I remember one acting teacher who told me, ‘Can you believe you’ve chosen a life where you’ll plead to go on at least a hundred job interviews a year? The interviews are your job. You must be masochists.’ This, of course, is not all true. Teachers have conjured their own share of bitterness and accusation after long, patient lives of auditioning, working, statically remaining in place and watching a hundred less talented, big chested women become successful instead.
For this reason, acting teachers encourage a genuine love of the craft. They insist this genuine love becomes the golden life raft, capable of carrying the actor across the roughest and most nonnegotiable channels. ‘If you don’t love it,’ they say, ‘do something better.’
Of course, most actors believe that acting is the best thing in the world. Most actors are spending more money on acting than making money, and for this, one needs to love it. Those who enroll simply to play Juliet, stand prettily on stage and speak poorly are ridiculed in acting school. In real life, they usually become famous.
Countless times I have sat beside veteran actors watching the television in their tiny, New York apartments, watching them point exhaustedly to the screen, saying: “That prick used to be in my acting class. Never could act a lick.” I look over and the actor is Keanu Reeves or someone roughly of the same caliber. They wearily smile, ironic and void of sadness, because they know it reflects nothing of their worth – which, in a way, seems more offensive. Unlike an office job, wherein most work done usually means highest paying job, the acting world has no regimented system of fairness. Many of the hardest working actors I’ve met are some of the poorest, most unknown, and most talented.
But, whereas the veteran actor has come to terms with the unfairness and random luck of the business, spending a cycle of years learning the improbability, the surprises, the setbacks, the aspiring actor, fresh-faced counterpart sitting beside the veteran on the couch, believes that for them it will be different. They have to. Or, it seems, they’ll die.
The aspiring actor then hits the ground running – mailing postcards, interviewing with managers, taking parts in private, independent movies. There is a voracious attitude to the striving sort, a desire to take everything on in hopes that everything will be returned ten fold. When, after a string of quiet, jobless months, the striving actor sees that this rule of give-and-take does not necessarily apply to the business, two further options present themselves as a highly important, widely visited fork in the road.
The first path is one of forfeit. I do not call is surrender, because for actors who truly love acting, the desire to seek out a stage and exercise their artistic muscles forever lives. The true actor, even in a forfeit situation, knows they will act again. They also know, however, that it will never be in the idealized way they dreamed of. This is the forfeit – the grand dream.
The second path is one of perseverance. It is not a conquer, because the guarantee of success for the resilient actor is as weakly present as it would be for any man on the street. The resilient actor chooses perseverance, because they truly believe in their ability to someday supersede those who presently deny them.
I have personally known actors who choose perseverance and prove themselves right, ultimately conquering any cowardice and cupping their dream in their palms for the world to see. I have also personally known actors who choose perseverance. win more experience, higher levels of talent, a resume akin to Santa’s list in length, but still never reach success. The life of an actor is ultimately, entirely unknown. You have the choice of options, but never results.
The lifestyle of an early actor is one that scintillates and reveals a heaping variety of universal truths. It is an exciting time. For the actor who manages to brush off bitterness and transform this endeavor into hellish territories to an enlightening, humbling inner-strength, there are great possibilities of success, but never more than the possibilities of having to live without it.
The striving for success must then become secondary. It must become about the work. It is the only way to remain happy enough to survive and committed enough to score big. The only trick to keeping dark resentment, hatred and self loathing from penetrating the process, is to make peace with all possibilities, whether magnificent or dismal, from the beginning. If you truly come to terms with what you’re in for – the endless casting calls, constant rejection, surprise conquests and slow ascension cannot hurt the actor.
Such actors shield themselves with their work and their life off stage or screen. They are impenetrable. Does it mean they will become famous? No. Nothing does. But it means they’ll maintain sanity as a human being, seasoning as a performer and the possibility of welcoming success by staying in the game.
And, when you’re going all in for the gamble, that’s about as much as anyone can ask for…