if the part is widely outside his or her physical makeup. Yes, there are exceptions, and some productions cast outside type to add levels of meaning to the show, but those ideas are often hatched pre-casting, and the "outside" type indicated in the breakdown from the start. Frankly, there are so many actors available that CDs can stick to the writer's or director's vision and still land a great performer. Be brave, go for roles outside your comfort zone, but don't be surprised if you aren't seen for characters you are nothing like.
2) Real artists don't do commercials.
I remember having lunch with a friend of mine from grad school who told me he didn't think he could bring himself to do what I had done. My sin? Taking money for doing commercials. The funny thing is, I actually felt kind of bad about it in that moment. "Why had I sold out like that?" I agonized. Later, I made peace with the fact that actors act. Sometimes that means playing Viola in "Twelfth Night" and sometimes that means playing the "casual mom" cleaning her house with a "high-performance cleaning cloth." Happily, the second one can pay off the student loans you took out to learn how to do the first—and buy your sanctimonious grad-school buddy lunch.
3) Theater acting is superior to film acting.
That's like saying novels are superior to poetry or paintings are superior to drawings. The art is the same; it's just a different canvas. Actors can do both. They can also do television, commercials, Web series, standup, voiceover, and improv. Don't let people sell you on these imaginary divisions. They do it only to distinguish their particular area of expertise or, more commonly, to build up themselves.
4) You're too old to get into acting.
It would have been great if you had decided to become an actor when you were 7, but most people need to grow up before deciding what they want to do when they grow up. Maybe you're even coming to acting after having another career. While you won't have all the advantages of the young (limitless energy, an excuse for your lack of credits, possible "hotness"), you'll have the advantages of the mature (ability to focus for long periods, applicable skills garnered in other areas, perspective). Don't let people scare you off with "You're too old" chatter. We can't all be Dakota Fanning. Or Mark Zuckerberg, for that matter.
5) You need to be a triple threat.
Working on Broadway today seems to require a huge skill set. That's because most of the shows are either musicals or peopled by stars, or both. No matter what your teacher says, you don't need to be able to sing and dance to be a great actor. Not everyone can do "A Chorus Line" or star on "Glee." Though we need to keep our instruments—our bodies and our voices—in shape, being a multiple threat is not required for a successful career.
6) Any agent is better than no agent.
The biggest problem with having a bad agent isn't that he or she doesn't submit or sell you; it's that because you're represented, you stop working as hard for yourself, without anyone else picking up the slack. Actors without agents know they need to hustle. Actors with agents—especially lousy ones—need to do so as well, and if your agent has a bad reputation, you'll have to work twice as hard. If you're with a rep whom casting directors actively dislike, they won't bother calling you in—after all, that would mean having to talk to your agent. What's more, all that time your lousy agent spends pitching you on certain photographers or workshops, or even just ignoring you—which will undoubtedly take up a portion of your mental space—is time better spent on something else. Don't be afraid of a small, hard-working agent no one's ever heard of, but stay away from an agent everyone's heard of but no one likes.
7) It's all about looks.
Studies show that attractiveness (and height) provides an advantage in any field, and there's no denying that good looks are helpful in our visual media, but other factors are at play in the casting of most roles. Actors who aren't Megan Fox should note that only some of the popular types require fantastic levels of gorgeousness. There are plenty of friend, neighbor, and real human being roles for us real human beings. Owen Wilson, Meryl Streep, Vince Vaughn, Edie Falco—yes, they're all gorgeous in their way, but none of them look like a Barbie or Ken doll.
8) Looks don't matter. See No. 7.
9) The cream rises to the top.
If this were true, the best, most deserving actors would land all the roles. Um, have you turned on your television lately? This is a lie that people—often those with power over the fates of actors—tell to make themselves feel better for disappointing others. If the cream rises to the top, then their actions aren't to blame; their choices are just part of natural selection. Hard work and talent matter, but many of the most talented actors I know have quit working professionally. Is this because they aren't creamy enough? Or is it because they got interested in other careers or wanted to spend more time with their kids or moved out of the major acting markets or lost interest in the business aspects of the industry or found some other reason to make a change in their lives? Again, these kinds of general proclamations are almost always self-serving, so be on the alert when you hear them.
10) Acting is a calling.
A calling sounds romantic, but it's unnecessarily exclusionary and attributes specialness to those who feel like slapping that label on their head. Anyone can call him- or herself an actor. Anyone can claim a calling. It's the ultimate in proclamations and distinctions. I don't believe there's an actor alive so lacking in creativity and imagination that he or she couldn't find something else enthralling to do with his or her life. What if, instead of attributing all kinds of magical powers to our field, we look at it like any other job? What if we're a bit more…modest? Sainthood is a calling. Thespis didn't descend on your cradle and anoint you. You simply discovered a wonderful art and got lucky enough to practice it—maybe even for a buck.
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