Quit When the Gorilla Gets Tired
I have been extremely fortunate that from a young age I've known
what I want to do for the rest of my life. I credit 2 films for biting
me with the acting bug: Amadeus + Jesus Christ Superstar.
When I was 4 years old, pretty much daily, I would watch JCS on our
laser disc (showing my age?) over and over until it didn't work anymore. Finally, my Dad took me to
see it live at Wolf Trap in D.C.
He saw how much I loved it, and took me 3 subsequent times. It wasn't until the third time when the curtain fell on the seemingly dead Judas, which the actor gingerly lifted over his head so it could take us to intermission, that the illusion of make-believe was shattered ... in the absolute best way possible. I couldn't believe that what I had been experiencing wasn't "real." I've been driven to recreate that magic ever since.
Today, whenever I tell people that I am an actress, a small flurry of emotions crosses their face. Pity is always first then quickly met with a bit of excitement + a look of slight disdain. They inevitably ask, "Isn't that hard?" Naively thinking they mean the craft of acting itself, I animatedly launch into how difficult it is, but how some people make it look so easy and why, etc. etc. However, from their amused smiles, I realize that they meant the constant auditioning + constant rejection. Which, yes, is hard. BUT ... I wouldn't have it any other way.
My inspiration for this post comes from numerous conversations I've had recently, and over the years, as well as interviews with various artists (namely, this one with Jay-Z from NPR). In LA, I could throw a rock 10 feet from where I'm standing, and probably hit an actor (probably shouldn't try this at home, kids). Anyone can see that competition in the acting field these days is fierce, partly due to the speed with which some people can achieve fame. Unlike the "old days", you don't necessarily have to be the best at what you do to become well known. Therefore, "becoming famous" seems to be the easy part. What's difficult, is acting and acting well. And while we always discuss fame, it's the acting that isn't really discussed anymore.
The pool is filled with more and more people who want to be known for their antics, to have their own reality show or to just be praised for being generally fabulous. I'm not here to critique these ambitions. But how do you stay true to yourself and your genuine ambition of being great at what you do amidst the madness? And what seems to be as difficult as the acting ... how do you stick to it?
My wonderful Björk has said that she sings for the everyday man + woman. For me, that hits the nail squarely on the head. I act so I can, hopefully, illuminate aspects of human behavior to us, the people roaming the earth, in a truthful way. I act to communicate the intangible as well as to inspire learning + understanding. Wanting to do that, and pursuing it as a career isn't always the best mix. While there are obstacles that actors face that are unique to the profession, some span all professions.
1. Quantity of Rejection. Not just the quantity, but the quality of the rejection is on it's own level. It is unique for an actor, because they are essentially, rejecting you. Not just your work, but your personality + perceived self. Yes, it absolutely sucks. It is no fun, and it takes time + experience to get used to it, and let it roll like the proverbial water off a duck's back. Sometimes, by just pretending it doesn't bother you, after awhile, voila, it doesn't! It's a process fraught with many highs + lows. Too many people don't take the necessary lessons you can learn out of being "rejected," and focus solely on the negatives, becoming more + more depressed, jaded, etc. There are a crazy amount of uncontrollable factors that the quicker you recognize, the happier you will be.
2. The "physical" aspect. Yes, there is an obsession with body image in Hollywood, and it claims a lot of victims. To varying degree, everyone is affected by it, and everyone deals with it differently. Personally, I was always bigger than the other girls in the room. I was athletic to their skinny. But who cares?! Not this gal. I want to act for souls, not for eyes (to riff off a quote from my other darling, Adele), and the more you worry about body image, the less you concentrate on becoming a better actor + person. People will always think you're ugly. People will always think you're beautiful. But what is most important is .. what they think. ;) I kid, I kid. In a nut-shell: Don't ever let anyone tell you how to look ... unless it's Alexander McQueen.
3. Being out of work more than in work.
A painter has their paints, a writer, their pad + pen, but an actor
needs an audience + other actors. Convincing people you are the best man
for the job is difficult when the "uncontrollables" may be: you're not
blonde; the casting director is in a bad mood; you're good, but you're
"just not what they're looking for for this particular project" etc.
Yes, all of this impedes your desire to simply express what's inside you
... and pay your bills. There are no obvious "promotions" in acting,
and no clear-cut "ladder to climb." People say it's a grind, and if
choose to look at it that way, you will agree with that assessment. I choose to view it as a challenge.
This path is not for everyone. It is particularly difficult not just for the reasons listed but also for many others. But, what I always ask myself, and other actors I speak with regularly is, "Why are you doing this in the first place?" As I get older (to which I'll never admit, because well, I'm an actress), more + more of my peers are either ready to, or have thrown in the towel. For them, the rejection is too much, the judgement of their physical image is too much, or they simply realize it's not what they want to do. If this is what you want to do, reminding yourself why you are doing it in the first place, is essential to survival. Surrender is easy. Persevering is not. Being good, or great, at what you do is never easy but greatness is always worth pursuing.
As you pursue acting, you must maintain two universal virtues that span all professions; open-mindedness + flexibility. It is also vital that you stick to your guns and the personal nugget of inspiration that drives you. It may overwhelm you to think that you are just one tiny person amidst a hundred million trying to do what you want to do, but what if Meryl Streep gave up? What if Frank Lloyd Wright gave up? What if [fill in whoever your idol is] gave up? You must render all obstacles secondary to the difficulty of becoming the best you, you can be.
I hope everybody,
no matter what they are pursuing, stays true to who they are. I hope
they fight the good fight + always ask, "Why am I doing this in the
first place?" And if you find that the answer to that question doesn't
motivate you anymore, then go forth on another future endeavor with the
same verve, guts + inspiration that started you on your orginal path. Changes paths is never a bad thing.
And sometimes ... you can have your cake + eat it too.