The safest path in the world is the one in which you blend into the crowd. Animals do it to avoid becoming the target of predators. Moving in packs, herds, or schools is an evolutionary reflex making it difficult for the lion or shark to mark any individual animal as prey. Blending in doesn’t guarantee safety in nature, but it certainly increases its likelihood.
Having taught well over 3,000 actors over the past 20 years, I know that most actors experience the same fear and display the same reflexive behavior.
As an actor, you may be afraid of failure. It’s possible that you’re worried you’ll be laughed at or thought untalented if you’re different or make unexpected choices. You no doubt enjoy being in the game, but sometimes wonder if the extra attention success may bring is going to make things better in some ways, but then negate the enjoyment due to the extra attention and pressure. Maybe it actually will, to a certain extent…
The greatest fear actors have is not failure, it’s success. It takes no effort or skill to maintain mediocrity. But jumping high bars every day? Now that requires some work and dedication.
Nobody ever stood out by blending in. Every single bland, untalented, uninteresting actor you ever believed achieved some form of notoriety by doing nothing still got there by standing out (even if only to the director, producer, or studio head). Otherwise you wouldn’t know who that actor is today.
Regardless of your opinion of that actor’s work, everyone who ever invented something, built something, or displayed something of their own creation in a public arena has fans, and on the flip side, every one of them has critics. The only difference between them and many actors is that they know this is the cost of getting somewhere, and they continue to choose to stand out in their own unique way in spite of it.
American writer Elbert Hubbard put it perfectly over a century ago when he said, “The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”
If you share opinions, make statements, or arrive at choices that are the same as everyone else, you will never ever stand out, and if you never stand out you’ll happily never be criticized. The downside is that you’ll never have fans or glowing reviews of your work either.
It’s a simple equation.
(Incidentally, if your fear of criticism and judgment is holding you back, examine how much you criticize and judge others. I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a direct correlation. Let go of your judgment of others and see how freeing it can be.)
If a director was looking for a “normal, average, plain” actor for his film, how do you imagine the successful applicant would land the job? He would need to be the most ordinary, run-of-the-mill actor that came in to audition. In a line up of 50 plain, average actors, the one to land the role will be the most average. Looking for a fat or skinny or funny actor for a role? Surely you’ll cast the fattest, the skinniest, the funniest.
If not, then why that actor over everyone else? Because they stood out.
In a world of perpetual striving to be something impressive and memorable, it’s amazing how forgettable so many carbon copy performances turn out to be. Julian Schnabel said that “personalization is the only originality” and I think he’s got a solid point. The only thing that actually stands one out is being 100 percent true to oneself. To what one believes. To what one enjoys. To what one is.
Like a snowflake or a thumbprint, you are unique in the embracing of what makes you different. You are unique not by trying to achieve a particular level of financial success similar to someone you idolize, or a specific landmark in your career like so and so, or by attempting to look and dress like a celebrity you admire. You find your uniqueness by letting go of such hallucinations and trappings and embracing your own inimitable idiosyncrasies. The act of letting go is one of the bravest of all, for it is ultimately a leap of faith that the person you are is inherently interesting, lovable, and worthy.
Every day in which you have the opportunity to let go a little more, take it. Release your need to succeed, stop comparing yourself to others, and just see what happens when your little wings begin to sprout.
You may fall, but then who knows, you may fly.
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and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.