|Lucky Money Toad|
Another Year and, no, not the Mike Leigh kind I hope, although it was probably the most profound film of 2010.
Actually I was thinking about that film the other day and how – despite the synopsis – it was really about Lesley Manville’s character, Mary. Another year older. Another year alone. Another year of desperately looking for Mr. Ideal (and with her options becoming less and less ideal.) Profound, and heartbreaking.
For an actor, however, the arrival of another year is about staying positive. On New Year’s Day we rush to read our astrology forecast, seek out messages in fortune cookies, tarot cards, runes, hold onto our lucky numbers, lucky jewelry, lucky audition outfits, lucky Chinese Money Toads….anything to keep our energy up and our attitude optimistic.
Because no profession brings more rejection and uncertainty than acting.
It takes, on average, about 10 years of hard slogging to support yourself as an actor. Sure, some are seemingly overnight sensations, especially women and especially in television, but those with staying power took a long time getting on anyone's radar. Matt Damon waited 10 years between his on-screen lines (with Julia Roberts in Mystic Pizza) and his breakout role in Good Will Hunting (which he co-wrote with Ben Afleck). Harrison Ford waited 11 years between working background on Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round and his starring role in Star Wars. He credits his success to simply outlasting all of the actors who rode into Los Angeles on the same bus.
In other words, successful actors commit to the long haul. Most who get into this business don’t do that (which is why you can’t draw many conclusions from the earnings averages at SAG-AFTRA.)
Why does it take so long? It takes a long time to find the training that works for you, to discover your type, to decide what kind of acting you want to do, to figure out the audition process, to build your reel, to make connections. Most of all, it takes a long time to find that one role that is exactly right for you, that defines you as an actor. Do any of us remember Harrison Ford in The Conversation? Or William Shatner in Judgment at Nuremberg? And those were critically acclaimed productions. Humphrey Bogart appeared in more than 80 films; I recognize the titles of only about 20.
I am now into my fifth year, not counting my four years as a television producer. What I’ve learned is that there are no shortcuts, so pocket the money you would spend on one-off workshops and seminars that promise the key to success, and instead put it toward the best acting classes you can find. Insist on feedback when you train. Look for stage work. It gives you an opportunity to be bold and teaches you the arc of a storyline. Make friends in the business, develop relationships. There are lots of nice people here.
Matt Damon has said that every actor is one role away from being a star (in fact, he said the doorman at his hotel is one role away from being a star.) In short, a lot of success looks like dumb luck. So, prepare and prepare, audition and audition, and wait for dumb luck….whenever it comes.