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The Working Actor

Space Case, Thai Ties

Space Case, Thai Ties
Dear Michael:
Is it considered unethical for an actor to use a gimmick or shtick to leapfrog over other struggling actors and get ahead in the business? I have been trying to make it in the business for 20-some years. I've gotten some work but always had to have a survival job. Recently I read online about a struggling actress similar in age and background to me who's clearly using a gimmick to get herself parts she would never otherwise get through the normal audition process.

This person has, as funny as it sounds, taken up the banner of "saving Pluto." She's writing blogs and posting all over the Internet about how Pluto deserves to be a planet and how wrong its demotion was. Of course, everywhere she posts she always has her headshot displayed prominently, with her occupation listed as "actress and writer." I've seen her credits, and they're little more than some low-budget horror films, extra work, and community theater. However, she's now using this Pluto thing to create a name and image for herself, posting pictures of herself in "Save Pluto" shirts, doing public talks on the topic, calling herself "Plutogirl," etc. She even claims to have written a play about Pluto, which of course gives her the lead role.

I've spoken to many other actors, and when they see her sites, it's so clear to them she's playing this entire thing to the hilt. She has no background in astronomy and probably never cared anything about it. But now that she's marketing herself as Plutogirl, she's getting recognition and parts without having to go through the grinding audition process the rest of us have to. How is this fair to other struggling actors? Is it ethical for someone to basically turn herself into a media whore to make an end run around more talented, experienced performers?
— P.O.'d in N.J.
via the Internet

Dear P.O.'d:
No, using a gimmick like trying to save Pluto isn't unethical. It is, however, dumb. There are many ways to artificially put oneself in the public eye, but few of them are good promotional techniques for a legitimate acting career. If you're already famous, even an ugly scandal can be beneficial, serving to maintain your visibility. But if you're unknown, a crazy gimmick only reveals you for what you are: a crackpot.

Here in Hollywood, we have local legend Dennis Woodruff, who has for years covered cars with his name, his website, words like "world famous actor" and "make my movie," and weird stuff like fake Academy Award statuettes and driven around town. He's been doing that forever. The result has been a small handful of onscreen cameos in which he played himself. None of his efforts has resulted in an acting career. Angelyne, known as "Angelyne the Billboard Queen," spent a fortune putting herself on billboards all over town. She has, according to, exactly one credit. As herself.

I feel confident that no producer, director, or casting director is thinking that this Pluto chick is a great undiscovered actor. More likely they're thinking she's a desperate weirdo who has no talent, just a huge need for attention.

Plug away. Take your classes. Go on your auditions. Do your work. Wheel your wagon through the village streets peddling your wares. And don't worry about Plutogirl. Trust me, she's not taking any jobs away from you. Unless there's an interplanetary market I don't know about.

Dear Michael:
I am a 28-year-old actress of African-American, Swedish, and Norwegian heritage. Raised in the States, I received a B.A. in theater and drama, and I recently made a move to Bangkok, Thailand, in pursuit of the start of my international film career.

The agent I've been working with has been rather fruitful in getting me auditions for several international commercials here, and my first audition led to my first featured role in a TV commercial. Not only was the experience eye-opening for me in many ways, but the director I was so honored to work with is internationally known as one of the best in the business. Since then I have had two more auditions. I didn't book either job, but I refuse to give up hope. I understand that not only is being overseas a whole different ball game, but establishing a strong reputation among those who make the decisions in this business will take some time.

Herein lies the issue. Although I look several years younger than 28, I am no longer a teenager, and I fear that my look may not be what people are searching for at this time. I am currently teaching English on the side and will soon be doing so only one day per week, so I can focus on strengthening myself, awakening all of those assets that are ever so necessary for the actor to possess.

I'm devoted to living in Thailand for the many economic, multicultural, and aesthetic benefits it offers. I guess what I'm asking is, is it okay that I've bypassed L.A., New York, London, and other major Western cities in order to pursue my own sort of experience?
Nearing 30 Overseas
via the Internet

Dear N30O:
Here's my feeling: If you're enjoying being where you are, and it's working for you, then you ought to stay. New York and Los Angeles may be hubs of show business activity, but they're also places where scores of artists are waiting tables at restaurants or working temp office jobs, completely outside all the activity. So who's to say you're missing anything?

I believe it is the wisest amongst us who finds his own path and trusts that it's his. You've found a market, made inroads, and you love where you live; I really can't see a case for moving back to the States and returning to square one in some city that already has too many actors.

As for your age, I can promise you that it is one thing over which you have no control. If producers are looking for younger actors, there's nothing you can do about that. All you can do is seek out the roles you're suited for. Fortunately, those younger characters have older siblings, relatives, teachers, and so forth.

You know the old saying "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"? Your life in Thailand sounds beautiful and stimulating, with plenty of room for professional growth. In fact, I'm fairly certain that many of our readers are feeling envious of you right now. Don't mess with a good thing.

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