The worst thing about an acting career is that you just never know what’s going to happen.
After being rejected twice by Yale School of Drama, I was finally accepted and have been blessed with a 30-year career as an actor. If there’s one lesson that I always share with people who are hoping to be professional actors, it’s that this business is, simply put, arbitrary. I know this from personal experience, having gone back and forth between being a sought-after actress and not getting work. I’ve had times where I wouldn’t have been able to get arrested if I wanted to.
Unlike other pursuits, neither hard work nor innate talent will necessarily be rewarded in this career path. Superb, committed actors may get nowhere, while someone with little drive or talent might become the “next big thing.” If this sounds depressing or discouraging, you should probably shift gears to another path. Acting is not for the thin-skinned.
Moreover, even if lightning strikes and you do “make” it, the career itself is unpredictable and unstable. Work comes, then doesn’t; it complicates your personal life; it requires that you leave your home and family at a moment’s notice; it makes it nearly impossible to plan. So be honest with yourself. If that’s not the way you’d like to live, there are other wonderful paths in life for you.
But—if you determine that you’re OK with this, and you decide to give it a shot, then knowing deep down just how arbitrary a business it is will actually improve your chances.
How, you ask?
First and foremost, being truly pragmatic should force you to identify a Plan B—a more reliable and equally fulfilling life pursuit that you keep in the back of your mind. In addition to this being prudent, knowing that you’ll be fine even if you aren’t an actor means you’re not desperate about each audition, each meeting. Since nothing is less attractive than desperation, that will make you a much more appealing person to hire.
Understanding the arbitrary nature of casting also helps with the constant rejection. There will be times you just know you nailed the audition but you don’t even get called back. Were you fooling yourself? Maybe. Or maybe you just sound like the director’s nasty ex-wife. Or maybe even you’re too good looking to play the insecure lead role. Or one of a thousand other factors having nothing to do with your talent. You can brush it off and move on, remembering that the only person you know you can please is yourself.
Of course, the fact that life as an actor is largely a crapshoot shouldn’t imply that it doesn’t matter how hard you work at it. On the contrary, it requires that you maximize your odds. A thorough, completely honest self-assessment is essential, so you can capitalize on strengths and work on weaknesses. And that can’t happen without input from objective professionals. Find out where your favorite actors have trained and get that training. Insist on feedback from every audition—and listen to it! Read the reviews and see if there’s anything you can glean, positive or negative. Don’t take it personally, take it professionally. Use it to help you grow.
In other words, if you want to act, then go for it. The industry always needs new talent. But as you do, you should never forget its fickle nature. Treat acting like the grand experiment that it really is. With luck—and I mean luck—acting will provide you what you want on this life. But when and if, in the pursuit of this bizarre career, you start losing a sense of your value as a person, it’s time to find a life pursuit that brings you the rewards you deserve.
A veteran of stage and screen, Amy Aquino is a SAG Award nominee for “Picket Fences” and can currently be seen starring as Lieutenant Grace Billets on Amazon’s hit crime series “Bosch.”
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