Backstage Experts Answer: 11 Fears Every Working Actor Must Overcome

Photo Source: Jesse Balgley

In every aspect of life—especially acting—fear can creep in and get the best of you. That’s why we want you to get ahead of the curve and know what you’ll need to beat in order to make acting your life’s work.

As industry professionals spanning various areas of the business, our Backstage Experts know exactly what fears actors face throughout their careers, but they also know actors are a strong bunch, and can tackle just about anything. This week we asked them the following question:

What fears must you overcome in order to be an actor?

Here are 11 fears you’ll have to nip in the bud to be the working actor we know you’re meant to be.

(And if you missed the last installment of this column (and didn’t get what you wanted for the holidays), check out “15 New Year’s Resolutions for the Successful Actor” and see how to get your acting questions answered at the bottom of this article!)

Paul Barry, L.A.-based acting teacher and founder of Acting 4 Camera
Fear is either destructive and must be eradicated, or else it’s an invaluable opportunity from which to learn—even enjoy. I prefer to view it as the latter.

When one eventually conquers a specific fear, another invariably rises to take its place. However, when one strives to fall in love with fear rather than avoid it altogether, the whole adventure becomes a great deal more fun. Those engaging in extreme sports love the rush of knowing they regularly stare danger in the face and survive. Those who are fearful, on the other hand, spend energy constantly attempting to overcome one fear only to be hit by another soon after.

Do not see acting as an escape from fear. Treat it as an extreme sport, which positively embraces fear for the rush it brings. Learn to land well using this advice and you’ll never fear falling.

Joanne Baron and D.W. Brown, L.A.-based acting teachers
Fear of rejection is something an actor can experience throughout their entire career. In an industry where you must be vulnerable to be successful, it can be hard not to take rejection personally.

So to lessen the fear of rejection, actors should aim to develop a Teflon-like reflex by auditioning as much as possible, building up detachment from each individual result, and continually staying active. Never look back at any one rejection, but always look forward to the next chance to act.

Marc Cartwright, L.A.-based headshot and editorial photographer
As an actor, I feel one needs to overcome the fear of looking bad or making a fool of themselves. In any art form, the genius lies in raw emotions and sometimes even the mistakes. When we watch a performance, there is excitement in watching an authentic story unfold. Hiding authenticity for the sake of looking good doesn’t give the audience the opportunity to relate.

Risa Bramon Garcia and Steve Braun, The BGB Studio
All of the fears come down to the fear of disconnection, of not being worthy of acceptance by others. Fears of rejection by the casting director, getting dropped by the agent, and not making money are all about thinking, Am I worthy of being accepted in the world? Those fears are allayed by taking responsibility of your own acceptance, by doing the work of making yourself whole. Meditation, writing, connected movement, acting consistently, and being in the practice of giving help starve the fear. Push past your fears with self-awareness and self-care. It works.

Jamison Haase, founder of L.A. On-Camera Training Center
The biggest fear that actors need to give up in order to succeed in this business is looking bad. I don’t mean actually mean not looking your best, but making mistakes, asking questions, experimenting (and failing), and making bold choices with regards to character and stakes.

No human being likes to be vulnerable or to put themselves at risk, but that is the very definition of a compelling performance. The audience doesn’t want to watch an actor second-guess themselves, and they don’t want to watch someone who only has a little bit on the line. The audience loves gutsy and bold performances, and they get invested when the character risks it all. Think about the movies you love to watch, the characters didn’t just “kinda, sorta” try. They risked it all for the win. That’s an engaging story.

So go for it. Throw caution to the wind. Make the scary choices. That is what will get you noticed, and that is what will make your work, fun, exciting, and compelling.

Cathryn Hartt, founder of Hartt and Soul Studio
All of them. First of all, please do not feel that you are alone if you have fears. We all have fears. But we eventually also learn how to move past them. Fear is just in your head. The faster you embrace it and do that of which you are afraid, the faster you stop being afraid.

One of my favorite definitions of courage is, “Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is, even though the icy fingers of fear grip your very heart, you still move forward.”

As a coach, I see often that the fear of what others will think stops people. In my classes, I encourage people to be OK if they are boring, the worst person in the class, stupid, embarrassing, etc. I ask people to throw in their greatest fears. And then I tell them to be OK if any of those happens.

Then, I distract them by having fun or getting them to concentrate on actually doing something and none of those fears come true. This zone of not caring if you fail is all important to anything you do as an actor.

Anthony Meindl, L.A.-based acting coach
You know in those old Cold War movies where a special team of elite soldiers is about to go on a secret mission, and the general always says, “Gentlemen, failure is not an option.” Yikes! That heightens the stakes, huh? Many of us treat our acting like that. “If I’m not perfect, then I’m going to die. And not just me, the world as we know it will cease to exist if I don’t nail this audition!” Double yikes!

It may sound clichéd to say fear of failure is the biggest hurdle all actors must face, but until the message sinks in, we have to keep saying it. In your career, in your life, if you’re trying, you will eventually fail. Sometimes acting is going to kick your butt, dunk you in soapy water, and mop the floor with you—and that’s OK! This isn’t geopolitics, it’s playtime. When you accept that failure is not just an option, that it’s inevitable, and you are free. So pick yourself up, wring out the mop water, and get back out there!

Joseph Pearlman, L.A.-based acting coach, founder of Pearlman Acting Academy
To be a successful actor you must overcome the fear of boundless rejection: not being good enough, beautiful enough, talented enough, etc. At the actor’s emotional core is the profound human need to be seen and loved. Part of paying your dues in this business—both Oscar winner and beginner—is the reality of constant rejection throughout your career. The look on Leonardo DiCaprio’s face at the 86th Academy Awards after his fifth Oscar nomination for “The Wolf of Wall Street” resulted in a loss shows you that no one is immune to rejection. Not everyone is built to endure this, nor do they have the stamina to last for the long game. I believe this fear of rejection—both in the audition and on set—can be defeated when you’re on the support of a brave and impactful choice. Not being afraid to look like an asshole or a freak and adopting the attitude, “Anyone who doesn’t like me can kiss my ass!” can also fortify you with enough confidence to burn through the fog of fear.

Mae Ross, founder of 3-2-1- Acting Studios
What causes a lot of grief for actors is the fear of being themselves. Actors have a tendency to constantly second-guess why they didn’t get the job. They blame themselves and their personal qualities that make them unique, like they are too tall, too blonde, their nose is too big, etc. In actuality, this is what sets them apart and will be the reason they are cast—because of their distinguishable qualities. Actors should never be afraid to be themselves nor let their fear of failure stifle what makes them shine. Bring your true, confident, fabulous self to all you do!

Denise Simon, NYC-based acting coach
“We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” —Marianne Williamson

Many of us get caught in fear of failure, but it is actually fear of success that keeps us stuck from moving forward. It is easier to stay in our comfort zone of failure with no risk of being disappointed. It is our power that is so frightening—what we are capable of. This year, today...take risks, use visualization. Create a vision board of where you want to be. Flip the negative talk to positive affirmations, and enjoy the journey.

Douglas Taurel, NYC-based actor-producer
Fear of making mistakes or making choices both with your career and within your acting. You won’t always be right, but you can’t focus your energy on what will happen if you’re wrong, because you’ll get no where with your career. Focus on what you want, work hard on your craft, and be fearless in your choices and going after your career.

Craig Wallace, L.A.-based acting teacher
The fear of being seen. So many actors want desperately for us to know them, but haven’t accepted themselves in their entirety. When this happens, they leave out or hide the qualities they think will be perceived as unappealing or weak. In this way, the casting people, directors, and producers are cheated out of knowing all that the actor has to offer.

This fear is alleviated only when the actor turns a deaf ear to the judgements of the mind and melts into the accepting embrace of the heart.

Ben Whitehair, L.A.-based actor
I think the key is to practice courage. In fact, courage is not possible without fear. So fear, then, might be viewed as a gift.

Each individual is likely to experience their own unique fears. (Though the most common fears I see are fear of success/failure and/or fear of not being good enough.) However, it is possible to have fear and still succeed. See: courage. The trick isn’t to not have fears, but rather to experience the fear and move forward anyway—to feel afraid and still practice vulnerability. To feel your heart race and walk into the audition regardless.

Similarly, actors get to embrace ambiguity. I saw Jim Collins speak once, and he said, “People are not risk averse. They’re ambiguity averse.” It may not be any riskier to be an actor, but it is certainly more ambiguous than a “traditional” career path. Embrace the unknown. Practice trust. You got this.

Ryan R. Williams, L.A.-based on-camera coach, founder of Screen Actors System
I recall watching an interview with Dustin Hoffman. He was discussing taking a risk with his career and he framed it in fascinating terms. He said that it’s not that you are afraid of heights, but rather you are afraid of the voice in the back of your head that says, “Jump!”

Change is scary, but constant…and good. Too often I see actors sabotage their prospects at a crucial moment. This subconscious destruction usually comes from that natural desire to keep things just as they are. But if you are not happy with your station in the industry, why not recognize and silence this destructive voice?

I look out for this in my directing life all the time. I would still only be directing regional commercials and mindless music videos if I didn’t embrace change. That is a tough one though. And it only gets harder the more comfortable you get in life.

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.