“What have I seen you in?” is inevitably the first thing that people say when they meet me at a party. This is usually followed by “Have you worked with anyone famous?”
As an actor this is something that I’ve had to get used to it. But I have no idea what you have seen so I can’t answer the first question even if I wanted to. I probably have worked with several people whom you would know but I would rather that you were interested in me for my own sake. I’m afraid that if you rub my collar, stardust will not fall off. I’m also not going to regale you with salacious stories about my colleagues, even if I do know any.
In many ways, being an actor is just like any other job – in a zero-hours-contract sort of way – with no guarantee that there will even be minimum wage at the end of the run; remember this next time that you go to a “fringe” production.
Yes, I chose to do it, in the same way that many other professionals chose to be lawyers and doctors. It doesn’t mean that I enjoy every minute of it or that I should be expected to live on the joy of just being there alone. This doesn’t cut much ice with the landlord or the utility companies.
Being an actor doesn’t make you an air head, nor did you choose performing as a career because you were lousy at school
If we get past the initial hurdle of awkward greetings, people often tell me that they are the star of their local amateur dramatic society and if only they could just get an Equity card, they too could turn professional (the same is true for SAG-AFTRA). This is what I tell them.
There is nothing to stop you realising your dream as long as you are prepared to invest huge amounts of energy (and a fair amount of hard cash) in learning and honing your skills on a continuous basis and you don’t mind sacrificing a secure roof over your head, the car, regular holidays abroad and an income that you can live on comfortably.
Be prepared to apply continually for jobs in competition with hundreds of others and deal with constant rejection – week in, week out.
Remember not to mind about being told about your physical “shortcomings” to your face and to keep your temper when asked if you have ever worked on camera by someone half your age who doesn’t seem to understand the letters “BBC” (or some other acronym) on your CV.
It is not unusual to be auditioned by a woman from the office because neither the director nor the musical director can be bothered to turn up. She can’t spell the name of the author of the play that you have made a long and considered choice about for your audition piece, and it goes without saying that although they are a leading contemporary dramatist with links to the play for which you are auditioning, she has never heard of them.
Your work-life balance will be perfect because there is no distinction between the two. I don’t act to live but I do live to act. This sometimes means that you will coexist with unpleasant thoughts and characters during the rehearsal period although I generally manage to shake them off once the research is concluded and the run or shoot is under way.
Get used to early mornings and late nights. There is no luxury of being an owl or a lark. You have to be both, and be fit at all sorts of times of day to produce deep emotions or light-hearted frivolity at the drop of a hat, whatever you actually feel. Ten or 20 times over if required. There is a lot of sitting around at auditions, in rehearsal and sometimes in performance. Doing the crossword and sudoku begins to feel as much as part of the job as acting.
Read more. Toughen up. I can guarantee that you will be filming in furs in the height of a heatwave and in skimpy shorts in the depths of winter. Don’t expect a career progression. Your trajectory from juvenile lead to national treasure is unlikely to be a smooth one. In fact it is just plain unlikely. You may not get to love the day job, but remember: it is where you may end up most of the time.
Sex scenes? Par for the course, and I promise you, there is nothing remotely sexy about them. Really. Other performers and crew are generally very supportive as they know how awkward it can be, although don’t expect them to show you this in an obvious way. The first time that I rehearsed a scene in a play with no clothes on, I suddenly realised that the curtains were open on to the road, and that I and my onstage lover were in full view of passersby and a stream of traffic.
Once the curtains were drawn we recommenced, only for a light to blow above our heads just as we got to a clinch, whereupon we were showered with fragments of glass. I have never seen a light do that before or since. In the dress rehearsal, the techies painted the surface of the stage where I was lying so that I ended up with a green stripe down my back.
And, by the way, if I’m not acting full-time, I’m not “resting”. Rather, I will be taking classes, practising instruments, applying for new jobs – all while earning a living doing something else at which you are also expected to be fully professional. Being an actor doesn’t make you an airhead; nor did you choose performing as a career because you were lousy at school. Most of us are well-educated and can talk about all sorts of things that are nothing to do with acting. Try me.
From The Guardian (click here)