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The Working Actor

Scar Scare, Card Concern, Director Distress

Scar Scare, Card Concern, Director Distress
Dear Jackie:
I'm a 16-year-old high school sophomore. I'm a visual arts major, but I've realized that I would kill to be a drama major.

I would really like to pursue an acting career, and I know I'm lucky to already live in such a great location, but the reason I don't go to many auditions is because I had an accident when I was little. When I was 5, I was staying in a summer house in Pennsylvania, and two girls about 10 years old were driving a large lawnmower and began to fight over the wheel. They ended up driving over my right leg. Though I still have my leg, the entire back side of my right calf and ankle has a huge scar. I've also had skin grafts, so I have a thin scar across my left shoulder blade and a patch of uneven-looking skin on my right thigh. I'm self-conscious about these scars, and I'm really scared I'll be rejected for jobs because of them.

What do you think? Should I just not waste my time auditioning? If I do audition, should I show or tell them about my scars?

Self-Conscious, New York

Dear Self:
Forget about your scars and move forward. I'd bet that at 99 out of 100 auditions, your scars will be as irrelevant as your eye color. Yes, there will be the occasional audition or two where they really want an actor with blue eyes or milky white calves. But actors sometimes lose out on jobs for having brown hair, large hands, short eyelashes, knobby knees, or dry elbows.

You know, I can't remember the last time I was asked to reveal either my calves or my elbows at an audition. Oh wait, it's coming back to me. It was in 2004, a commercial for some sort of body wash. And you know what? I wasn't even allowed to audition that day because I hadn't worn the right outfit! I was told to run home and change into shorts (they felt that rolling up my capris would not be sufficient). As I lived in the San Fernando Valley and the audition was in Santa Monica—about an hour's drive, with traffic—I declined. I was out of a job due to lousy clothing preparation. I didn't even get a chance to be rejected for my paper-white skin.

In other words, your scars are a much bigger deal to you than they will ever be to anyone you audition for. On stage or on camera, wonderful makeup can be used to conceal whatever an actor chooses, and auditors realize this. Some of Hollywood's top stars—Harrison Ford, Tina Fey, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Sharon Stone—have scars on their faces or necks. Others, like Angelina Jolie, are tatted up yet still manage to play debutantes and historical figures.

Sometimes scars, beauty marks, and other unusual physical traits are even celebrated. In a 2001 Vogue interview, Padma Lakshmi, model and host of Top Chef, talked about coming to terms with the large scar on her arm. While there was a time she shied away from the camera, a world-famous photographer finally encouraged her to embrace her appearance. "People have told me that my scar makes me seem more approachable, more vulnerable, that it inspires a certain tenderness," she said. "I love my scar. It is so much a part of me. I'm not sure I would remove it even if a doctor could wave a magic wand and delete it from my arm. The scar has singled me out and made me who I am."

I really hope you'll take the time to read the whole article:

Dear Jackie:
I recently sent a card and a bottle of wine to a casting director thanking her for calling me in to read for a pilot. She then called me back for a second read.

Should I send another thank-you note—minus the wine? She did give my agent notes on what to work on for the next read.

Jen, via the Internet

Dear Jen:
Why not? In the future, though, I'd save any wine purchases for the booking, because unless you're sending Two-Buck Chuck, you're going to blow through your savings pretty fast!

Dear Jackie:
I'm in a play with a director I really can't stand. He's not mean or anything; he just doesn't really do anything. He doesn't take notes, and he gives almost no direction. He just has the cast run the show again and again and again. He always seems quite pleased with what we're doing, but I can tell there are many scenes that need more real work.

I want to quit the play because I'm not learning anything or getting anything out of the process, but I don't want to be unprofessional. What should I do?

Run-Out, via the Internet

Dear Run-Out:

We do some plays because we love the role, the script, the theatre, the director, or our co-stars; some to pay the bills; some to keep our instrument in tune; and some to make connections. In your case, I'd say you have at least the last two of those going for you.

It can be frustrating working with someone who doesn't appeal to your personal methodology, and certainly running a play over and over isn't the best, most creative, or even quickest way to get a good performance from an actor. But the onus is on you to do the best with what you've got. While your director's approach would tick me off, I'd also prefer not to be told, "Take two steps, do a triple take, and fall back on the couch." Too much direction can be just as annoying and debilitating as too little.

Many directors aren't all that actor-friendly. Some are just plain bad. You'll run into a range of good, bad, and indifferent directors on your journey in film, theatre, and television. Do you think you'll be able to sustain a career if you quit a project each time you have a bad director?

Hopefully, this experience will give you a chance to bond with new castmates, perform in a new space, work on a personal acting bug or two, and get a positive review. You have a job to do. Don't let someone else's poor performance keep you from it.

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