I’ve been accused of using too many sports analogies when talking about acting. Well, I’m a guy who likes sports. It’s what we do. Watching the Winter Olympics I marveled at how many non-Winter Olympics analogies were used by the announcers. It’s pretty hard to equate bobsledding to baseball, but they managed.
So now that spring is hitting it’s one of my favorite times of the year: spring training. Once a year I get to pretend the Orioles have a shot at being good and this is it. Watching some pre-season games I had a thought about the guys I was watching play: every one of those guys, with only incredibly rare exceptions, dominated every level of play they’ve been in before making it to a professional roster.
This is something I don’t think we appreciate enough. The guy who is in single-A ball (the lowest rung of still being attached to a professional team) was the star of his high school baseball team. Then he went to college where again he was a major star. Upon turning pro he was now in the company of many men all of whom were the best their whole lives on their respective teams. Despite all that, this guy may not ever make it to Camden Yards to get to play a single inning. The talent level of every one of the guys who wears a professional jersey is so high that even if you’re “the best” in Iowa it doesn’t mean you’re necessarily good enough to play with them.
Actors face a similar (but slightly different) system. Many of us start out acting in school. Think back, were you one of the top actors? Did you have trouble getting cast? Did you end up being the tree? If you didn’t get consistent work even at the lowest levels how do you expect to compete with the actors who’ve been at the top of their class everywhere they went?
This isn’t a perfect analogy as their are casting considerations. Even in high school I was a character actor so I didn’t get the huge glamorous parts of the romantic leads. That said I worked pretty consistently through high school and college and only had trouble getting cast in a college where they went out of their way to give first crack to their drama students (which I was not). I still got parts (good ones too) but it was tougher.
So you played Hamlet, Romeo and every other lead part in high school and college so you decide to come out to LA and be professional. Well guess what, so did the vast majority of the people you meet in LA who want to be actors. This is not the middle of Nebraska where there are three people competing for the role of Officer Krupke this is the “Superbowl of Acting” as an actor friend likes to say. If you can’t compete in the lower levels you stand no chance here.
I became an actor to become famous, rich and to be up to my neck in babes. Duh.
Since very few people visiting this site will bother to travel back to my very first posts I’ll do a ten second version of the story about what lead me to be a professional actor:
I’d been performing in stage productions from the time I was 7 at my schools/camps and really loved it but never thought it’d be a career choice. I went to high school in Los Angeles and even then loved drama and acting but didn’t think it would be in my future. It was just a hobby. I did what most decently smart people do after high school: I went to UC Santa Barbara and studied electrical engineering. Halfway through I decided I wasn’t loving electrical engineering and only was enjoying the plays and student films I was participating in. I (read: my parents) decided I should finish up my engineering degree and go back to LA upon graduation to start my acting career. A few jobs later, here I am.
That took longer than ten seconds, didn’t it? Next time skim.
What about acting appealed to me? Back in my early days it was simply fun. I got to play pretend, dress up and have people laugh at my jokes. That never went away but from a professional standpoint that isn’t really enough to drive someone to spend the decade it often takes to make a living acting (if ever).
First there’s the typical answer that “no two days are ever the same” and that’s true (except for days when you’re simply home waiting for the phone to ring). Even when you’re doing a play every show is different. If you feel like you’re going through the motions you’re probably no fun to watch anyway.
Second, it’s kind of exciting. Today I’m sitting at my computer in my boxers and tomorrow I might be auditioning for 24 or How I Met Your Mother. The day after that I could be on set with major stars working on some incredible project. Chances are that tomorrow I’ll also be at my computer in my boxers, but some days can be super-exciting. Every audition gets me excited. I always love to take a minute and enjoy the possibilities that each audition can bring.
Third, acting is incredibly challenging. There are two parts to acting that are very hard. The first is simply getting work. That’s darn near impossible. Once you conquer that the actual acting part is hard. It’s easy to watch a movie and see Tom Hanks having a romantic moment with pre-Botoxed Meg Ryan but it’s a whole other game to have 50 people on set watching your every move; focusing on blocking, your lines and what your co-star is doing; walking and stopping on a small piece of tape on the ground that you can’t look down to find; having a camera record your every twitch for millions of people to inspect while pretending to have that private moment with Meg Ryan who you may secretly not even like very much. That horribly structured sentence sums it up pretty well.
There’s very little glory in acting. If you want to be rich go into high finance. If you want to be famous go murder 50 people. If you want babes then you should figure out how to do that (I have no idea myself). Acting is fun but it’s a job and it’s a lot of hard stuff to get to the fun part. Plus you have to deal with endless questions of, “When are you going to get a real job?”