Why All Actors Have to Kiss Perfection Goodbye

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Photo Source: Spencer Alexander

I just discovered one of my clients has a serious problem. No, she’s not drinking too much or gambling or anything like that. It’s much worse. She’s a perfectionist.

This came to my attention when I realized it was taking her forever to get her new website up and running. When I asked to see how far along she was, my client freaked out and told me it wasn’t right yet and that she needed more time. But I insisted, so she allowed me to log on—and you know what? It was perfectly fine. Actually, it was better than fine. It was pretty damn good. And when I told her that, she frantically started to point out all the perceived faults that only she could see.

So I told her, “Look, it doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be good.” (This is what I tell my wife after every romantic encounter.) Sadly, my client refused to accept what I was saying.

Perfection is an illusion that creates stagnation. Actors often focus on every tiny detail, no matter how irrelevant, and they end up stuck, standing like a cartoon character trapped in a puddle of glue. I believe actors do this because they have so little control in their lives. They have to rely on their agents to get auditions; they have to hope casting directors will respond to their work. It’s one thing after another. So when you have total control over your new website or headshots or whatever it may be, you naturally want to take your time and manage the outcome.

READ: Being a Working Actor Can Be Anything but Glamorous

But here’s the thing: This is a business that moves quickly, and it’s only getting faster. If I ask you to self-tape an audition by 10 a.m. tomorrow, that means I need it by 10 a.m. tomorrow. And no, you can’t have more time because “the lighting isn’t quite right.”

I recently had a client slap together a self-tape in two hours while he was up north on a romantic vacation with his other half. The picture and sound weren’t great. The backdrop was a hotel room. The tape was definitely far from perfect. But he made strong choices and the casting director responded positively. We had the offer by end of day.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am in no way advocating for mediocrity. You should always aspire to do your best, but sometimes you have to weigh your desire for perfection against the need for expedience.

This lesson applies to me, too. I used to get a little too obsessed with my email pitches, coming up with colorful language and an avalanche of details to make my point. It took me a while to accept that most casting directors don’t have time to read all that nonsense. So now I aim for brevity, and that usually gets the job done. (My wife doesn’t agree, but that’s a totally different column.)

The key is moderation. Do the best you can with all the clutter that surrounds an actor’s life, but don’t get hung up on the minutiae, because when all is said and done, your acting career is about your acting ability. The rest is just imperfect white noise.

Ready to put this advice to use? Check out Backstage’s Los Angeles audition listings!

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Secret Agent Man
Secret Agent Man is a Los Angeles–based talent agent and our resident tell-all columnist. Writing anonymously, he dishes out the candid and honest industry insight all actors need to hear.
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