Are You More Committed to Your Craft or Your Brand?

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As an actor, are you someone who is committed to developing the skills and artistry to play the widest possible range of roles with strength and believability? Or are you more concerned with your “brand”? The way you answer the question may tell you whether you’re more committed to your acting or to your marketing.

When I worked at Halpern and Associates talent agency, actors we met would sometimes tell us their “brand.” We appreciated their awareness of what they could do, but we only represented strong, versatile actors and never considered signing anyone who felt so strongly connected to only the one part of their personality that determined their “brand.”

Because of this, casting always loved our actors—they were more than a brand. When they would call to hire an actor, they’d talk about how he or she had expanded the possibilities of the role and gave it dimension; they would thank us for sending them a “real actor.”

Casting director Gayle Keller (“The Big Sick,” “Trainwreck,” “Louie”) has this to say to actors: “You don’t need to worry about your brand. Just be as prepared, interesting and true to yourself in the role as you can be. The bottom line is that you have to show that you’re skilled and interesting.”

This is especially true in today’s marketplace. With the writing and the overall quality of projects better than ever, actors are expected to bring more than they ever have to auditions and roles. Casting directors expect no less than a fully embodied human being in the audition and ultimately will hire you for the roles they think you are right for; your brand doesn’t matter to them.

Brad Gilmore, known for casting such films as “Girlfriend” and “A Bag of Hammers,” prefers actors who are willing to show all of themselves and their talent. “When you audition for me, I’d rather not have you try to trick me into thinking you’re this or that type. I want to see someone who has prepared extensively to bring the role to him or herself. If you’re presenting a brand, you’re putting up a barrier between us and I can’t get to know the real you. It’s not acting, it’s a sales pitch and I’m not buying.”

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The concrete nature of branding is also at odds with the constantly changing energy of life and the fluid nature of creativity. Living a life focused on putting forth a small, fixed idea of yourself can cause you to become rigid and non-adaptive, separated from the natural rhythm of human experience. You sacrifice your spirit of creativity, your artistry, and your flexibility in the interest of pushing this prepackaged picture of yourself on the world. This compromises your overall power and effectiveness as an artist.

True actors spend their time not focusing on defending and selling a brand, but rather doing the work that allows them to go more deeply and more meaningfully into themselves and their acting. They’re creative explorers who are always looking to break out of the cage of branding and play with big boys, the real actors. They have an awareness of who they are and what they can play, but they never narrow themselves down to a brand because they know that a brand is far from the whole story they have to tell. They know it’s short-sighted for actors to lose their focus as creative beings because they think they’ve discovered a part of themselves that may sell.

One of my students looks like a big threatening biker. He’s well over 6”, heavily muscled and tattooed. He auditions for—and books—the roles you’d expect. That said, he’s never thought that’s all he could play and never stops looking for ways to expand himself as an actor; recently, he was asked to audition for a recurring role as a lawyer on a network show. Because he never bought into the smallness of branding and seeing himself as just the “mean biker,” he was able to easily tap into what he needed to audition for the role of a lawyer and book it.

Dale Raoul, a character actor well known for her work in “True Blood,” “Under the Dome,” and now “Heathers,” takes a similar stance. “Why put limits on yourself?” she says. “Being typecast is somewhat unavoidable primarily based on what you look like. Let the outside world pigeonhole you. The job of the actor is to use imagination to explore a myriad of different personalities.”

Without question, marketing is important to any actor’s career. But is it more important than the dedication it takes to be a skilled and compelling actor? To succeed as an actor—and not just a commodity—you need to spend your time living with your eyes open, leaning into new experiences, growing and training to be that special actor who can breathe real life into any role you audition for.

Before you start planning how to tell people about yourself, you need to have honed your awareness of the many facets of yourself and your talent. If casting can see from your auditions that you’re a grounded, confident, compelling and fully embodied actor, you’ll become the person they have to hire. Actors who see this as their career aspire to this idea and work toward it. And that’s the only “brand” you need to be.

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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.

Craig Wallace
Craig Wallace is the creator and award-winning teacher of the Wallace Audition Technique, an audition preparation system that he developed based on his years of experience as a studio executive, talent agent, and casting consultant.