Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

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It's time to look deep inside.

Let's cut to the chase. Most of you don't deserve to succeed. Does that sound harsh? Well, it's the truth. I'm constantly meeting actors who spend every free moment they have seeking representation but never find any. They're regulars at casting workshops but never get called in. Why is that? It's because they've become skilled at the business of acting, which is a good thing, but they've done it at the expense of their craft. As a result, when opportunities finally present themselves, these actors fail because they're just not ready.

Agents are always telling you how important it is to network and make connections. We explain that acting is a business. That's all true, but your No. 1 goal should be to become the best possible actor you can be. Don't ever forget that success is a byproduct of talent. Sure, if you're gorgeous you might get by on looks for a while, but that's a short ride. Only genuine talent will keep you in the game for the long haul.

Last week, I attended a play that reminded me of my first root canal. When it was finally over, I was introduced to the lead, who swore he was great and it was just a matter of time before everyone else knew it too. (In my line of work, knowing how to keep a straight face is a major asset.) As the guy went on and on about his unlimited potential, I realized that he really believed every single word he was saying. And I swear to God, his work on stage was beyond terrible. You could actually see stink lines around his performance.

I realize none of my loyal readers are as deluded as this young man, but is it possible that some of you have set the bar a little too low? To be safe, let's do a little test to see if you have the right stuff. Think of your favorite actor. Maybe it's Ed Norton or Meryl Streep. I don't expect you to be as good as they are now, but go rent some of their early work. Take a look at Primal Fear or The Deer Hunter. Watch those amazing performances and then ask yourself, Am I good enough now to do what they did then? If the answer is no, then maybe it's time to rethink your goals.

The competition for acting jobs is fierce, now more than ever. You can't settle for mediocre. That's why you should always be in class, working on your craft, testing your limits. I urge you to experiment with different techniques. Perform in plays that scare you. Find exciting ways to challenge yourself. These are the paths to success.

Here's what you need to accept if you want to keep your sanity: An acting career is unique because you have to spend your life training for a moment that may never come. That's a tough pill to swallow. You can perfect your Meisner technique till you're blue in the face, but are you really going to need it when you book a few lines on Criminal Minds? Probably not, but what happens if one day, when you least expect it, your agent pulls off a miracle and gets you an audition for a supporting role in a huge movie, the kind of part that could jump-start your career? That's why you have to be 100 percent ready. You just never know when opportunity is going to knock on your door.

There's an art school in New York called the School of Visual Arts. Its motto is "To be good is not enough when you dream of being great." It's a romantic notion, but I challenge all of you to live by it. That way, you'll know what to say when someone asks if you've earned the right to succeed.

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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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