“It’s all about the work.” This mantra is reverentially put forth by many actors, teachers of acting, directors, etc, as if that should alone be enough. This self-effacing statement is only half true – possibly less than half true. Yes, of course it’s about the work. Duh. That’s a given. Yes…and? What else is it about?
“The work” is what you do. Your work is just the ante in the poker game that is your career. You have to put up the ante to be in the game at all. So, simply put, “the work” is what you do with your innate talent, training, intelligence, and artistic judgement.
Again, what else is it about? Simply stated it’s about you, it’s about who you are; your “personal fingerprint”. It’s literally about your DNA. It’s chemical.
Acting (and auditioning) on camera is an identity-based art form. I’ve been to many auditions where they could clearly have cast a particular role many times over if talent alone was the sole determinant of success. Those waiting rooms are often filled with significant talent. They are filled with “good work”. I’ve taught classes with superb talent in abundance. Yet, only a small percentage of us succeed to any great degree. Why?
First of all, there is this huge factor called luck. Let’s all acknowledge that. Again, if you’re in the hunt long enough, you will get lucky – at some level. Again, that’s a given.
Here’s the “emmes” (the Yiddish word for truth): With talent in abundance, who you are often trumps what you can do (i.e. “the work”). It’s not right or wrong. It just is. People who personally resonate often win the day. I’ve used this extreme example in my class: how else can you explain an actor like Seth Rogen? I really like Seth Rogen. A lot. But he clearly is a triumph of identity over traditional actor skills. He probably can’t play Hamlet (or if he did…it’d be a VERY different “Hamlet”)! But he’s the absolutely best most indelible Seth Rogen on the planet. His worldview, his sense of self is immediately evident because he has disabused himself of the notion that he has to play someone other than himself. Seth Rogen’s “work” is 100% personal and identity-based. But for every Seth Rogen there’s also a Daniel Day-Lewis. For every Will Ferrell there’s a Javier Bardem. For every Melissa McCarthy there’s an Emily Blunt. The actor’s impactful identity is always “dancing” with the work, the skill, the ability to transform.
The fact that film acting is in part an identity-based art form in no way negates the importance of great acting, talent, or skill. It does not negate “the work”. However, it’s part of the landscape of the world we’ve signed up for – a very important part, perhaps the crucial part. Understand this: “the work” is not enough. In fact it’s the bare minimum, at the professional level. Ultimately it’s luck, fate, hard work, and the dominant and fully-developed you that you present to the world which makes the difference. If you can become a great actor and cultivate real personal resonance, that’s the “creative home run.”
The lesson? If you’re experiencing a lack of success, yet you’re all about “the work”….. get on the path to marrying that great work with your authentic and fully-explored self. Don’t use your hard-won artistry as a reason for failing. “They just don’t get me.” The “emmes”? They will get you, only when you get you.
Go get acquainted with yourself.