Recently, before the quarantine, I returned to my alma mater and gave a few lectures about what I do, and it made me realize something. Young actors have no idea what they are getting into.
Now, I know I am not the first, not will I be the last, to have this epiphany, and there is a good argument to be made for, "Well, if they knew what they were getting into, they wouldn't be actors." There is a certain amount of "ignorance is bliss" in every early career. In fact, I believe it is every professional actor's job to tell young actors not to do it.
In an interview, Matt Damon said, "When I was younger, everybody told me not to be an actor. To this day, I say that to people who come up to me and say, 'I'm thinking of going into acting. What do you think?' I say, 'Absolutely not, terrible idea, don't do it.' Because that's what everyone told me. And I think if you're going to make it in this business that is so full of rejection and hardship, you need to believe in yourself despite what everybody you love, and trust tells you."
Although I credit Damon, I was told the same thing by countless professors, directors, and actors. Not only because you have to have skin as thick as a catcher's mitt, but because it is generally good advice not to be an actor.
First, there is no promised land. The work is the reward. Yet, every day (except for now during the quarantine), there are thousands of people getting off a plane in L.A., thinking their world is about to change. Every day someone goes to Ripley-Grier, thinking they are about to make it on Broadway. The tip of the iceberg seems to be an appropriate aphorism here or something about Mecca or the Pyramids, but the point is for centuries now we've been drawn to the bright lights. And yet, one of the most successful genres in Hollywood is not about the bright lights, but the dark nights.
Film noir is arguable the most influential film style ever created. Starting off as literal B-movies, film noir came to prominence in L.A. as movies moved off the lots and into locations. The stories were pulled from pulp genre writers like Dashiel Hammet and Raymond Chandler and used the glitz and glamour of Hollywood to paint a different story.
The point is, even by the 1930s, the land of the silver screen was built on broken dreams. I'm sure some Shakespearean scholar is screaming that Hamlet was already mocking the players by the 1500s, and he would be right. The story hasn't changed. Therefore, if you decide to go into the entertainment business, you better have a damn good, "Why?" And if that reason is "fame" or "recognition" then by god do porn, or become an Instagram model. The pay is better, and there is less rejection.
In fact, when it comes to your reasoning, it must be higher than "I got the acting bug." An itch is not enough to get you through the hundreds of rejections, the crappy apartments in bad parts of town, the low-paying jobs who consider you a product, the bad scripts, the awful directing, the piss poor time management, and the countless hours spent memorizing lines for auditions, memorizing lines for rehearsal, memorizing lines for a shoot, and memorizing lines for something that was put on a teleprompter anyway.
Although he was talking about writing, I can't offer any more sound advice than Charles Bukowski did. "If it doesn't come bursting out of you in spite of everything don't do it." Bukowski hits the entire art would with a right cross in his poem, and, honestly, if you just sub the word "actor" for "writer" then you see he's right. "don't be like so many [actors], don't be like so many thousands of people who call themselves [actors], don't be dull and boring and pretentious, don't be consumed with self-love. the libraries of the world have yawned themselves to sleep over your kind. don't add to that. don't do it. unless it comes out of your soul like a rocket, unless being still would drive you to madness or suicide or murder, don't do it. unless the sun inside you is burning your gut, don't do it."
Acting can be a hobby. Writing can be for joy. It doesn't have to be professional, because it is fun. It is enjoyable. But so is baseball, and the parks are filled with thousands of Sunday Softballers who make friends and drink beer, but they are not starting at shortstop for the Braves anytime soon.
Trust me, you performing a few songs at a local cabaret which you had to pay to be in or landing an unnamed role in an outdoor Shakespeare festival is not going to prove to anyone that you are or are not an artist. In fact, if you have to prove to anyone that you are an artist, then in the words of Jeff Foxworthy, you might not be an artist.
Look, the greatest athletes of all time had something to prove. We all know Michael Jordan got cut from his high-school basketball team, and Tom Brady can name every player drafted before him. Still, if the only reason you are pushing this passion as a profession is that you got slighted by your community theatre as the lead in Barefoot in the Park, then you have years of agony and regret ahead of you.
Furthermore, everyone believes they can do your job. Why do you think TikTok and Instagram are booming? Why do you think reality T.V. is popular? Every model with a shapely ass and gymrat with ripped abs thinks he is the next star in the making. They don't need training, they don't need talent, and given the right camera angle, they're right.
In sports, there is a long selection process. It starts in early childhood and spans well into an athlete's developmental years. There are tryouts and travel teams, scholarships, and pro days. Imagine putting an amateur boxer in the ring with the likes of Lomanchenko or asking a cardio kickboxing enthusiast to survive against Cyborg. It's not going to happen. People get weeded out over the years, not because they don't love the sport enough, but for hundreds of reasons ranging from injury to life happens; however, in the entertainment business, there is no such evaluation. Everyone believes they have a shot.
And maybe they do. Anyone can land a walk-on role, a commercial spot, or even an occasional nonunion theatre role. Yet, "I like movies," or, "I watch a lot of Netflix," are not qualifications. Neither is, "I have a big personality," or, "my family always said I should be on Broadway." If you are not willing to take your profession as seriously as an athlete, then please reread Bukowski.
And yet, if you have read this far, then I owe you some glimmer of hope. Recognize, right now, that the fantasy you have in your head about acting is just that, a fantasy. It has been molded and buffed by years of programming and propaganda. Understand that the road is long, winding, and makes little to no sense and that you will, on more than one occasion, say, "What the hell am I doing here?" Understand that it's not fair. None of it. Not one single damn thing is fair. Understand that not everyone has your best interest in mind, and that you need to look at their motives. Understand that unless you are going to write it, direct it, and produce it yourself then you have to work for it, audition for it, and grind for it, and even then there is no guarantee that you will get it. Understand that no one is waiting for you, no one is looking for you, no one is going to give it to you. That myth they sell in blogs and magazines is nothing more than a fairytale repackaged as the American Dream. Lastly, understand that no one knows what they're talking about, and that any advice is only coming from their jaded point of view, and that if you truly want something, then nothing can or will stop you.
Brock D. Vickers
This is the beginning of a new part of life: a habit: an idea: a routine to dig at what makes a man great.