Achieving the kind of acting career you’re striving for—lead roles on TV shows, big movies, Emmys, Oscars, etc.—is very, very difficult. Almost impossible. Most of you are trying to do no less than conquer the entertainment industry. And it’s something that many have attempted, but a microscopic few have actually done.
This is a business in which booking four high-end guest spots on great TV shows in a year—an amazing achievement—barely keeps you financially afloat. It’s a business in which this year’s Oscar winner is next year’s has-been. It’s a business in which 40 are chosen to audition out of a thousand, 10 are called back of those 40, and only four are ever really in contention. It’s tough. But one thing is for sure: If you have any hope of competing at the level that is required to get close to the acting career you want, there is absolutely no room for excuses.
In a business where the train is moving at the speed of light and each production is managing a thousand moving parts, what your agent, the casting director, the traffic, your mom, or your dog may or may have not done to get in your way is irrelevant. Excuses shirk your responsibility as an actor, help you justify, and even get comfortable with your lack of growth, and make you focus on things you can’t change. Dwelling on the obstacles that are outside of your control is time wasted and perpetuates a mindset of failure. Excuses keep you exactly where you are and that keeps you from success.
Here are four excuses you’re telling yourself that are getting in the way of your acting career.
The reader didn’t give me anything. “What do I do if the reader at the audition reads the line ‘I’ve always loved you’ in a monotone voice with no expression and with the charisma and romance of a dead fish?” Well, first, every other actor is dealing with the same bad reader. They didn’t tell Meryl Streep to hide in a closet as soon as you came in only to bring her out again to read with all the other actors. You’re all reading with the same reader and one of you is going to overcome that perceived obstacle and book the job. It may as well be you.
The truth is that with the right mindset and a focus on the work, a “bad” reader is a gift. If you’ve done your work for the audition, you probably need something very specific from the reader. If for whatever reason you’re not getting that from her (because she’s not giving you anything) then it means you have to work harder to get it. You can blame her bad acting and give up, or you can see it as a gift, rise to the occasion, and work harder to get what you need from her—or to give her what you think she needs. It’s your job to move the reader in that audition room on an emotional level. If you’re not doing that—because of you or because of her—then work harder.
The writing sucks. Directly after reading the sides or script and determining that the writing is awful, ask yourself one question. “Am I going to audition for this or am I going to pass?” If you decide for whatever reason—the money, it shoots in the South of France, etc.—that you are going to audition for this, your mindset must change. You must throw out any excuses and negative judgment and any limiting belief that gives you the option of not doing your work or blowing the audition. As soon as you decide to do the audition, remind yourself that everyone else will struggle with the same material and that this is an opportunity for you to flex your muscles and turn crappy dialogue into a brilliant performance. It’s an opportunity to be better than the writing, to lean harder on your inner emotional life, your unique choices, and the relationships. You may have to fight harder and dig deeper, but someone’s going to make $30,000 for this bad movie of the week. It may as well be you.
I don’t have an agent. In this day and age, when agents are making less money, have less time to spend on “development level” clients, and will barely look at you unless you’re either 19, diverse, and a model or comic, or coming off a TV series, many of you can chalk up a lackluster acting career to not having an agent. The classic industrial model suggests that an actor must get an agent who gets you to a casting director, who gets you to directors/showrunners/executives. And then if they like you, fortune and fame are bestowed upon you. That model still plays out, but most of the business has been profoundly changed by new media, the economy, etc., making that model really antiquated.
Smartphones have made it so that you have the power to write, shoot, produce, and distribute content nestled safely in your pocket. You can reach casting directors through workshops, classes, and other venues. (Caution: Research casting director workshops thoroughly before paying.) Theaters, improv clubs, YouTube, and countless other online outlets are venues where the folks doing the hiring will search you out. Social media allows you to harness the power of the masses and reach an audience. There is no longer any reason why you shouldn’t get up every day and act. There’s no reason why you can’t create art and share it with people all the time. Don’t have an agent? You don’t need one. And anyway, having an agent doesn’t mean that you’re going to get an audition either. Don’t wait for someone to give you permission to be an actor. Take control of your own career.
They’ll hire a name anyway. You’ve been called in to read for the lead role but you’re virtually positive that they won’t hire you because they can also hire Denzel Washington if they want. So, without the solid possibility that you might actually book the job, you don’t work on the audition very much. You float your way through the read and get on with your life. Lame! This is a business. The mandate of the networks and studios is not to make sure that you feel good about yourself and that you have the opportunity to express yourself through acting. Aside from some very well meaning artists in the business who want to create meaningful art, the goal of the industry is to make money. The way to make money is to attract an audience and one surefire way to do that is to have celebrities—actors who are familiar to an audience—act in your show or movie. That’s the way it is and the way it’s always been. You can waste time lamenting the truth of the business, try to change the business, or accept the business for what it is and move the heck on. You can treat every audition as a gift, a wonderful opportunity to act, and to try to affect another human being on an emotional level. Or you can choose (and it is a choice) to engage in the practice of focusing on the obstacles, the negative, that which limits you, the things you’re denied, etc.
Anyone who is successful at anything had to overcome obstacles and manage resistance. In this business where success is both rare and fleeting, all of your excuses, your baggage, your sabotage must be dealt with swiftly and decisively if you want to even have a shot at creative and professional success. At the first sign of an excuse, a justification for stagnancy, or the expression of victimhood against the big evil business, you must stop yourself, regroup, and focus on what is brilliant about the craft and the business. Decide that you’re a part of it, create your work, audition with passion and power, and celebrate your artistry with every move you make.