The following Career Dispatches essay was written by U.K.–born actor Oliver Stark, who can currently be seen co-starring on Ryan Murphy’s “9-1-1” on Fox.
A story, and a lesson, for my younger self:
Summer 2017. You’ve been living in Los Angeles for 18 months. You haven’t worked in a year. Your last job was your first time as a series regular. You finished that job and naively thought you’d waltz straight into your next. Hey, you’ve been a regular on a cable show; bet you want your keys to the city now, huh? Think again.
A year of nothing follows. Plenty of auditions, no callbacks. Running out of money and an expiring visa. Honestly, you aren’t sure if you’re going to be able to continue on this path. Then something very important happens: A casting director who always, always lets you audition refuses to read you for a part. He tells your manager that, as much as he likes you, you’re just not being consistent. Oh.
You don’t understand this yet, but he’s right. You’ve spent the past year (and your whole life) trying to be something you’re not. Trying to bend who and what you are to fit the roles you’ve been auditioning for. So you do something you haven’t done in years: You sign up for an acting class. Your teacher, who’s also a casting director, unlocks something for you. She shows you, for the first time, how it’s your unique self that the work requires and deserves. She helps you see that you’ve been going into auditions and trying to give them what you think they want, rather than giving them who you are.
One month later, and an audition comes in for a new TV show called “9-1-1.” No character breakdown, no script. Just three scenes. This absence of information gives you a chance to explore the material however you wish, and you’re ready to truly bring a piece of yourself to this role. That’s a vulnerable thing to do, but that’s what it takes. You sit in the waiting room with actors far more recognizable and successful than you are. Usually you get intimidated when that happens, but not this time. This time, you know that there’s no way these guys are going to do what you’re going to do. They simply can’t because they haven’t lived your life. Now, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to be better than them, but it does mean you’re going to present something different. And if the decision-makers like it, you’re going to be their guy.
Turns out, you’re their guy.
Why do I tell this story? I tell it because now I can admit I spent the first 25 years of my life trying to change who I am. I hated myself because I had this imagined version of who I wanted to be. Looking back, this idealized person was an amalgamation of various toxic leading men I would watch in movies over the years. Cool. Strong. Mysterious. Serious. Intense. None of which are inherently damaging characteristics, but they were to me because it was all rooted in me thinking I had to be something I wasn’t. I thought that if I was able to change myself, I would be more successful.
But that’s backwards. See, it’s not until you start accepting who you are that you can really find success, or more importantly, happiness. All the quirks you’ve spent years trying to hide, they are actually your superpowers; they’re what set you apart. They don’t make you better. They don’t make you worse. They make you you, and only you can be that.
What advice would you tell YOUR younger self? Get more Career Dispatches right here!