“Have I seen you in anything famous?”
The question actors dread most when replying to a civilian’s inquiry as to what career the actor toils in.
When I was an actor I hated the question.
As a director, and casting director with household name credits I still somewhat despise the question because being a talking resume blasts my self-indulgent meter to red. Recently when asked ‘the question’ by a civilian I thought I could avoid the “What-have-you-done-that-I’ve-seen-to-validate-your-career-claim reply” by cleverly answering, “author.”
His reply, “Written anything famous?”
So, how does a journeyman actor (one in which their face is not a household name) answer the “You’re only an actor if, I, the inquisitor of your livelihood recognizes such?”
My best advice comes from a snippet from my manuscript Wicked Journeys:
Jude scanned the studio. “How do you survive without a TV or place to sit or sleep?”
“I do okay with the floor and futon.” Michael shrugged. “Who needs a TV when ya got YouTube?”
“Whatta ya do when not downsizing?”
Michael chomped on a cookie, trying to delay an answer. His marriage to his craft often prompted civilians—non-actors—to ask, “Oh, you’re an actor? What’ve I seen you in?” Michael resented the repeated inquiry. Mere fame didn’t validate a career. “Actors and celebrities are vastly different creatures. One starves to fulfill a void. The other has a void that starves for fulfillment.” When civilians insisted that only famous actors were actors, he countered with, “Not every chef hosts reality TV. Some actually cook.” Embarrassed of having been chronically unemployed for a year, he ultimately answered Jude, “I work in construction.”
Jude’s eyebrows rose. “Really?” he said. “How butch.”
Construction, his father’s tedious toil, was the first civilian malady for economic survival other than the truth Michael could manufacture. Not comfortable with his fib, he asked Jude what he did.
Oh, fuck, Michael thought. How unattractive. And now Michael would have to worry about the best time to confess his true profession. After initial dates? Upon moving in together? When shopping for table settings? Stop it, Michael berated himself. You’re a barnacle latching on, like Eths says. He’s only bought you a drink. Probably with the last twenty he’ll see this month. “Actor, huh?” Michael returned. He stumbled for conversation. “Um . . . been in anything I might have—?” Michael stopped. He wanted to slap himself for having blurted the question he and many actors resented. “I’m sorry. Let’s pretend I didn’t ask that, and you didn’t hear.”
Why? Come up with a good answer, DeMaio, Michael thought. A lie. “Because . . . um . . .” Again, an effective fib eluded him. This lying shit is hard work. No wonder FOX News’ anchors look ancient. “I’m . . . friends with an actor. He hates getting asked about what’s on his résumé by non-actors. He thinks people expect actors to have a shitload of recognizable credits.”
“Your friend needs balls. He shouldn’t care what others think. Do you think he believes himself to be an actor?”
“That’s all that matters, right?”
“When you tell people you’re in construction, do you feel the need to list what you’ve built?”
“I’ve often wondered about returning that kind of question to civilians.”
Jude halted prying cookies. “Civilians?”
Oops. Fuck. Michael displayed he knew actor-speak. How many actors does it take to lie? One to screw it up and hundreds to claim they could lie better. “Isn’t that what you actors call us?” he corrected.
If you, like Michael, are uncomfortable with the “What have I seen you in” query, then more than likely you’re uncomfortable with having confidence in your conviction for your art.
Be proud of every achievement gained. There is no large or small; every step in your journey is equal unless you empower others to grade your elevations.
Careers, unlike parking receipts, do not need to be validated.
Casting Directors, Talent Agents, Directors & Actors
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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 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 www.PaulRussell.net.
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