Get a Real Job

My acting teacher recently shared with our class this story about why people become actors. It resonated with me so much that I got teary eyed and ran to the bathroom so no one else would see my red face. And now I share with you. It’s a tad long, but bear with me. It’s worth it.

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Get a Real Job: The Life of an Actor

You have no set schedule so filling your day can be a task unto itself. Don’t worry no one will pity you because the thought of not working a nine to five job sounds like heaven to the working class. I can assure you it’s not. Essentially you’re on call 24-7. Don’t plan on taking a vacation because sure enough as soon as you book a flight an important audition will magically appear.

You set a bunch of tasks to get you through the week, tentative plans get made with the possibility that they can (and will) be broken at a moments notice- much to the disdain of your friends.

Nothing happens for a week and just when you’re about ready to purchase a revolver and a sheet of plastic an audition comes in last thing at night for early the next morning. You open up the PDF and it’s 10 pages of dialog to be memorized for 12 hours from now. Ten minutes ago you were ready to shoot yourself out of boredom now you’re freaking out that you’ll make an absolute fool of yourself without adaquate time to get ready.

You cancel all your plans for the evening, and the next day then hunker down and do the work, slowly but methodically, learning your lines for the next morning. You’re playing a New Yorker from the streets, reformed drug addict and now an emo musician. You’ve just found out that your girlfriend- one you’ve had from childhood has been bashed to death with a baseball bat. Nice light fare…

You work on your accent, think about what you’re going to wear, what sort of mannerisms you may have, and what it would be like for the love of your life to have been tragically killed. You can’t spend too much time though as you’ve still got ten pages to memorize.

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You go to sleep thinking of your lines, wondering what effect such a tragic loss could have on your life- maybe you wake up in the middle of the night and have a quick look at your lines.  Next morning you get ready, raid your wardrobe, figure out what sort of  hairstyle an emo punk rocker would have before jumping in your car and driving the one-hour across town.

You get into the casting office and there’s either six identical looking guys ahead of you and another hour wait or they whisk you right in before you get a second to catch your breath. If you’re waiting- then for the next hour you’ll try to stay focused, try to keep yourself in a state of “F@#k, the most important person in my life was just bashed in the head with a baseball bat”, and not think “I’m not the unique snow flake I thought I was. I look exactly like everyone else in this room except- Shit, the guy sitting across from me has just spent six seasons on Entourage, I’ll never get this job”.

Finally your name gets called and even though you don’t sweat you’ve been doing so for the past hour, your heart rate is through the roof and whether you care for the job or not you’re inexplicably nervous.

You walk into the room and while  you’re trying to remain in a state of grief the chirpy casting director begins to talk to you about all things happy and wonderful. The room is probably 20 square feet and they’ve jammed in four producers, a writer, the director, the casting director and her assistant. You’re told that you’ll only be doing the first scene so while you spent precious time learning ten pages they only want you to do three.

The camera rolls, you say your lines to the forehead of the casting assistant who’s reading in a monotone voice and in 120 seconds it’s over. They either shower you with over the top grandiose praise, telling you how absolutely brilliant you are and how you’re destined to be the next Sean Penn or they look to their feet without muttering a word. Either way you awkwardly say your goodbyes, thank them for the opportunity and leave.

99 times out of a 100 you will never hear from them again. They call if you get the job and seeing that rarely happens they never call. You get in your car, still emotionally affected by the fact that the imagined love of your life just died and you begin the hour long drive back home.

For the next week anyone and everyone who heard you had an audition will ask you how it went, it’s the last thing you want to hear because A). The answer is always the same and B). You’ve just spent the last three days trying to forget about it. Now you’ll be wondering again, “Are they gonna call? Did I get it? I know I did a good job. I know I look right for the part. Maybe they haven’t decided yet? I bet it went to that shit actor from Entourage”.

All sorts of stupid thoughts go through your head, I’m shit, not good enough, not good looking enough for “Hollywood” too intense, too edgy, not mainstream enough. I’ll never get a job, why am I even wasting my time?

Enough of the negative thoughts you say, I’m going out for the night. You meet up with some friends, maybe hit on a girl or two. She asks what you do and you immediately cringe. “I’m an actor” you say. Which is always followed by a look of dread and a “Oh, not one of those”. Sometime’s it’s followed by a snide remark like “So what restaurant do you work at?” or “so, what have you been in?” That’s the worst question because whatever you have been in it’s immediately followed with “Oh, I don’t really watch TV” making you wonder why they asked in the first place.

You wake up the next day, the agent doesn’t call, nor the day after that and life goes on. Until the next phone call, the next anxiety attack and the next time you madly begin to learn your lines.

images-3Actors sacrifice everything; family, relationships, money, security and a whole host of other things the average nine to fiver takes for granted. It’s not because actors are scumbags or because they’re self centered assholes. It’s because they have a passion, and for whatever reason they can’t fathom life without it.

But we do it. Why? Because an actor worth his (or her) salt couldn’t possibly do anything else. It’s in their blood, and it’s what they live for. And on the rare occasion when they do get to work that’s when the magic begins, free to play and to explore the lives of others.