I happened to be home alone yesterday evening, so I settled in for a night of binge TV when a familiar face popped up. A young actor I worked with a couple of years ago was leading a new TV series. I was both pleased for them and immediately disgustingly jealous. Almost outraged. It was a strange emotion. Knowing how difficult this business is to crack, I would never begrudge any hard working actor their success, but I couldn’t help draw a comparison to my own career. Why don’t I have a TV series?!! I decided to ignore the fact that we are different ages and genders, and from different countries, and put it solely down to networking. Seemed reasonable.
I wish I could network. I really do. Some people, (usually the ones that get work) have mastered the art of it. They’ve an air about them. One that exudes confidence and charisma. One that is infectious, in a good way, not an Ebola kinda way. I fucking hate those people. It makes it all the more difficult for the anti social and indifferent arseholes, like myself, amongst the profession to get the jobs that these charmers are taking. I touched on it in my last rant, the ability to approach people and strike up a conversation is a valuable tool, but not one that all actors necessarily share. Networking is key to our survival as actors. I can say with absolute certainty that the bulk of my work has come through people I have met, or worked with before as opposed to new castings. With the amount of money invested into projects, productions want to work with people they trust. People they already know can do the job. So, if you’re not a marketable name, or a valuable commercial commodity to the project, the only thing that really separates you from the other thousand or so actors that fit your casting type, is who you know.
I appreciate, this isn’t rocket science. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, or providing you with that ‘Eureka’ moment where your like, “Wow. It’s all down to who I know. Why didn’t I think of that. I’ll just go and know some more people!!” Ultimately, that’s a really frustrating thing to hear, because I get it, if I was friends with Steven Spielberg or good chums with the leading casting directors, it might make it a little easier to slip into projects more often. The fact is, just by knowing its down to who you know, doesn’t make it any easier to know people.
It’s at this point I realise that I waste a lot of time ‘not networking.’ I began to evaluate how much time outside of working I actually invest into furthering my contact base. I glance up to the screen and watch my former co star, and remember that they had a way about them. I’m not sure the best way to describe it. They had a certain directness and an ability to suss who were the important people on set. They knew who to charm, and whilst cordial with everyone, very quickly formed a clique with the perceived power players. I thought it was brown nosing to the highest degree. A falseness, or arrogance that I have never been interested in. It’s worth pointing out that this person is mostly nice. There was no malice, no dismissive behaviour to anyone else, just an understanding of what and who to pay attention to. Where to feign interest. Personally, it’s a trait that I don’t seem to have. An boldness or desire to force my friendship upon people that could benefit me, and this ultimately led to me never building my own lasting relationship with this person, and in fact, secretly despising the fake behaviour I believed they were clearly displaying. It’s fair to say, we’ve never met up for a drink since we finished the job.
This behaviour must however be admired, as time again you see that it clearly works. I was suddenly aware that my networking skills are so sub par. Don’t get me wrong, over the years I have formed genuine bonds with some very talented and successful people, who fortunately have continued to use me in their projects, but I’m not pushing the boundaries and seeking new contacts. I begin to wonder what it is that I can and should be doing? What exactly does an anti social, belligerent actor, with limited commercial value do to force his way into the phone book of the industries decision makers? Rocking up to theatre shows is a way I guess. But I hate being that guy loitering around the bar area trying to crash a conversation between a casting director and the actor that they came to see. What’s my in? “Hey!! Excuse me. Hi. I am actor too. I wasn’t in this show, but, I’m really good.” It’s probably clear at this point that I’m not great at small talk, but maybe a simple, “Hey, what did you think if the show” would be a better start? I dunno.
I could go to more parties? But I’m too old to be hanging at the bar in some trendy members club on a midweek night, and too married to a normal person to do it at the weekends. Again, what would I actually say or do? I could rely on friends for intros, but I don’t really have many actor friends. Not ones I spend much time with. I like to socialise with normal people as much as possible during my down time. Actors do my head in. Always talking about themselves when we should be talking about me.
It all draws me to the inevitable conclusion that it’s a lot of effort doing a lot of things I currently don’t want to do. The credits roll on the show and I see my old friends name topping the bill and I think of the doors that are now open to her. I think of the money that she’s about to make. The exciting and rewarding work that she will throw herself into. I open my emails to read through the breakdown for the casting I have the next day. It’s a fringe venue play. It’s badly written. The money is shit. I sigh. Then, I have a moment of clarity. A flash of genius. I pick up my phone and look through the contacts until I find her name. No harm in sending her a little text now is there? I mean, I always liked her. Congratulations drinks are in order. Surely? She can bring all her new powerful buddies and I’ll network the shit out of them. Or something like that.
It happens more often than you’d think. I’m staring vacantly into space like a mindless vegetable, travelling around London by foot or on the tube when someone catches my eye and triggers me into the here and now.
It’s usually an actor. One I recognise, and 9/10, one I admire. They’re often not all that famous, hence why they’re still traveling on the tube with the rest of us plebs and not zipping around in a private car, but they are solid enough to land the jobs that draw them to my envious attention. Sometimes though they are famous. Like mega famous. Regardless of fame however, one inevitable question always arises. A question that has plagued the jobless, less successful actor since acting was a glint in Thespis’ eye. Do I acknowledge this recognition and seek their reciprocation? Or do I just leave them the fuck alone.
At the end of the day, actors are just people, and everyone likes to be recognised and acknowledged for a job well done, right? I appreciate there’s a time and a place though, and there’s a big difference between a casual nod as you pass someone in the street, to actually following Kenneth Branagh into Debenhams and waving your showreel in his face like a madman. That didn’t go down well, and I won’t be doing it again. Probably.
The point is though, that for me, and the other desperate idiots amongst us, this can often prove to be an excruciating moment of anxiety ridden awkwardness.
There’s a desire to let this person know that you admire their work. There’s also a need for them to know that you are an actor as well. Albeit a far less successful one. It’s as if them knowing this useless fact will somehow validate you.
There’s also no real reason to interrupt their day, when you simply have nothing more to dribble out, than, “I fink your really good. I do acting good too.” What are you expecting to come from that? A new best friend?
If you’re lucky, the moment passes you before you have time to react. You walk away safe in the knowledge that you just sauntered past Kathy Burke and you left her alone.
Less fortunate are you when you have time to evaluate the situation. A tube ride or queue at the supermarket. Here, my manic thought process has time to list the pros and cons of engaging this person. I tie myself up in knots over what is undoubtedly an instantly forgettable moment for the other actor. A non moment in the grand tale of their life.
But, you see, I have a dream. It’s a pretty simple one, because I’m a pretty simple chap it seems. I dream that one day, some random person will approach and engage me out of the blue and say, “Hey. You’re that guy. You’re really great.” Then they’re off, like some sweet little ego boosting Angel. Gone. Never to be seen again. That would be cool.
I feel like I pulled that very same cool guy trick off once. I found myself sat next to Sam Spruell on the tube shortly after the release of ‘London to Brighton’ and I felt compelled to casually nod to him and let him know that he was truly excellent in that film. It was received warmly, and I have no doubt was probably one of the first of many acknowledgements he got, before he went all Hollywood and shit.
I’m usually less cool. Shockingly less cool. I can barely bring myself to recall the time I struck up a conversation and discussed brands of rice with Rosamund Pike in Sainsbury’s like some sweaty little cretin. Mortifying isn’t the word.
Although, to my credit, I feel as though she liked it, as I seem to see her constantly now. I fear that she stalks me. I passed her silently again last week outside a small toy shop, whilst she was no doubt waiting for me, pretending her children were interested in the toys in the window. She’s not fooling anyone. I know her tricks.
But, you see, ultimately there’s nothing to fear about letting another actor know that you like their work, because while there’s nothing to gain from it, other than perhaps some good karma, there’s also nothing to lose either, so, why not.
I’m still waiting for my moment. The day someone recognises me for my work. I feel like I’ve come close a couple of times.
Some bloke recognised me from work once. But that was because I worked behind the bar in his local pub whilst I was ‘resting.’
Another time, a film I was in was received particularly well in Asia, and when on holiday in Beijing I almost convinced myself that everyone wanted their picture taken with me because I was a big star there, and not because they were visiting Beijing from a rural province and had never seen a live white person before.
Closer to home, a friend of one of my buddy’s was particularly excited to talk to me. He had recognised pictures of me. Pictures apparently on firebox and Instagram. I don’t even have firebox or Instagram accounts. Pictures of me with my Cat it turns out. He was delighted to have met the owner of the awesome cat that he had been following via my friend’s photo posts.
So, I guess I have a way to go, but I’m getting closer. Maybe next time I’ll just get mistaken for someone else? They’ll think I’m Daniel Beddingfield or something. Until then, I’ll just keep accosting other actors on public transport and in supermarkets like some jittery halfwit longing for the day that some oaf approaches me in the frozen section of Lidl and tries to hug me.
It’s a pretty universally acknowledged and accepted notion that British actors receive the best training in the world. You only have to look at the current crop of Hollywood darlings to know that being British is a good thing.
But being British, one dimensional and from a wealthy family is seemingly an even better thing.
That, however, is another rant for another day.
Because, aside from the success of your Redmayne’s, Cumberbatch’s and Hiddlestones’, there are a couple of slightly rougher, grittier chaps that have really paved the way for others to follow over the past decade.
Tom Hardy and Christian Bale specifically. These two lads are powerhouses. Physically and in terms of the gravitas that they bring to their roles. They have lots in common. They’re both working class. They’re both ruggedly handsome. They’re both INCREDIBLY intense about their craft, and perhaps most noteworthy, they both love doing a voice.
It’s almost as if when crafting a character, finding the nuances that make that person tick, their work is never done until the character has some strange voice, or accent. Something that really shows off that they are ‘doing good acting.’
Bale usually likes to drop his voice about 10 octaves. Doesn’t matter who the character is, it usually requires that he speaks like he’s just swallowed a mouthful of glass.
Hardy prefers to take a different route. He’d like it if you didn’t understand a fucking word he says. If you come out of the cinema without having detected a single line of audible dialogue, then Tom feels as though he’s done his job.
The Revenant, as muscular and brooding as his performance was, left me none the wiser as to what he was wanging on about amidst the heavy southern accented grunts and mumbles.
Fortunately, this, as brutally compelling as it was, was not a film in which you needed much dialogue or character backstory in order to follow the narrative. However, one key piece of character information is surely forever lost, as his re telling of Leo’s past indiscretions early on in the movie left me filling blanks between, “maaaayan, had guyun, and boy. Kieyelled maaan.”
Anyway, I digress. Clearly he’s doing something right.
I find myself staring in the mirror and wondering what it is that is holding my career back, and I draw the obvious conclusion that it must be because I’m not doing a voice. I should start looking at doing a voice. Definitely do a voice.
As luck would have it, a mere 24 hours after I had this eureka moment, my agent calls with great news. I have a meeting with arguably the hottest casting director in the business the following morning. It’s a feature. A big one too.
It’s a nice, but simple part. I’m reading for one half of a double act. A white cop and a black cop, and as the sides come through I get all of my prep done. I’m playing two scenes opposite the lead and one of them will be pretty memorable, of that I have no doubt. I’m feeling good.
I arrive at the casting and an greeted by the CD them-self. We have a quick chat, and I’m told that ill be reading in a pair.
I check my watch, I’m not early. My scene partner is no where to be found, but there is another white guy sitting outside the room with me. We give the nod. That “good luck” nod. The one that really means, “Why don’t you just fuck off mate?”
The CD pops their head out of the door and decides that to stay on schedule, the two of us should just read together. Play it through once as each character. Im to read the White character I’ve actually prepared for first. Bonus.
The scene is short and sweet, and in fairness, dominated by the other character, so I keep it simple. We play the scene a couple of times and I’m pretty happy with it.
Time for the ol’ switcheroo and I re familiarise myself with the other lines.
It’s at this point, I hear, somewhere in the back of my mind the mumbled and graveled tones of my peers, Messieurs Bale and Hardy. Calling out to me, almost Ben Kenobi esq. “Do it. Do a voice. Show them your range. Show them that you can switch, effortlessly.”
At this point, perhaps I should of told Chris and Tom to shut the fuck up. I hadn’t prepared a voice. I’d be totally winging this. But I didn’t. I went with it.
“Let’s be brave. Let’s make a bold choice,” I told myself.
The scene began and my partner fed me his line. I opened my mouth and something happened. Something bad happened. This voice came out. I’m not sure from where, but it was there.
It was gruff, like Frank Butcher smoking a cigar. It’s was also a little ethnic. It was fucking horrendous. My brain went into panic mode as I realised what was happening, but we were already into the scene so I had to stick with the voice. It, as mad as it sounds would probably have been worse to drop it now. I had to plow on.
We ran through to the end of the scene and the casting director gave me a look. Not a good one. “Okay, couple of notes. Remember you are talking to a young woman who’s just been attacked. Perhaps don’t be so hard. A little softer.”
I’m frazzled now, but really should be experienced enough to pull this round.
We run it again. My mouth opens, and something worse happens. I’m so mortified at what I had just done, I over compensate and turn into some creepy child catcher, way too overly soft and friendly. The type that’s going to drug your water, and you’ll wake up chained to the radiator in his basement whilst he dresses as a woman and makes you watch him perform his favorite pop songs.
The meeting ends, and not a moment too soon. I thank the casting director that I no doubt will never see again, and give a sympathetic nod of apology to the poor fucker that had to just read opposite me. Pretty sure I lampooned his chances as well.
I arrive home thoroughly miserable. I’m such an idiotic boob. Doing a voice doesn’t work. You couldn’t understand Hardy in The Revenant. Why would anyone want to copy that?
I check Twitter to see that Tom’s just gotten an Oscar nomination. My mood lifts instantly. You never know. You just never know. Maybe the casting director totally digged my bizarre racist and inappropriate character work today. Maybe. Highly unlikely. Deeply improbable. But just maybe.
Like most struggling, no mark actors, there’s little I enjoy more than beating down my self esteem by strapping myself in and watching back to back episodes of Entourage. Dreaming that one day it’ll be me and the two useless idiots I knock about with living it up in LA. Bouncing effortlessly from meeting to meeting, money literally blowing out of my pockets. I’ll fill my time partying and deciding which project I want to do next.
I spend a lot of time watching films. An inordinate amount of time watching films. Ive seen the films ‘you’re supposed to have seen,’ the classics if you will. I’ve seen the popcorn flicks that you can literally switch your brain off during, mindlessly consume, and then watch again, and just because I’m such a thorough chap, I’ve also seen the films that no one should ever be subjected to, classics in their own right, albeit for entirely different reasons. There is, however, one common theme runs through all of these films. One thing that intrinsically links them together. I’m probably not in them. Any of them.
You see, I am an actor. A proper one, I should point out. Not some lad that says he’s an actor to try and impress people because he’s unemployed. Although, currently I am unemployed. In fact, usually, I am unemployed. But, whatever, I am like a proper trained actor and shit, yeah.
I somehow fall into that very small percentage of actors that didn’t make it big. You might be amazed to know that at 90% of the time, 90% of actors are unemployed. Boo hoo right? Get a real job, knuckle down, smile through gritted teeth and accept mediocrity like everybody else. Perhaps. But actors are a strange breed. Gluttons for punishment, and suitably, there are more than enough people out there to facilitate our self chastising.
I remember vividly holding my grandmothers hand as we sat down at the YMCA theatre in the small town I grew up in to watch Agatha Christie’s, ‘And then there were none,’ played out by the local amateur dramatics society. I was utterly captivated. I must have been about 7 years old, but the majesty of the production (no doubt in hindsight simply nothing more than a few MDF door frames, some battered old furniture and Fred the greengrocer playing Phillip Lombard) stayed with me, and inspired me to want to become an actor.
I look back upon that day with mixed feelings. A reverence that it was, on that day, at that performance, that my path was laid down before me, that a passion was lit so bright within me that it would literally see me abandon all shame in years to come. I also look back at that moment and wish I’d fallen asleep before it started, or more pertinently, jumped up onto stage and kicked old Fred in the nuts, as a forewarned punishment for sending me down this crapshoot and into struggling anonymity.
You see, for every Leonardo De Caprio, there’s one thousand Billy Boggins’. For every Jennifer Lawrence, there’s one thousand Katie Smith’s. Who are Billy Boggins and Katie Smith you may ask? Who the fuck cares? And that is the point.
I look around at my peers as we scratch around like demented chimps for any kind of work that we can get, and I often find myself watching as though it were happening to someone else. Was that really me that just spent the last 20 minutes in a waiting room with 15 other people that all look exactly like me, to then stand infront of a casting director and grin like a fool whilst they explain in intricate detail the most basic task. A task that even my tiny little brain is able to comprehend.
“There is a frisby flying through the air, I want to you to follow it with your eyes, and then reach up and catch it. Then, and this bit is REALLY IMPORTANT. I want you to imagine that someone is stood off camera, but they won’t really be there, okay? But imagine it, and then throw them the frisby back. Can you do that?”
My brain melts into a dribble that I fear will begin to leak out of my ears as the absurdity of my life becomes evident, but then I realise that this job is worth about 5k to me for one days work, and I do my very bestest frisby acting.
What really cuts deep however, is the knowledge that you probably won’t get that job. It’s not your fault either. It’s not, as you may fear, that you have been out fisbied, or that you lacked the ability to convincingly move your eyes from right to left, but the simple truth that one of you had that job the minute you walked in the room. The right hair, the right look, the right fit to sell whatever piece of nonsense you were there for.
Life becomes a ritual of self humiliation. Prancing around your bedroom in your pants as you practice driving in your imaginary car, or drinking your imaginary beverage ready for tomorrows commercial casting, or, on good days, being a vigilant little worker and studying the sides of dialogue for the supporting role you are reading for.
I find that on movie castings, character size is a good barometer to project quality. How big is the part you are reading for?
- The lead role? – Oh dear, you’re the lead? This will be a big steaming pile of dogshit. Not because you’re not great, you probably are. But who in their right mind casts Billy Boggins in the lead role of an anywhere decent feature film? Only someone with no money, or a rubbish script. Do it for the experience. Hate it. Never do it again.
- Chief Supporting character? – Okay, maybe its a character piece, something specific that sets you aside that this character needs. Ethnicity? A particular skill? If not… see above.
- A couple of scenes? – Now we’re talking. This is probably a pretty decent project, solid TV or a mid budget film. This is where the bulk of us live. That netherworld between being what most people think is a real working actor, and what my next door neighbour Amy thinks, who tells she might decide to be an actor one day. Fuck you Amy. Fuck you.
- One line? – So you’ve only got one line? Well, that sucks, because you went to Drama school for 4 years and accrued a shit load of debt, but if that one line is with Brad Pitt in his latest epic, then that’s cool. It’s work. If however your one line is in a film that has cast Billy Boggins in the lead role, you should probably stop, take a breath and reflect. Something has gone very wrong.
You see, the biggest enemy the struggling actor, like me faces, can be summed up in one simple sentence. “We are looking for a name.”
What name? What name? Tell me what name you are looking for and I will literally change mine to that via deed pole right now.
The reality is that in order to secure financing for any decent film, or in order to ensure that production companies and broadcasters are able to green light an original television project, marketable stars need to be attached to guarantee audience and revenue.
I get that. I totally get that you wouldn’t put a film into the theatres and expect any kind of return on investment when the lead is played by our good friend Billy Boggins. You need your star names for that.
By extension, if you have a smaller budget, you can only afford a smaller name, but a name none the less. This is all still totally reasonable and understandable, and it allows actors coming through to raise their profile and prove themselves to be valuable commodities and assets to future productions. It’s a natural evolution and growth and it’s healthy for the business. What makes no sense is in that, that bullshit hierarchy remains in place as you move further down the chain. Supporting characters being played by pop stars or even on the rarest of occasions, vapid morons lifted from reality television like some confused child and given a platform to make a complete hash of a part that could have otherwise served to enhance the credits of a real actor. They are, however in the most bizarre of circumstances more valuable to that film though than you, because they have a name. A name that people at home know.
Performers like me, we become wiry survivalists, able to feed off of the meekest of career scraps, finding those moments of pure joy when the occasional big job is booked, and burying the anxiety that festers within as we spend the rest of our time speaking gobbledegook for some tedious corporate video.
I have had my notable successes though, it must be said. My friends parents no longer ask me ‘How’s the acting thing going?’ Upon reflection, is this because they have seen my gurning mug plastered on their television over the years, or is it because they have simply lost all interest or the will to listen to me babble on about some job I’m ‘waiting to hear back about.’
A few of my friends have warmed to the idea that I might have actually ‘made it’ now because they also have had the opportunity to see me actually doing something, and because I have a nice home and a partner. Little do they know, that this morning I contemplated applying for a job at a car wash.
My Dad, bless him, supports my fruitless endeavours whole heartedly, but still irritatingly refers to me as an aspiring actor. Aspiring? That makes me sound like some little numpty who woke up this morning and started telling people he was going to be an astronaut. I have actually dedicated best part of a decade to this Pop! then I realise that it only irritates me because it’s true. I am aspiring. Still aspiring. Always aspiring.
So, as I look at the current state of my miserable career, I find myself once again reaching for the remote control and settling in to watch a film. A film not featuring me. Those fuckers are like gold dust. A mere whisper of them and they vanish into the ether. I pretend I watch films ‘for research.’ But that’s probably not true. I watch films, because deep down that fire that lit within me all those years ago still burns bright, undiminished by perpetual knockbacks and opportunities agonisingly out of reach. I watch films because I won’t give up the pursuit of my dreams. I watch films because I can’t give up. I watch films because one day I’ll be watching a film and I will finally be watching me.