I’ve been an actor for a long time. I’ve watched and acted in countless movies and television shows. I’ve stood on set observing other actors wondering why they were cast. At one point, I even became obsessed with trying to figure out what quality a CD or director looks for when they want to hire someone.
Amazingly enough, I figured it out: that one inexhaustible quality actors need to have if they want to work regularly. But before we get into that, I want to share another finding of mine: what not to do when you’re looking to book a gig, especially in film and television.
In watching audition tapes, the main thing I’ve noticed is that many actors feel the need to either over- or underact. Though it can be a result of nerves, it often seems that the overacting and underacting actually stems from a lack of understanding what true acting is, a major part of which is being able to relax into a role and embody its essence.
So how do you do this? By embodying your own essence completely within the character you’re playing which in turn leads us to that one quality I mentioned earlier: self-authenticity.
The ability to be yourself. The ability to be relatable while still being the character in the world of the show or film.
When talking about the casting process for “Titanic,” director James Cameron said, “Casting is critical. There were 92 speaking roles in Titanic and it’s through the casting that they all seem so unique and have a past. What I wound up selecting out of all of the various possibilities of actors, were people who had something inherently interesting about them which gives you an illusion of back-story.”
What’s Cameron saying here? That it’s important to bring parts of yourself to your acting. Your past, present, and future are integral components of every character you’ll ever portray. Tap into that as much as possible because if the people in power can see that, they can see you in a role that much easier.
When you look at the top actors of all time, they are and were paid top dollar to be themselves. Sure, there’s talent involved, but talent can only take you so far if you’re unable to make people feel something toward and about you. As an actor (and also a person), you need to find the best qualities about yourself, the ones that help you jump off the screen.
A few days ago, I have the pleasure of meeting Taylor Kitsch of “Friday Night Lights.” While chatting with him, I was struck by how much it felt like I was talking to Tim Riggins, Kitsch’s character on “FNL.” But what I really got from our conversation was that Time was actually Taylor in every way. When people say loved Riggins on the show, what they’re really saying is that they loved Kitsch—he made them feel something toward him and in doing so became a hot commodity.
Whether you’re playing the damaged-yet-lovable bad boy, the villain, the girl-next-door...you have to make the audience feel strongly about you (either love or hate is fine, as long as it’s strongly felt) if you’re going to succeed at a high level, something Kitsch knows well: “In the end it's about energy. If you put half your energy into something, you're only going to get that back at the end of the day. By putting the energy into being the best version of myself, I’ve seen a lot of success come from that.”
As actors, the question we should always be asking of ourselves is what we can do to always be true to ourselves. What brings out the very best in us? In our performances? How can we continue to allow this to grow on and off camera? Figuring out the answers to these questions is an absolute game changer for any performer because this is what will keep you working for a long time.
Valerie McCaffrey, casting director for “American History X,” said something that sticks with me to this day and is something every actor should always be aware of:
“You can be any shape, size or look as an actor. It’s what comes off from inside of you. It’s how connected you are to your humanity and your craft. When we say, ‘He’s not right for this part,’ it has nothing to do with talent. It’s the essence of the person. That’s what makes them so interesting and that’s what makes them stars.”
This wisdom is timeless and is something you can use to your advantage. There are qualities about you that are so lovable, so relatable, and so needed in the numerous productions taking place right now. When you walk into your next audition, take with you an unlimited level of self-authenticity and before long you will become an irreplaceable asset to every project you are fortunate to be a part of.
Shaun Grant is a dynamic “entreperformer” that is a recognized authority in personal performance and transformation. He is the author of “Prosperity Secrets: How To Live the Life of Your Dreams.” He is also the creator of The Vibrational Actor and hosts his own podcast called The Actor's Area. Shaun has been acting, writing, and coaching for the past ten years. He teaches the concept of vibrational acting and vibrational consciousness to performers around the world. His soul purpose is to inspire, uplift and motivate actors through cutting edge mental and spiritual practices. He's at his happiest when his students experience successful breakthroughs in mind, body, and spirit as it relates to their acting careers. Shaun has acted in over forty projects, working alongside some of Hollywood's brightest stars, and has written and produced his own projects as well. When Shaun isn't acting, writing or coaching, he enjoys engaging in his love of travel and creating life-changing content through his blogs.
Get all of your agent questions answered by peers and experts on the Backstage Community forums!
The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.