“ … knowing well that those who know don’t talk, and those who talk don’t know … ”
— Goodbye, I by mewithoutYou
The past week has been difficult for me as an actor, performer, and all around creative type. I encountered someone that appears to me to be a caricature of an actor. A bad stereotype. Another reason for people to scoff at the craft and the sad thing is, I didn’t even dislike this person. They were rather pleasant to be around. But their pleasantness did not extend into their professionalism and skill and it really showed.
I know all of this may seem rather disjointed, but bear with me. I intend to make several points. I’ve had the weekend to allow these observations to percolate and hopefully become digestible lessons, because otherwise, what am I even doing? Chipping away the hours til the Angel of Death grabs my hand and drags me home?
Digression aside, there are some lessons I’ve learned about acting that I’d like to pass along to any aspiring creative types.
Lesson the First: Listen more, talk less. In acting, I’ve found that the more you listen, and I mean really listen, the less you’re thrown by incoming information. I watched an actor stumble over every line of dialogue, need every line fed to him by me in my capacity as a script supervisor (I watch and make sure they get dialogue and pertinent information in every take.), and I noticed that from the start this actor wasn’t listening. They weren’t listening to the actor sharing the scene with them, to me with my little book of the correct answers to any question of “line?” this actor might’ve had, and they definitely weren’t listening to the director or themselves. If they had, they might’ve picked up on some clues. Aside from the tension, they could’ve picked up on a little faster, the actor could have found clues to the lines they were supposed to say from their fellow actors’ dialogue. Or, if the actor opposite of them hadn’t gotten the line just right, they could have responded to the line of dialogue given to them in a more realistic way with the right information included and could have saved everybody some time. But this actor refused to listen to anyone but their self, and it really shows in their performance and how this actor is now viewed by a group that could have potentially kept giving this actor work.
This leads directly to the second lesson: Stop making so many excuses. Nobody wants to hear them. No one. Not one person wants to hear why you couldn’t make something happen after hearing you promise you could make said thing happen. I get it. Stuff is hard. Life is difficult. It’s not handing you a bike with training wheels on it and sometimes you hit a pothole and get a boo-boo. And it hurts. It stings and it sucks. But no one wants to hear about it. They are all too busy either bandaging their boo-boos or walking a fresh one off. Sometimes an excuse is valid and in those moments, feel free to let those suckers fly loose and fast. But if it’s something you just messed up, you made a mistake and now you and everyone else is paying for it, own up to it. Don’t make up things that sound quasi-intelligent to hopefully keep your bum out of the fire. People get tired of it. They feel the heat just as much as you do. I’ll tell you something else, too. If you don’t make as many excuses, own up to what you’ve done wrong, and try to keep moving forward after the appropriate amount of mental mulling and processing, you’ll find that others are suffering too and will sometimes even give you a shoulder to lean on. This lesson doesn’t strictly apply to acting, but if you show up to rehearsals and auditions and filming days with a humble and somewhat penitent attitude, you’ll be surprised by the mercy you might receive. And if you don’t receive it, I’m sorry. I don’t believe any of us deserve mercy, but I do believe that we should extend it to others anyway (kind of inherent in the definition of mercy, but whatever) and if you came to me, I would do my best to show you the mercy I’ve been shown.
Now for the third lesson: Make professional choices and be aware. In acting, your job is to know lines, be directable, and deliver lines believably. You can hype it up as much as you want, and believe me, I’ve waxed philosophic at every opportunity about the craft because I love and am passionate about it, but if you strip away the pretension and the media attention, you basically have people playing pretend while other people watch. That’s it. If that’s what you want your job to be, awesome. There are worse activities you can do to get paid for. I know it’s what I want to do. That being said, if you want it to be your job, then TREAT IT LIKE A JOB. Don’t take your talent for granted. Work hard at it. Get better. Try things that you aren’t the best at. Show up with your lines ready to go. The week you film something, don’t make a bunch of plans after you get off work. Get a good night’s sleep and eat a healthy breakfast if you can. Life happens, sure, but you can make as many good choices as possible and point your life in a good direction no matter what’s going on around you. When you’re on set, behave professionally. You can chat and have a good time, but if you’re struggling with lines (as this actor was quick to point out, which is another problem. Don’t tell the people you work for how much you aren’t prepared. That’s rude.) go study them. Write them down in between scenes while the next is being set up, don’t just tell everyone in the room how great you are at memorizing and how cool your little tricks for remembering lines are, especially when in the next five minutes you’re going to prove to us that your little tricks aren’t worth much because you’ve called line for EVERY LINE you have in EVERY SCENE for 12 HOURS EVERY DAY over the course of 4 DAYS. I understand that there were script changes, but talented and hardworking actors all over the world somehow manage to roll with the punches and get the work done every day without their entire world burning to the ground around them.
This leads to the final lesson: Learn when to stop running your own hype train and prove your worth by doing what’s asked of you. This. This lesson. I am the worst offender. If you put me in a room with talented creatives and they talk about what they’ve been working on recently, I feel jealousy and pettiness creep in and I just have to say something. List all of my credits at once. Blow their importance out of proportion. And for what? To impress someone? Just … just stop. No one needs that. No one. No one cares that you “work with A list actors on the set of (Somehow popular and still relevant local drama, therefore negating your statement that you work with A list actors. And on that note: if we gon’ be petty and assign ranks to our celebrities to help pump up our own self-worth, then reality check, cuz’, cause errbody on that set is AT BEST C list. IF that’s something you gon’ do. Which they did. More than once.)”. No one cares that you were a guitarist in (insert band that I listened to in Youth Group and was majorly attracted to the lead singer). What they care about is if you work for them. If you can help them make a product. As the actor, you may be the face of the action, but you are a relatively small cog in a rather large machine. Get a hold of yourself. Stop lying. Don’t boost your own importance. Be good. Speak very little of yourself, and listen to other people. You’d be amazed at what you’d find out.
Now I know this has been a long post for me, and it does ramble, and maybe it’s a bit full of itself, and maybe it’s a bit mean or too attacking, but I don’t want that to be the takeaway, and also maybe something should be a little uncomfortable or in your face a little bit. This experience was a wake-up call for me and maybe for some of you out there. I’m by no means an expert, I just want my fellow creative types to help themselves a little bit and maybe foster some personal growth.
If you get the chance, check out the song from which I took the lyrics for the quote above. Excellent band, excellent lyrics. Yes, I also understand the irony that I just managed to pump out a ton of words on a subject without having to prove that I know what I’m talking about, so … I don’t know. Shuttup and stuff.
Jesus and I love you all.