3 Words Every Actor Should Live By

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There are three words that are crucial for every actor to etch into their brains and bring to the forefront every time they don their acting hat: in class, rehearsals, on set, during meetings with agents or producers, headshot session, even when putting together audition outfits. As an image and branding expert, I focus on how actors must incorporate these vital words into the way they present and market themselves:

Acting is all about exploring the truths in life and relationships. This is why actors must be completely honest with their own truths. I try to get actors to turn the camera around and see themselves in the eyes of the industry—not in their own eyes, or those of their mother/partner/friend. These people tell us what we want to hear. But actors need to be honest with exactly what they’re bringing to the table.

Yes, this even includes being honest about their range and physicality. (We all want to be the prettiest, sexiest, hottest, youngest, whatever-est, but the majority of film and television roles represent real people portraying real lives. Just be you.) Cameras don’t lie. You can’t either. Own everything about who you are by just being honest.

Just as you must be honest with yourself you also have to be realistic about who you are, what you have to offer, and where you fit in. We all think we can play every part. Unfortunately, that’s not true.

READ: Why Submitting to Everything Isn’t the Best Approach

Your acting roles all fall within your parameter, which is set by your look and personality. They also depend on your background and resume. I've been working with a great guy: 38 years old, really good looking, a writer who now wants to become an actor. When I asked him what roles he could be cast in today, he answered, “Anything Bradley Cooper turns down.” No matter how good looking and charming he may be, no studio is going to hand a 338-year-oldwith no acting credits a multi-million dollar film to carry. Realistically, that would never happen.

You have to be realistic about where you fit in this industry today, not where you hopefully will be after a few years or at the end of a five-year career arc or even once you book your dream acting gig. You must figure out, realistically, what roles you’re right for today based on your look, background, and resume, and then go after those. It’s easier to target and achieve something attainable than an unrealistic dream. Keep setting goals for yourself, just keep them realistic.

In readings, auditions, and classes, actors need to make specific choices and depict specific points of view. The same goes for your image. You need to be specific in the image your present whether that be in your headshots, reels, meetings, or clothing.

Casting directors get up to 3,000 submissions per role. They don’t put out calls for “whatever,” “kind of,” or “we’re really not sure” characters. Casting notices are very specific in the descriptions of what they’re looking for, which means actors need to be specific in the way they present themselves at all times whether in person or through their marketing. A generic headshot, a generic performance, an audition in which you’re just trying to be what you think they want, will not open doors to an acting career. Get specific.

Take an honest, realistic, and specific look at who you are and how you present yourself. This can be one of the most difficult tasks for an actor, so seek help from acting teachers, casting directors, consultants...whoever can help you achieve the most truthful self-evaluation. Show the industry that you're a professional in that you know exactly who you are, exactly what you have to offer, and exactly where you belong.

Now get out there and honestly, realistically, and specifically start booking!

Nailed those three little words? Check out Backstage’s short film audition listings!

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.

Author Headshot
Tom Burke
Tom Burke is an image consultant, headshot coach, and acting teacher. After transitioning from a successful print model to an accomplished on-camera actor to a proficient on-set acting coach, Burke focused his wealth of knowledge and keen eye to become one of L.A.’s premier image consultants and headshot coaches, and creator of the Castable Actor, a series of workshops, seminars, and advice designed to help actors open doors to a successful career.
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