How Actors Have Better Careers | Answers for Actors

Talent representatives often share with me similar frustrations. They have clients who think that being ‘an actor’ makes them know best – over ‘the-business-of-show people’ — about the business. And the actors who refuse to listen do such for so long that a resistance against growth builds like wax clogging the inner ear canal:

This week: Actors Avoiding Advice

Paul Russell
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Shut up & listen!

That abrasive instructive was the original title to ACTING: Make It Your Business. (Random House / Back Stage Books nixed it because “acting” was absent in the phrase.) But the emotion behind the in-your-face declaration was how I deeply felt – like many of my colleagues on this side of the audition table — when it comes to a percentage of actors,  continually belligerent, who shoot themselves repeatedly in their career’s foot because they refuse to heed cautions or advisories. These career gimped don’t listen and often blame others for fault. Blunders for which they refuse to accept responsibility.

My mantra above in this blog’s banner and at the beginning of ACTING: Make It Your Business which begins with, “Everything I say is right. Everything I say is wrong”, is not a caveat for me to hide behind for when someone disagrees with me. It’s honestly how I feel about nearly all subjective advisories. But there are times when “Take what works for you” is for some; inaction or a just-say-no attitude.

There are those among us, civilians and artists, who refuse to listen to supportive input offered and in doing so stay mired in whatever muck is presently their life. I’ve seen this behavior during my years of directing, casting and teaching. Unfortunately I’m not a lone witness.

Talent representatives often share with me similar frustrations. They have clients who think that being ‘an actor’ makes them know best – over ‘the-business-of-show people’ — about the business.  And the actors who refuse to listen do such for so long that a resistance against growth builds like wax clogging the inner ear canal:

– There was an actress who had signed up for my Access to Agents seminar awhile back whose wax build up neither advice nor swab could dislodge. Her resume was bloated with irrelevant and falsified items including community theater credits listed under the heading of ‘Broadway’. Her Sears Portrait Studio headshot was fodder for the freak-file. On first glance at the actress’ marketing materials I knew that the agents attending the seminar would harshly dissent upon her marketing misfires. I urged the actress to restructure her resume. Get new headshots. She refused. The agents? All of them wrote in their feedback unflattering commentary about the stubborn actress’ picture and resume debacle. When I privately gave the actress the agents’ reaction her response was, “Well, they’re not the right agents for me.” As long as she continues to think she knows best and refuses to listen NO ONE will be right for her.

– An actor at an agency was not happy that he’d not been getting appointments via his champions. So he called for a meeting of the minds. The actor accused the agents of being lax in their duties. They responded by showing him a lengthy list of projects they had submitted him for over the prior three months. When the actor suspiciously queried why he had not received appointments for a number of the projects, the agents explained that casting directors were not open to offering the actor an opportunity. The actor then requested that the agents call the casting directors regarding feedback on his most recent auditions.

The agents complied.

The response? Resoundingly negative.

When the agents relayed the requested casting director feedback to the unhappy actor he blamed his agents citing, “Well, if you had gotten me more appointments I wouldn’t audition so poorly.” (Uh-huh. Department of Delusion ringing on line two.) Several days later the agency dropped the “It’s not my fault” actor. Actors married to fantasy who have as their honeymoon an attitude of denial and dismissal for growth are not welcomed anywhere.

– While attending another casting director’s seminar as a guest, the CD related a story about one of his students who refused to follow instructions. The guidance ignored? That for a panel of agents the actor prepare a screen scene requested by the attending agents. The actress balked and insisted she do a monologue from a theatrical piece. This was not format material the agents required. So the actress, refusing to listen, failed in advancing her career and the agents unflinchingly let the stubborn actress know this upon the conclusion of the unwanted monologue.

You know… it’s not like I and others, who reach out and assist actors to strengthen their foundation for a better career, recline in overstuffed chairs while sipping Café Vanilla Frappuccinos and overtly muse between caffeine slurps, “Well, I know best, you’ll do what I say.” (O.K. there are some of my deluded peers who do that but not all.) For those who refuse to listen did you ever stop to ponder what is our return for offering advice? It’s certainly not money. Not ego. Speaking for myself, my reward is joy for the success of others. (Pollyanna? Yes, I have my moments but don’t you dare tell a soul. I know where you virtually-live. And does your mother know what you’re doing with those fingers on your keypad???)

Information for betterment when utilized is for the sole benefit of the advised not the adviser.

Yes there are many conflicting opinions in this industry. That’s life. But if you keep hearing the same critical observation(s) made repeatedly about your action(s) and/or inaction(s) then wouldn’t you be wise to stop– open the ears and mind? Consider that the challenge(s) you encounter may exist because of how you pursue. Or refuse to accept:

– There was a student who bemoaned to me that she had been coached by too many industry-insiders. (She didn’t seem to realize that she was the one asking and paying for the ‘advice overload’.) Not happy with the sages prior the actress sought me seeking a differing answer which would magically end her prolonged career stagnation. When I inquired what insight the litany of prior, reputable industry advisers had provided her I noticed a trend. Their reactions, as alleged by her, had been that she was obstinate and felt entitled to a career that did not match her skills and product. (Not every waiter can don a tux in service for Le Cirque. Not every actor who grazes at a craft services table deserves an Oscar.)

When I asked why she wasn’t taking the alleged previous advice and moving towards advised options better suited for her skill set she hotly shot back, “No one is giving me answers!” Yes they are, dear. You just refuse to shut up and listen, and act on what is being repeatedly offered. Repeat advisories from variegated voices to a singular situation usually indicates the singular is experiencing a self-induced, set, behavioral pattern– not déjà vu. I politely voiced my observation. Her reaction of course was not puppy dog tails and cinnamon swirls.

For all of us: It is our honest objectivity — devoid of ego and stubborn allegiance to past behavior – that will advance our objectives. Shut up and listen. Someone may be saying something of worth.

Now a side note: A great number of regular readers missed the last post about agents, casting and the less-than-reputable persons masquerading as talent reps. I encounter actors who ask “How come I haven’t seen your blog recently?”

There’s a solution; become a free subscriber and you’ll never miss a post. There are several options in the right hand column. Choose one and be informed to keep your career moving. Shut up & listen. (I just had to go there… I really liked that original title for my first book ACTING: Make It Your Business. Oh, well. Next!)

My Best,

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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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