Becoming an Actor: Biting Your Own TeethDate: 15 July 2011
Given that this is my first post I should probably try to tell you a little about myself. Talking about yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth, or so I’ve been told. Though lately I’ve been realising that not all of the acting fraternity feel like this. We’ve made an art, and indeed a stereotype, out of doing just that.
I’m not being rude, or at least not intentionally, it just happens to be the case. I’m sure it’s a product of actors having to constantly sell themselves, to get roles, that actors are often to be found, well, selling themselves. It becomes something habitual yet incongruous in most conversations; filling awkward silences but forcing awkward thought.
It is something that as actors we will all have to do, even if we will consequently hate ourselves for it... and yet, there is a special kind of glee that overcomes you as you glance across a busy foyer to catch sight of another actor shamelessly flirting with the reflection of themselves in the eyes of whoever has become passenger in their one‐sided conversation. It gives a momentary feeling of superiority that makes launching into your next anecdote about working with Dominic Cooke, before he became the Dominic Cooke, so much easier. But, I digress.
The necessity for actors to be able to talk about themselves hadn’t really struck me before today. That is, the day I finish my second year of training at a top (but I would say that) London drama school. Suddenly we can feel the stabilisers being taken off as we begin to pedal wobblingly towards just such cumbersome, un‐self‐effacing conversations.
If you can stand another piece of imagery so soon after the last, I’d say that it feels as though the safe environment that we’ve spent two years swaddled in is being unwrapped as we’re told to go and find a way of earning a living. Though if, as I suspect, you can’t then you’ll just have to ignore that sentence... and the next. Inevitably this will change people; being forced into a theatrical cattle market goads people into trying to stand out from the herd. Unfortunately, this often manifests itself in a desire to convince and persuade rather than letting abilities speak for themselves. Regretfully people edge (sometimes bashfully, sometimes not) towards stories of their greatest achievements, the people they’ve worked with, and the sensationalist gossip they’ve been hearing about the other actors in their casting bracket.
What’s more, next year doesn’t just bring a fear of having to shamelessly self promote. Our once close friends are about to become our fiercest competition. I honestly hope we all stay fond of one another when September comes, but from what I gather, the whiff of agents and casting directors – metaphorically speaking of course, I hear they’re all very well groomed and scented – has much the same effect as rain water in winter; getting into the cracks and pushing them further apart.
Perhaps as an actor you have to have the ability to talk about yourself, whether you enjoy doing so or not. Perhaps interest from agents and casting directors simply acts as friendship natural selection, with only those people you genuinely care about surviving. Although I don’t know, and in all likelihood I won’t for another year, it doesn’t stop me feeling a little uneasy about it all.
Whatever happens, I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to cling on to some integrity when September comes. We’ll just have to see how desperate I get, and if I get cast as Narcissus or not. Until then I’ve a summer in which to read, see, and be involved in plays, and to gradually temper any desire to boast lengthily about myself.
On my first day at drama school a member of staff gave me this advice, without any sense of irony: “Name dropping is the worst thing to do in this business. Kenneth Branagh told me that”. There is a perverse perfection lingering in that statement that just says it all.