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Backstage Experts

Getting Your ‘Look’ Right, Part 1: Identifying Your Essence

Getting Your ‘Look’ Right, Part 1: Identifying Your Essence

I can’t thank all of you enough for your outpouring of support for my situation last week and for joining my 90-Day Actor Fitness Challenge. At the suggestion of a few of you, I created a Facebook page where we can stay in touch and support each other in our fitness goals: the Actor Fitness Support page! Ta-da! So it’s there and we can use it if we want. It’s all up to you guys.

As for this week, it’s time to talk about your “look,” your “casting,” your “type,” etc. Many of you are marketing yourselves poorly, which creates more opportunity for those actors who are doing it “right.” Many of you have not taken a strategic approach to your look. It’s like you’ve said. “Well, this is me and what I look like. Time to get photos.” And that’s it.

No, no, no, no, no. That’s not it at all. Before you ever step in front of a camera for headshots, you need to get your house in order.

The most important thing we in casting need to get out of your headshots is to see what you look like clearly and accurately and get a sense of your essence—your “personality”—but it’s more than that. It’s like if you just came into the room, what is the vibe we get from you as you start talking? What are you like? In other words, your look and marketing should be such that casting perceives you clearly.

The problem is that many of you don’t perceive yourselves clearly. And the reason many of you might resist the idea that you are enough is because you don’t see what is so special about you. You don’t think you are entertaining or interesting enough as you are, so you try to create a character all time. But you are not a blank slate. That bears repeating: You, my friend, are not a blank slate. When you speak, people do clearly see what you may have lost the ability to see—who you are.

Do you know who you are? I’m serious. Do you? Here’s one way to find out. Put out a post on Facebook or ask people who know you to list the qualities they would use to describe you if they had to build an online dating profile for you or describe you to someone else. Have them answer in the third person. See what they say. And listen. It might sound something like this: “She’s really genuine, whip smart, caring, loyal, very observant, sweet, non-judgmental, someone you’d want to go to when you’re down, humble, and just really pretty.” Or “He’s a riot. He’s a charmer, high-energy, hilarious, a good friend, always up for a good time, silly, consistent, like you never see him down about anything, and really loves his family.”

The truth is that you already naturally, effortlessly exude all these kinds of qualities. That means that, without even trying, when you just be yourself and trust that you are enough, your acting work will contain all of these individual characteristics. You can’t help it! It’s who you are! It’s your “essence.”

The great thing is that the more you understand how others perceive you, the more “at choice” you can be about each quality. For example, maybe for a particular scene, being “hilarious” doesn’t fit the story, so you’d want to turn that part of you off. It’s not appropriate for this story, this moment. In this way, you can always add, subtract, or explore new aspects of yourself in service to the story, but at least you’re aware of what you already bring to the table.

Next week I’ll discuss the second part of getting your “look” right: matching your essence to your physical appearance. 

Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!

Shaan Sharma is a session director, teacher, and author of “A Session Director’s Guide to Commercial Acting in L.A.” For more information, check out Sharma’s full bio!

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