An Actor’s Most Guarded Secret

This week: Defending Your Duration Data

My partner and I recently returned from a weekend at an all-male, gay, campground in the mountains of Pennsylvania. (For family in the know, it’s the one with the big green, wooden gate and bunny under the pine tree. ‘Nuff said.)

O.K. so what have my too-close-for-comfort encounters with randy bears and wolves in the woods have to do with actors? There’s an unspoken truth; one closely guarded common secret held secure both by many actors and nearly all gay men. Their true age.

Whenever the other half and I go to this particular campground (or any gay gathering) we’re always asked, “How long have you two been together?” Knowing that my sidekick protects his age with more secrecy than his ATM pin number I created a reply that would respect his privacy and give a true answer as to how long we’ve been together. Until January of this year I was able to respond with, “Three Presidents long.” This leaves for a lot of confusion for the questioner each and every time. Why? First we’ve been graced, for now, with looking younger than our numerical existence on this spinning ball of turf and tides. Second, the sources of inquiry always struggle to recall their American Presidents. Now that we’ve been together for four Presidents long, maybe I can give some slack to the executive office recall challenged. But when it was three Presidents long how much more difficult is Bush, Clinton, Bush? Two disasters sandwiching a stain.

Once the questioner matches math to history then comes their shock which amuses both me and my partner. “When did you guys meet? When you were thirteen?!” To which the beau quickly quips back with, “No. We met in the womb.” And that usually quells further inquiry to what is really desired by the questioner; our ages.

Actors often get similar round-a-bout questions in auditions by the hiring personnel in pursuit of discovering an artist’s age. The most common coy ploy is directors and casting asking the actor when they graduated college. When I ask that question I do it in order to recall if I saw the actor in their graduating showcase. When some other directors do it they may be asking just for sake of conversation. Often it’s to determine age. (So you “older” actors may want to take the year you graduated off of your resume).

Years ago one of my audition assistants, also a friend and actress, told me her age. I was floored. I thought she was ten years younger than what she had reveled. I continue not to think of her as her numerical age. Despite my ability to view her still as younger than the number of years accumulated since her birth I know not to reveal her age to anyone; especially my partner who now represents her.

As I covered extensively in my book ACTING: Make It Your Business there are times when an actor will be asked directly what their age is. The answer to give, if any at all? If you’ve read AMIYB, then you know the answers already. If you haven’t read my book… well, just like my age, some things I don’t give up freely (and that goes also for randy bears in the woods).

My Best,


Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher and former actor has spanned nearly thirty years. He has worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul has taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU and has spoken at universities including Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He writes a column for Back Stage and is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit


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