No matter how you slice it, being an actor means showing up for the work—granted it is often more fun than paper-pushing)—but all the things you associate with working, including the annoyances, trials, and all the other headache-inducing efforts, will come into play whether you are starring in a movie or selling used cars from a lot. In fact, in many ways, the acting industry is harder and harsher than other professions. And the truth is, you won’t really know if you like mixing your creative side with doing business until you try it out. And as much as it is perfectly fine to discover you don’t like it, it’s also wonderful to discover you love it.
In fact, loving it is the key ingredient to making it work. For performers to be successful in their careers, both for themselves and their audiences, there has to be joy. Enjoying the work is the spark that creates memorable roles and gets talent job after job. And when performers lose touch with what they love, they can no longer find work. We’ve brought together seven quotes from industry talent working on stage and both in front of and behind the camera, talking about joy and how it makes a career or even a single role.
Russell Boast, casting director for “The Fix”
“Hollywood creates this kind of conditioning. In fact, a friend recently said to me, ‘The most rewarding part of getting a job in Hollywood is the moment you get it and then it’s all downhill from there.’ In order to succeed in Hollywood, you honestly do have to get yourself an MBA in marketing. The truth is you will probably spend 99 percent of your time pounding the pavement and 1 percent of your time doing what it is that you were born to do. If this is indeed the environment in which you have chosen to live, then I challenge you all to find a way to create artistic balance in your life. Do anything – write, perform, sing, dance, paint, put on a play, and don’t wait for anyone to give you permission. You don’t need permission to do what you were born to do. Artists by definition are gifted, talented individuals who like to create and be creative.”
Will Roland, “Be More Chill”
“One of the things I’m really crusading as I’m getting to teach young people is that I think there is a very toxic notion in our industry that if you at some point want to be an actor and then at some other point think, Maybe I don’t, you are giving up on your dream. If you decided you wanted to be an accountant then decided you wanted to be an architect, no one would deride you for giving up on your dream of accounting. Acting is a profession and a hard one, and you don’t really know what the job is until you get close to it. I wish there were a healthier way for people to be like, I want to try other things. It’s not a pancake that you flip, and the idea of checking boxes of success is super unhealthy. And if you have in your brain, ‘I hate auditioning,’ or ‘I hate performing for this regional dinner theater right now, but when I’m on Broadway I’m going to love it,’ it’s just not true. Achieving the thing you think you want does not make you happy. You have to find joy in the actual work.”
Jake Gyllenhaal, “Southpaw”
“[I was] around boxers all the time, going to every fight that I could, researching the history of what my character had gone through, going to orphanages, and talking to people in the system, and being there and picking up that energy. Like picking it all up and trying to sort of exist in it, and then putting that into–after enough time–you know, I feel like almost your molecular structure changes a little bit and then you put that onto the screen. And I think that translates to an audience…and I find joy in that kind of process.”
Fei Ren, “Polar”
“When we started filming ‘Polar,’ I was star struck. My ego came in the shape of wanting to please and impress the director and the rest of the cast. I started to panic after the first day because I didn’t feel like I knew my character anymore even though I did loads of prep work to step into it. Luckily, one of my mentors told me, ‘Go to set, do the work, and leave! It’s simple. Nothing else matters.’ It was such a good reminder that our job is to serve the character, not our ego. Whether our character has one line or is the hero of the story, we are there to bring it to life. Once I began to focus only on the work, I had so much fun! I was able to balance my own idea of the character with the influence and inspirations that I got by freely talking with the director and allowing the chemistry with the cast and creative team to feed me.”
Marcel Spears, “The Neighborhood”
“[W]hen I [would] get career whiplash...I used to think it meant I had to develop some kind of iron will. I have this feeling inside that says, ‘I need to be an actor; I must numb myself enough to accept hard times so that I can make it to my next big break.’ I know a lot of actors make lives that way—good lives. I don’t think that’s how I did it, though. Do not give up! If you love what you are doing, be fiercely tenacious! [But], in every situation, try to seek out joy. You have to remember as hard as it may seem at times that a career in acting and the arts is supposed to be fun. Being an artist is a gift as much as it is a calling or duty. If we can’t find the joy in our work, then we do a great disservice to ourselves and our audience.”
Amy Stewart, “NCIS: Los Angeles”
“If you’re miserable as a waiter and are waiting for your big break to save you from your life that you hate, chances are you’re going to have a hard time. But if you can find joy, support, and camaraderie in the people around you, do your day job with integrity and a sense of pride, find ways to fill your soul so you aren’t waiting for an acting or writing job to validate your worth as a human being, but you just focus on showing up and taking your space on the stage (or in the room) and for those few minutes, you are that role, you are your unique version of that role, you can walk away feeling good. You didn’t just ‘have an audition,’ you delivered a performance. Keep doing that, keep studying, stay creative as much as possible in your life . . . it pays off. Like you said: it is a marathon. Not a sprint.”
Marci Liroff, casting director for “Vampire Academy”
“[M]ake a list of why [you are] an actor. It’s a good practice to write down a specific list of why you do this. At the end of the day, you’re storytellers and artists, and your unique point of view on the character is what makes you special. The need to share your art and story should be, above all, the most important element of your performance…. There is nothing like watching an actor who is truly loving what they’re doing. That feeling is utterly contagious.”
And if you haven’t yet been cast, check out Backstage's audition listings!