In a recent career counseling session with a wonderful actor, we had a breakthrough.
Specifically I was working with an actor I’ve come to know and greatly respect, who is at a crossroads. This actor, after years of rigorous training and hard work, has become a steadily working professional actor – no small accomplishment. Many would consider this victory enough, against such difficult odds. But good actors, smart actors, ambitious actors want more – as they should. They have earned the right to that hunger after so much hard training and work.
This actor prided herself on being able to do most anything; possessing the flexibility of range to be broadly comedic, serious, “professional” (doctor, lawyer, detective) etc. She embodies ALL of that. And as actors I think it’s natural to want to have a wide range – it’s fun to be able to play more than one thing, one type, one emotion. That is, after all, what we are trained to do. After a lot of probing back and forth we got down to the fact that she didn’t know what was next, or how to get there. She did know, however, that she had plateaued and needed to forge a new road ahead.
I asked her a series of questions based on this premise: Imagine you are the star of your own show. Every week.
- What world is that show in?
- Where do you live?
- Who are you married to?
- ARE you married?
- What is your profession?
- What makes you laugh? Or cry?
- Do you have children?
- What drives you?
- What does your house or apartment look like?
- Who are your friends?
- What style of clothing do you wear?
- Etc……you get the idea.
In short – who are YOU? And why should we watch you every week?
For an actor who had always considered herself versatile and creatively flexible….this was not something she’d asked herself before: who are YOU, and why should we watch you every week? She has been happy to fit in where needed, rather than be “driving the train.”
I told her, “You’re the lead in a series, not the supporting player”. I don’t have a habit if saying things like that unless I totally believe them. In this case, I do.
From the standpoint of gaining artistic primacy, these are questions we should always ask. Consider this: stars often only do one thing; basically they can be very much the same from role to role. They exhibit a narrow range inside of which there is room to play. Not everyone is a Daniel Day-Lewis, Meryl Streep, or Christian Bale – or is allowed to be. Even actors of real range can be reduced to their core essence (their type) based often simply on looks – the “optics” they project as people, and (by extension) as artists.
So – what kind of actor are YOU? Do you “serve” the material? Or do you drive and dominate the material by virtue of your “personal DNA” – your creative fingerprint?
No matter where on the food chain you are, these are the important questions. These are the questions that, when asked, move you to the next level.
Do you want to “drive the train” or be a passenger?