Be the First You, Not the ‘Next’ Anyone Else

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Before Cate Blanchett there were many great female actors, but there was no Cate Blanchett. Some called her “the next Judy Davis,” and soon “the next Meryl Streep.” It hardly matters now. Her brilliant performances speak for themselves, and her career has never looked back.

Before Mel Gibson there were many leading men, but no one like him. Russell Crowe was billed as “the next Mel Gibson,” but who says that now? Sam Worthington was touted as ‘the next Russell Crowe,” but “Avatar” blew that out of the water. Now he’s the first Sam Worthington.

I recall seeing Jim Carrey in “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.” Living in Australia I had never seen “In Living Color,” and so wasn’t familiar with his work. I was blown away by how original he was. Then I watched some old Jerry Lewis films and realized it wasn’t so much original as it was reinvented. But to me it was original, and to hundreds of millions of others it was, too. Or else didn’t matter, because he blew us away with his own incredible energy. Rebel Wilson, Sarah Silverman, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Lake Bell (the list goes on), could all have been “the next” Janeane Garofalo, Roseanne Barr, or Joan Rivers, but instead became the first them.

“Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed one from another,” wrote Voltaire, whilst Julian Schnabel claimed that “personalization is the only originality.” Though seemingly contradictory, if either are correct, then the path to success is not as complicated as we may think. Just be you, and/or borrow from the greats. Regardless, if being ourselves is original, then reinvention of prior success is surely its complementary twin.

Do you see successful people in film, on stage, and on TV that look like you? Are they saying what you want to say to the world? Are they making people, laugh, cry, and think the way you would make them laugh, cry, and think? If they are, then it’s proof that there’s a market for you. If not, then there’s a market to be filled. Simple as that. Either way you look at it, your industry needs you, and not just a carbon copy of someone who came before.

What do you love to do? What do you have to say? Go and do it, and go and say it. There may just be a market out there looking for exactly what you’re peddling.

So the next time someone says, “You could be the next <insert celebrity name here>,” say, “Thank you, but I’d rather be the first me.”

Like this advice? Read more from our Backstage Experts!

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Paul Barry
Paul Barry is an L.A.-based Australian acting teacher, author of “Choices,” and a Backstage Expert. Barry runs on-camera classes in Santa Monica as well as online worldwide and conducts a six-week program called Dreaming for a Living, coaching actors, writers, and filmmakers in how to generate online incomes to support their art.
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