Well, May is here, and in the spirit of May Day, this month’s column is about working! Being a working actor, that is!
My very favorite part of acting is the fact that you get to play while you work. It’s about passion and connection and genuinely wanting to work hard to do your best.
Sometimes, though, we have questions and doubts, and thankfully, that’s where I come in!
So, sit back and enjoy!
Let’s get to work!
Dear Donna Marie-
I read your column every month and I finally have a question for you.
As an actor, I feel I am in a very weird point in my career. I cannot fit into a specific age range and I think it is starting to affect my ability to get work. I am used to playing early-30’s type characters, but now I am almost 42!
The problem is I don’t really look 42 and I don’t really look 30 anymore, either. It’s like I am caught in this actor Twilight Zone and I don’t feel comfortable with the auditions I’m getting.
I look younger than I am and when I go to auditions, I feel like the oldest actor in the room!
Am I doomed not to work until I start to look my actual age again?
You poor thing!
I sense you are under a bit of stress about this issue, and I’m here to tell you that you’re going to be just fine!
Every actor reaches a point in their career where they come to realize they are getting older and their perceptions of themselves don’t seem to serve them anymore. It’s at a moment like this where we start to doubt ourselves and wonder if our expiration date is coming up.
Balderdash, I say! And here’s why:
When I first started out in this business, I was almost always cast as the sweet young thing – see my work in the MGM musical “Born in a Trunk!” where I played Adelaide Howe, the prim young librarian who falls in love with a vaudeville clown. I was just adorable and dewy-eyed as an ingénue and the camera simply adored me.
As most actors know, though, we don’t get to stay young forever, and in order to survive, we have to adapt!
As I grew older, I found myself working a bit less. This got me worried. I wasn’t up for the big motion picture roles like before, and I started having a hard time getting my calls returned.
But did I let that get me down? Not one bit!
Here’s what I did, and you can, too.
First of all, I changed my attitude. Instead of feeling like I was now old and would never work again, I changed my internal perception of myself. I began to “own” my age. Instead of trying to look like that ingénue I once was, I played to my strengths right then. While I didn’t wear frumpy or “old lady” clothes, I did wear outfits that made me look my age and still made me look good.
You can do this, too.
Attitude adjustments are necessary for all actors throughout their careers. They keep us grounded and realistic about what’s happening around us. It’s easy to buy into the “youth culture” that surrounds us here. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to stay young forever . It won’t serve you!
I find those actors who have grown up in front of the camera and who have embraced their age as they’ve gotten older to be some of the more interesting actors out there. Those who insist on playing the same type of character over and over even though they have passed the age where they can safely get away with it are somewhat pathetic.
If you are submitting yourself on jobs, try submitting on both of your “types” and see what kind of response you get. If you start getting more calls from the older roles, then you can pretty safely say your part of that age range. If you still get response from the younger roles, then be happy that you’ve still “got it!”
The most important thing to do, however, is to get advice from trusted people around you. Start with your agent. Set up a meeting and discuss how your agent sees you, where you fit in and how you can work together to get the most out of what you have to offer as an actor.
This conversation will determine if this is an agent you want to have working for you, as well. You might discover that your agent isn’t really interested in seeing you grow (or age), and that will hurt you in the long run. You will get older, there’s no denying it! Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone in your corner who is looking out for the parts you are best suited to play rather than the one who continues to send you out to uncomfortable auditions where you’re forced to play someone 20 years younger than you actually are?
Finally, start exploring characters your own age. Begin reading plays and scripts (readily available online, etc.) that feature older characters. See how you “feel” when you read them. Stretch your acting muscle! Older characters aren’t less interesting than younger ones. If anything, they are MORE interesting!
The bottom line is this, sweetie.
You aren’t getting any younger, and there is a whole wide world of parts out there for us to play. While you find yourself in this strange age-range limbo, take the time to put your career into perspective and begin plotting your next moves.
That’s what I did, and I’ve found that I have a more fulfilling career now than I’ve ever had!
I wish you all the best!
I enjoy reading your articles.
My son, George who is 6, has gotten bitten with the acting bug. Unlike many mothers who want their kids in show business, I am very hesitant but willing to support and help him get where he wants to be and in his own words "Mom I want to go to Hollywood."
He had two interviews with two very good agencies last week. Both of the agents came out laughing in tears with my son. They said he was a character and DARLING. They didn’t sign him because they said he was all over the place and told me to bring him back in 4-6 weeks after putting him in a couple of commercial classes.
My question is: what does this all mean and why commercial classes?
It sounds to me like you’ve got a little spitfire on your hands! And it sounds like he knows what he wants at an early age!
And you sound like a very conscientious and grounded mother, qualities I admire in those parents who have children in the industry.
From what you’ve told me in your question, it appears that when your son gets into that agent’s office, he has the ability to charm the pants off of them and get them laughing, but that he probably doesn’t yet have the focus necessary to get the job done.
See, it isn’t enough to have the cuteness and charm thing down. This is a business and time is money. George won’t work very much if he gets into an audition room (much less on set) and doesn’t really have the ability to focus on the task at hand. A child can have all the personality in the world, but if he doesn’t know how to work with direction, stay focused while the shots are being set up, etc., then he won’t work very much.
The agents suggested George take commercial classes because that is generally what he will be submitted to most often. Kids commercial classes teach kids how to audition, get them used to being in front of the camera, and how to listen to a casting director. These are valuable and necessary skills for any actor (not just kids), and they're not something you are born with.
This is also going to be a valuable experience for you in a couple of ways, as well. For one, you’ll really start to get an idea about what this business is all about, how it works, and what will be expected of you as a parent.
For George, it’s going to be a great introduction into the “real world” of Hollywood, not just the fantasy of what we see on television or movies. He’s going to learn about how much work is involved and how dedicated and focused he’s going to need to be if he wants to be successful at it.
The encouraging thing about all of this is that the agents want to see him again. This means they see tremendous potential in him, and from what I can sense from your question, it’s all his own potential. It isn’t something you’ve “created” in him, like so many other stage parents have done. It’s a rare commodity and sounds like it should be explored.
I can’t wait to hear how little George does in his classes and with his potential new agents!
Please keep me posted on his success!
Until then, all the best to you!
Before I leave you for another month, I’d like to pass on this letter written in response to last month’s column on making a good impression on your first agency interview. Robin wrote in with this TERRIFIC suggestion:
Just read your tips for the gal having her first agent interview. One thing they like to ask which sort of goes along with "tell me about yourself" is what you like to do for fun. I've been told to never say,"...playing with my kids or dogs." Agents find that boring, as they've heard it a hundred times. If you like to cook, don't just say so. Say something like, "I make the best apple pie on this side of the Mississippi." Or "I won a contest at a chili cook- off last summer." Be specific. I personally love to fish. So, one thing I like to say is, "I've been trying to outsmart the bass at Lake Medina, but so far they're winning." Also, I won a ladies fishing tournament once for most exotic fish! So, sometimes I say that. I look very feminine, so it's kind of surprise to hear that.
Fishin' for an audition,
Robin, thank you SO much for your great contribution.
You just proved how valuable our forum can be for all actors.
Well, I’m on my way for now, but PLEASE, if you have any questions for me or suggestions to the actors we heard from this month, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I can’t wait to hear from you all!
Until next month, take care and enjoy yourselves!!
Donna Marie Watkins