We’ve all been there: You’ve hit audition after audition, put in the work, and showed up (early, no less)—but something isn’t right. Not only are you not getting the parts you want, but you don’t feel great about the choices you’re making in the room. You start to wonder if something is wrong. Sometimes you’re just missing something essential: Confidence—not just in the process, but in your own ability and voice.
Acting requires you to receive wave after wave of criticism, listen to it but not internalize it, and remain resilient and ever-prepared to perform. Throughout it all, you must remember that the most valuable asset to your sanity is staying true to your passion, your own vision of the character, and your outlook on doing the work.
To help you do that, we’ve brought together advice from some of the industry’s top talent on staying confident, the value that preparation brings to any production, and when to reach for something else when confidence isn’t enough.
Bryan Cranston (“Network”) on staying confident with your talent and keeping a desire to work.
“When I ask if you’re talented, you’d better say yes. Not in a boasting sort of way, just a quiet confidence: ‘Yes, I’m talented. I know I am.’ You need that. And you need persistence and you need patience, and that’s not contradictory.... Are you in love with acting or are you in love with the idea of becoming rich and famous? Go study business if you want to be rich. And fame—I’m still trying to figure out what to do with celebrity, because it’s present. But on the other side of the celebrity coin is opportunity, and that’s what I find is the most desired thing of every single actor: opportunity. Just give me a chance to get in the room and perform.”
David Hallberg (American Ballet Theatre, principal dancer) on putting more confidence in performers.
“I feel like I struggled for years to adhere to whoever was in front of the room, that someone’s opinion mattered more than my own. We have to strike a balance between the advice we’re given, the guidance we’re given, and trusting our own individual instincts as artists. I think a lot of it has become way too safe and way too ‘financially viable.’ We can lead audiences to a diverse and risk-taking repertoire if we do it in confidence.”
Russell Hornsby (“Creed II”) on taking ownership of his roles.
“You hone your skills, you hone your craft, you get better, and in doing that, there’s a level of confidence you have as an actor. Because you have that confidence, what I was able to bring was a sense of comfort and ease to the role. They always talk about actors ‘settling in’ to a role, so when you settle into a role, you take ownership of it and it sits on you well. And I was able to do that. Twenty years of work is what best prepared me for this role at this time.”
Eline Powell (“Siren”) on being your own advocate.
“Ultimately, you have to have faith that your interpretation is valid. I think when I was younger I’d be crippled sometimes by what others thought or how others would do better. It’s been a long journey and having a lack of confidence is really damaging in this industry. Nobody will believe in you but yourself so you have to be on your own side.”
Richard Linklater (“Last Flag Flying”) on gaining confidence with age.
“As a coach said once, ‘You can’t fake confidence.’ You only get it through experience. I think a lot of youthful passion is actually lack of confidence. You’re having to double your energy because you really don’t have, you know, experience. And experience can kind of lighten you up a little bit, so that you’re thinking, ‘OK, maybe the sky isn’t falling. We can fix this problem. We will fix it.’ ”
Stephanie Szostak (“A Million Little Things”) on being mentally prepared for acting.
“As actors, our instrument is our body. We have to warm up, like a dancer—a dancer would never start dancing without warming up. There’s the confidence aspect of it, and how your mind can affect your performance. I played golf in college, so you’re by yourself and there’s a lot of room for thoughts to creep in and psych yourself out. It’s the same as acting, in a way. Concentration is really important, and [so is] being in the right place in your mind.”
Adam Driver (“BlackKklansman”) on balancing confidence with listening to your collaborators.
“I don’t think about things in terms of successes. I still have to do my job. A lot of times, you’re with a group of people figuring things out but you have to be very aware and self-analytical of what it is, the story you’re trying to tell, or is your ego getting in the way, or is your insecurity getting in the way, or is your expectation of other people getting in the way, or are you not listening to everybody else? I feel like there are constant unspoken checks and balances that happen.”
Lela Loren (“Power”) on prioritizing courage over confidence.
“You don’t actually need confidence or good self-esteem to be successful. You just need to have courage. I’ve done and accomplished plenty of things without thinking I was capable. Positive thinking, I don’t actually find it as helpful because I think it shuts people down. They think they have to internally and mentally be somewhere else in order for the outside to turn out as they want it to. You can accomplish so many things with a negative outlook and low self-esteem if you just do it over and over and over again. [Laughs] You have to have balls and resilience.”
Joaquin Phoenix (“The Sisters Brothers”) on curiosity being more important than confidence.
“I never feel the confidence to think, ‘I can play it.’ Never. There’s never a script where I go, ‘I’ve got this.’ It’s more that you’re drawn to the idea, to the experience. You go, ‘I have to have this experience.’ I’m certain that every time it’s going to be a failure. It’s that feeling of ‘I have to make this, I have to make this, I have to have this experience’—that’s all I’m looking for.”
Check out Backstage’s TV audition listings!