Let me start off by saying that the purpose of this article isn’t to convince you to give up acting. Rather, I hope it can be a catalyst that will either propel you towards your acting goals or help you realize that if you’re not going to be serious about acting, your life’s potential has a better chance of being realized elsewhere.
I tell new actors that acting is much easier in ways you’d never expect and much harder in ways you’d never expect. From the outside, it’s easy to think that all actors do is memorize their lines and then, if they’re talented, great performances will just come out. Nothing could be further from the truth.
It can take a long time for your body to stop rejecting saying and feeling things that aren’t true to your real life, let alone the years of the study of stories and understanding the differences among the many genres and mediums of acting work. Beyond that, being skilled enough as an actor to be able to generate a performance that helps make the story as compelling as possible and being able to deliver that performance on cue, time and time again, can take a lifetime of practice.
Many of us never get to that point.
As I’ve written in previous articles, far too many people who think they want to be actors think of it as a lottery—just being in the right place and the right time in order to be “discovered.” They have no real strategy, but are instead just wishing for a happy accident. They don’t develop their craft because they think it’s all a question of talent— either you have it or you don’t. And, my friends, haven’t we seen so many of our formerly fellow actors give up when they’ve exhausted their money, mental, emotional, and physical health, and their 20s?
Working in casting, I’m constantly seeing familiar faces of actors I’ve been putting on tape for years. I also love seeing new faces and getting to know their life stories. But, I’d really like to see a list of all the actors who’ve left the business in the eight years I’ve been casting. And, I’d like to know the reasons why.
Put another way, the romantic idea of being an actor is far different than the reality, which can often be brutal, not just because the industry can be challenging and sometimes ruthless (after all it is a business, not a charity), but also because the work itself is extremely difficult. Film and TV shoots can take weeks or months, with long, lonely hours away from your family and friends. Some roles and the prep and performance necessary to do it well can take a toll on your body, heart, and mind, and leave lasting effects.
Being an actor costs us.
I was talking to a series lead on a hit show between takes when we were working on set together about his children and he was worried about early signs that they, too, had an interest in acting. Here’s a guy who has a career that 99 percent of the rest of us would die to have and he said he doesn’t want his children to act unless they really, really, can’t find happiness doing anything else. It’s just too unpredictable and too hard, he said.
We’ve lost some amazing artists to drugs and depression resulting from the demands—usually placed on them by themselves—of doing brilliant work. Would we rather have them alive and happy or their work, regardless of the cost?
There are a few artists who have reached a place of wealth, fame, and success, who we refer to as the “stars” and “celebrities.” But they make up a tiny, tiny fraction of the working actor community, let alone all actors aspiring to be working actors. Star status is possible, but there is only so much we can do to achieve stardom. The best most of us can hope for and strive for is to make a decent to amazing living purely from our art.
So, if you want to act or if you know you are an actor, if you know you simply can’t be happy doing anything else, if you’re ready to pay the price in terms of the development of your craft and the demands of high-level performance, if you’re willing to expend years, maybe decades, before you achieve working actor status, if you truly are prepared for the emotional, mental, and physical roller coaster that is acting, and if you’re prepared to meet the challenges of the acting business and industry, then by all means, continue acting and redouble your efforts.
If the answer is no, that is OK. That is so OK. You’ll likely make your parents a lot happier working in a field in which security is more predictable, perhaps assured, and one that is more conducive to a stable home environment in which to raise a family. Most importantly, you may find more happiness and fulfillment of your life’s potential doing something else.
It just saddens me that so many people come to L.A. or New York to act, but never really give it their full effort, never really get in the game, and then retreat after years of disappointment. More than anything, I just want people to be happy, healthy, loved, and wealthy. There are easier ways to be those things than being an actor.
Those of you who truly are actors will understand what I’m saying but not be discouraged. Those of you who are better off doing something else may be. All I’m saying is to think about it. There’s the saying, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” If you’re going to take on this journey, get in shape, chart your course on a map, procure your supplies, pack your bag, grab your walking stick, lace up your boots, and just put one foot in front of the other until you’ve reached your goal or you’re dead.
You can’t fail if you never quit.
Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!