Becoming a working actor, while quite artistically fulfilling, is creating yourself as a business. All businesses need to market themselves to potential clients and clearly define what they are offering. As an actor, you want to have a clear definition of what you are offering potential clients seeking your services. If you don’t, this would be like a restaurant only writing, “We serve food” in its description. While you may be hungry, you would be less likely to find an establishment appetizing if you didn’t know what you were being served.
You are a talented performer with an entire rainbow of characters you can emotionally portray. The reality is, physically, you won’t be seen as everything. It is human nature for people to categorize others. Before a personal relationship exists, people associate the physical appearance of others with things like ideology, personality, social class, etc. It is a casting director’s job to understand these associations and their use in effectively telling a story by assigning a type of person to a particular role.
Some people have more than one type. Others may have a very specific quality about them. I’ve had clients that look like they could be on the Fortune 500 list and then with a change of wardrobe and frame of mind, they very effectively portray a character having a rough life. On the other hand, a client may look edgy and troubled; no matter what they do to themselves, they just aren’t convincing as the innocent girl or boy next door.
Certainly there can be a creative decision to play against type, but to execute this properly, I believe there needs to first be an understanding of how you are perceived. Finding your type isn’t about limiting yourself. It actually gives you a base from which to market yourself and bring interesting colors to your characters.
So how does one determine their type? Here are a few methods that I find helpful.
1. Ask other people. Request 10 adjectives that describe you. Select some people that don’t know you well. First impressions are great. Ask people who have seen you perform. While you may be a very confident, charismatic person day to day, you may come off comedic and quirky when you act. View the lists and look for the similarities.
2. Look at your résumé. What do you tend to get called in for and book? If you aren’t getting seen for the types of roles you want, now is a good time to look at what you need to work on as an actor to shape your career. It could also be a time to understand and further develop what is already working for you.
3. Embrace your age or perceived age. The average age of lead actors is expanding. Make sure your headshots reflect your current age. Using old headshots or retouching current ones until nothing is left except your eyes, nose, and mouth doesn’t help. Some people do look years younger or older than they actually are. Be sure that you are able to match your behavior with the perceived age. When you compare a 35-year-old that looks 20 to an authentic 20-year-old, the difference is glaring. I have seen people that look really young but their maturity kills the illusion. These people get stuck because they look young but casting wants someone that feels young as well. The same goes for someone that looks older.
4. Be specific. Don’t just say, for example, “girl/boy next door.” Add something interesting from your personality. Are you the preppy girl next door who is daddy’s little girl? Are you the boy next door with a dark secret? Are you the girl next door who likes to beat up the boys next door because you hate when boys keep secrets? Adding color to your descriptions will help create branding that is specific to you.
5. Be realistic. While everyone has attractive qualities, some of the charm may come out in quirky ways or through imperfections. Some people have a dangerous edge that others will never see as the innocent commercial type, for example. If you are magnetic as a comedian and aren’t as convincing dramatically, don’t squash comedic ability just because you only want to play dramatic roles. Use your talent and, as you grow as an actor, transform. Traits that are unique to you are what make you intriguing.
Once you create your brand, make sure you see it in all of your marketing material. If you have more than one type, have more than one headshot or reel. If a casting director receives 1000 submissions for a particular role, they don’t have the time to figure out ambiguity.
Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!
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.