This week I asked actor Mark Gessner, who works a ton and is one of the best in the business, to contribute to my blog. I did not edit this. I allowed him to tell us things that I talk about every week, but from an actors’ perspective versus a casting director’s. I think it’s important that all sides are heard. I hope opening it up helps everyone reading to understand the big picture.
Remember like six months ago when people were constantly writing “open letters” all the time? It was just after the time goats were a big deal and a bit before things being “on fleek” started? That’s kind of what I’m doing here, but not annoying hopefully. I want to talk about the business of acting and our responsibilities as actors in said business.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Beth Melsky asked me if I would write something from an actor’s perspective. Also I should note that, while she is intimidating and tough as hell and frequently used to scare the ever-living shit out of me, I happen to like her very much. So when she asked me, I said sure. I did not write this because I feel like I have some sort of deep wisdom you’d all be lucky to have. Frankly, I owe her. For her part, Beth just asked me to write it and said she’ll present it as is. So here goes.
Usually when we hear the phrase “personal responsibility”, it’s Mitt Romney or Ted Cruz saying it, or it’s Thanksgiving and your “guns should have more rights than women” uncle is saying it. But it does apply to us as actors and to the careers we are trying to build. And I speak for myself here, but I feel comfortable generalizing in some ways. We all want to audition one million times per week and we all want to be on a show or in movies or on Broadway and not have to work at a bar or restaurant where we have to answer questions like “Um excuse me, what part of the cow does the sea bass come from?” We’re over that. And if we work hard and get a little lucky, we can pay our bills a different way. We can do it just acting.
For me, that was always the dream. I wouldn’t mind being rich as hell and still have plenty of plans for when I am, but in the mean time I will be more than happy with acting simply being how I pay my way in the world and how I feed my kids. And it’s tempting to feel “past” things. For example, one of the biggest challenges in my career was finding a good agent. It took yeeeeeears. But I have found where I belong now. And that hurdle having been cleared makes it seem like in some ways your work is done. I would submit to you that your work begins now. You can actually focus on your career and skills and craft in a different way because you’re not obsessed with finding an agent. It is my firm belief that we are the captains of our own team/brand/career/reputation. And as such we have the responsibility to empower those around us who are tasked with helping us to achieve our dreams and goals. Earning a career in this business requires a large amount of self-focus. We have to know ourselves very well, we have to work hard to find parts that are in our wheelhouse, etc. But it is not a good look when self-focus becomes self-involvement. Everyone hates that like they hate gum in their hair. Don’t be that dude(tte).
Do you like lists? Tough shit if you don’t because I have kids and so I don’t sleep anymore and I need lists or I can’t function. Here’s a short list of things we can actually control that will make us less of a pain in the ass:
- TELL YOUR AGENT WHEN YOU’RE UNAVAILABLE. It’s not a crime to take some time away from NYC or to take a few days off here and there. You might need to do that just to remember why you love this crazy ass place. Or this crazy ass business, frankly. You are allowed to do this. You are a grown adult. But the city and the business bustle along briskly without you and people still work on projects. These same people may even want YOU to be in their project. You will cause a disproportionately large problem if you don’t book out and your agent tells a casting director you’re available. It seems so simple and it seems like so not a big deal. It seems like so not a big deal because it’s not YOUR time getting wasted and it’s not YOU getting cursed out because multiple schedules are effed up because a two-line email re: your schedule wasn’t sent. That is a bad reputation to get. If you’re unavailable, cool. TELL SOMEONE!
- SHOW UP AND WORK AND DON’T BE A TOOL. Show up on time because Read the copy. Don’t write on it. It’s not yours. But read it and know it. Don’t annoy other people with long bro-ey phone conversations and fake “no YOU’RE so pretty” conversations in the waiting room.
- LISTEN TO THE PERSON WHOSE JOB IT IS TO HELP YOU BOOK THE FREAKIN’ COMMERCIAL. We are overwhelmingly treated to excellent casting pros in our city. This is a tough city in which to succeed. That goes for casting directors too. So if you are dealing with a casting house here that has been around for a while, chances are they know what the hell they’re doing. So please listen. And do what they say. They don’t follow you around all day shouting advice and telling you to take things again. They help you for maybe 4 minutes. Focus and listen and do what they say because, apart from being generally good people who love actors, they have a vested interest in you succeeding. Also, realize that they are seeing literally hundreds of men and women all damn day. Value their time. They keep things moving and reasonably on schedule and that alone is a miracle.
- REALIZE AND BE OKAY WITH HOW LITTLE CONTROL WE HAVE. As actors, we have control over precisely two (2) things. Two. We have control over how well we prepare for the opportunities we receive and whether or not we quit acting. That’s literally it. We’re not in casting, we’re not studio execs, we’re not producers, we’re not directors. We’re actors. I write all that with the full and proud knowledge that many of my colleagues and friends brilliantly do most of those things, but during the moments when we’re auditioning, we’re “just” actors. We don’t get to make big, fancy decisions. We are workers. Until we’re A-Listers, we get where we get by working and working and working. We show up sick, sad, injured, hungover. We show up no matter what. Or at least we better. Your control begins and ends with your work in the room. So crush it in the goddamn room. Crush it. Leave no doubt.
- BE KIND TO EACH OTHER. Please? Can we? This business is brutal sometimes. And it’s not usually because of our fellow actors. We should lean on each other and be worthy of being leaned on. Be nice. FFS, it’s so much easier than being mean.
Thanks for reading! If you see me around, say hello! Keep following this blog and if you have questions about casting, ask Beth. She actually answers!
Next post will include an interview with a talent agent. There’s always at least three sides to every story. Thanks for reading. Makes me feel like people are learning and maybe some change will happen to help the process, which, in turn, will help the business.