One of the amazing things about working with so many different actors at The BGB Studio and in the casting room is that we see so clearly just how similarly you all feel. Sure, your careers go through highs and lows at different times, but you all feel the same sense of not being enough, of questioning your talent, and of wanting to be accepted. Our business brings with it heartache, and many of you allow that heartache to rob you of your happiness and forget the joy that comes with doing what you do. Here are a few tips on how to be a happy and fulfilled actor.
1. Love Acting. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many actors focus on the negative and allow the indifference of the business to validate that self-deprecating voice in their heads. “If you didn’t get the callback you must suck.” No, you must focus on the art and love it. You do this by engaging in the joy of acting on a regular basis in classes, in scripts you write and shoot, and in the work you do on stage. If the extent of your acting is in an audition room a couple times a week for 10 minutes at a time at best, you’re not choosing to fall in love with it. Love it for its own sake.
2. Get a Life. You need a day job. Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Denzel Washington, and Meryl Streep all have day jobs. Whether it’s child advocacy, Sudan, parenthood, music, or women’s issues, they all have passions that extend beyond show business. Sometimes their day job is acting! The point is they all have full lives that keep them engaged in their communities in ways that are fulfilling. If auditioning and occasional acting on set is all you do, you probably have a more narrow view of the world than an artist should. You’re limiting yourself and your art. So, get out there. Get a job. Volunteer. Make time for friends and family. Travel (even if you don’t have a lot of spare cash). Experience. Your art is bigger than the business, and it requires fuel or else it gets stale. Living a full life is your power source.
3. Care for your instrument. You must eat well, sleep well, and – during at least one workout a week – engage in exercise that isn’t driven by vanity but by the desire to connect your mind and your body. This business is stressful. It requires constant self-care. If you’re putting things into your body that deplete your physical and emotional energy, the artistic expression that comes out of your body will reflect that depletion. You won’t be able to do the work you need to consistently do. This goes for spiritual engagement as well. You have to be feeding your soul – whatever that means for you. In a town where business is our master, we have to find ways to nurture our spirits and find something bigger than the industry and ourselves. You can only find joy and engage in deeply connected work if your heart, body, and spirit are tuned.
4. Let go of the drama. The drama is on the page and in the work, but not in your life. There’ll certainly be struggles, disappointments, and big feelings. But don’t turn that into drama. Live simply. Don’t create chaos. That’s wasted energy spent in avoidance. Deal with what’s right in front of you: the work. Everything else is in the way of the thrill of your artistic exploration.
5. Comparison is death. You’re not Jennifer Lawrence. You’re not Daniel Day Lewis. You’re not Octavia Spencer. But they’re also not you. Comparing your career to another actor’s career is not the work of an artist. You are a unique actor with a unique set of experiences, so your path will be unique. Likewise, comparing your bank account to that of the kid you grew up with who went to law school undermines your unique journey and prevents your experiences from being expressed through your art. You are like no one and no one is like you.
6. Find your gratitude. Appreciate what you have; it’s a lot. Every morning and evening, in the shower, in traffic, at the post office, etc. – Identify three things for which you’re grateful. Let that become a practice. It keeps you out of the muck that actors can wallow in. “She didn’t bring me in on that part I’m perfect for.” “That other actor got the part.” “I’m too old, too fat, too insignificant, too, too, too…” Gratitude leaves no room for the negative voices that don’t have your best interests in mind. Even when those voices pop up in the waiting room as you’re about to walk into the room. Be especially grateful then!
7. Be gentle and kind to yourself and to everyone around you. Nobody deserves to be beaten up. Begin with yourself. Forgive yourself for anything you think you did wrong. Treat yourself as you would a new lover. Go out of your way to be generous. Be compassionate. Be mindful – to the casting director, the other actors who always book your parts, the guy in the Beemer who cut you off on the 405. Be kind. It will create space for happiness.
8. Only date your co-star if you absolutely have to. Yes, you’ll be attracted, you’re working really closely together and the work is personal and emotional. But resist the temptation to introduce the powder-keg that is a romantic relationship to your set. If you don’t, you’ll subject the entire set to the ups and downs of your personal life and put pressure on your budding relationship. It always gets awkward and unless you’re the star and they absolutely can’t live without you, you could put your career at risk. This may be a lesson that one only learns through experience, but do your best to keep a line between your work on set and your personal life.
Yes, there’s heartache in this business, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Seen a different way, we have chosen a business that offers the opportunity for constant growth. In fact, it requires it. What a gift!? Beautiful, vital growth is the only sure thing. Jobs, agents, red carpet premieres – they come and go. But if your goal is growth, your artistry is forever. You will be truly happy, and your success is guaranteed.
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