The Academy Awards were the talk of the nation (certainly of this town) this past weekend. I didn't watch - I recorded a voiceover audition, read a script, and prepared for two auditions. I applaud the Oscar nominees and winners for their accolades, because I know first-hand how tough this business is, but I'm not at that point, and I have to continue to do my work.
A week and a half ago, a friend & former Sanford Meisner Center classmate of mine asked me to come and speak to the students at Weist Barron Hill, where he now teaches The Meisner Technique. My teacher, Martin Barter, who was Sanford Meisner's protege for many years before Sandy passed away, was there. It was a full-circle moment: 10 years ago, I completed the 2-year Meisner program. 10 years ago, it was I who sat bright-eyed, eagerly awaiting nuggets of wisdom that I could use on my journey. Today, to my knowledge, I am the only student from that particular graduating class (numbering twenty-something students) that currently works as an actor.
Armed with that info, and the hindsight that comes with time and experience, I told the class of beginning actors something like this:
1.) Do. The. Work. - The work is about stripping away artifice and being completely, nakedly honest in the moment and in the given circumstance (or "scene"). This will make you a great actor and a much more aware individual.
2.) Understand the business. - It takes more than great cooking to run a viable restaurant, and it takes more than just great acting to run a viable acting career. If you are waiting for somebody to discover you or if you have a bad attitude toward anything that you deem to be unbefitting a great ac-TOR (say that in your best Sir Laurence Olivier voice to get the full effect), then good luck with that. Don't like to audition/ do workshops/ take classes/ do commercials/ drop off headshots/ etc.? Well, that's the gig, babe. There's FAR more business than show in show business. Learn it or you are putting yourself at a serious disadvantage.
3.) Don't take things personally. - This is Hollywood. It's about money. "Hollywood Beautiful" sells. "Skinny" sells. "Caucasian" is always in season. "Young" is the flavor of the month, and "blonde" is perennial fave. When you are struggling to pay your rent, it feels VERY personal. But it isn't. It's so not about you. Unless you're a jerk. Then it might be about you. Fix that.
4.) Take care of yourself. - This business is a grind. Hollywood is made up of many (nice and not-so), but the Hollywood System is a machine. You will NEVER keep up with the machine. Be very specific about the actions that you take, and take care not to burn yourself out. Take a sanity break if you need to. Get a therapist if you need to. Take care of your physical health. Do what you need to do to keep a roof over your head and food in your fridge so that you can do your work without "The Neuroses Demon" yelling "So, we gonna eat scripts for dinner tonight?!?" into your ear (which, by the way, makes it very hard to memorize lines). I can't say it enough: "Take care of yourself." This probably should have been point # 1...
5.) Find your tribe. - When you tell people "I'm an actor." They generally don't believe that acting is a "real" job, nor understand what being an actor entails. That leads to all sorts of comments, some innocent, some not, that can feel like death by a thousand cuts if you don't have a good support system.
The best thing that I can say here and now was already said by Oscar Winner, Lupita Nyong'o this past Sunday: "No matter where you're from, your dreams are valid."
Stay on your path, and get to know others who are genuinely (I said "genuinely") walking in the same direction. Sometimes they'll carry you, and sometimes you'll carry them. Nobody makes it alone - the terrain is treacherous and unforgiving.
6.) Understand that "fame" and "the craft" are two different things. - If you are acting because you want to be famous... :blank stare:
There are much easier ways to be famous. By Instagramming yourself licking the rear passenger-side tire of every pink-mustachio'd car in L.A., for example. That's much easier than becoming famous by being an actor. Much.
This career is too hard to do if you don't love it. It requires TOO. MUCH. Too much time, money, energy, time away from loved ones... so much. You have to love it, and that love will sustain you through the rough times.
Remember when I said that the work is about stripping away artifice? Well, that brutal honesty with yourself will help to ground you when the accolades come. When people start to recognize you and tell you how good you are. When people want to get close to you because they've seen you on the screen.
If you've done the work, you'll know that it's still not about you, because most of these people don't even KNOW you. It's about the work. That knowledge alone will humble you. You are a servant of the work. A vessel. Say "thank you." Pat yourself on the back, and treat yourself to a little something special for having been diligent in doing your work. Tell your team and your tribe how much you appreciate them, their hard work, and their belief in you, and then go back to memorizing your lines or fighting traffic to get to your audition.
Because THAT, my little chickadees, is the gig.