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Can you really call yourself an actor?

Call yourself an actor? How committed are you really? Success is dependent on effort. - Sophocles

I recently made a decision not to promote myself as an actor any more but to call myself a coach. Of course, when acting work comes my way I will joyfully do it and am lucky that this happens frequently enough to satisfy that part of me. The reason is simple. I am not putting in the required effort nor have the necessary single-minded focus. Now, many of my acting friends would be surprised to hear me say this as I have always worked consistently as an actor in commercials, films, TV, stage, voice work, role-playing, print and so on. I have made a good living and have even been fortunate enough to earn enough to buy my own property. So what am I talking about? Simply put, if I were mentoring my younger self as to what I needed to do to really make a go of it, I would note a number of things:

  • Total commitment. Many of my clients start off saying that they really want to be actors but when I press them as to how much commitment they are putting in, the answer rarely rises above 60%. I'm sure that you recognise the problem here. The effort and focus truly needs to be approaching 100% or you will find "success" less and less likely as the percentage gets lower.

If you knew it would take so much commitment to become a working actor would you still decide to do it?

  • No matter what stage you are at in your career you must be in a regular acting class, preferably with the same people so that you can move forward in a studied and recognisable way rather than piecemeal and scatter gun.

I teach an acting class for 12 actors who meet twice a month. They choose scenes from film and TV, shoot them, work on them and then play back and analyse them. The scene partners change from class to class so that everyone gets a chance to work with different actors. They are given exercises to work on outside of the class. They work on show reels and shorts together and support each other in their careers. Some spend time working in Hollywood and others on the London fringe but all have stories to tell of being active in the industry. And consequently, each of them has improved in their own way and at their own speed. Some came to the class initially at a higher standard but are still growing, practising and learning. More to the point, they are also still enjoying it!

I always thought I could play a good detective on TV and was merely waiting for the opportunity to arise. However, my advice to my younger self would be that if you want to play a detective you must learn what it takes to become one. Learn to shoot a gun, drive a car at high speed, understand what it's like to sit in a car looking at the outside of a building for 12 hours at a stretch. Study the impact it has on your social life and your family life. Research police training. Go and visit a training centre or at least their website! Once you have done this you can sell yourself with more confidence. You will understand detective scripts better and be able to form quicker choices on the characters and what they encounter. If you are looking for an agent you will have something to sell and if a casting director is looking for someone who knows how to convincingly hold a firearm they will come to you.

  • Unless you already know the shakers and movers in the industry I'm afraid that networking is an essential tool you need to possess in your toolkit.

I have no doubt that people increase their opportunities for employment through meeting other people along the way. Personally, I have 2 small children and do not want to spend my evenings networking. I would rather be at home reading bedtime stories. What about you? How much do you really want to commit?

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