While attending Acting School in England, thinking I wanted to be an actor, I simultaneously – for financial reasons – found myself in the “Staff Room” at “Tea Break”, a substitute teacher, wearing a woolen suit on a sweltering July, with no air conditioning in sight.
Seeing me seriously glum, pondering the unbridgeable gap between where I wanted to be and where I currently was, Mr. Rowbotham, a fellow practitioner at St. John’s Church of England Infants and Junior School, leaned over and consolingly said,
“Don’t worry. It probably won’t happen.”
To which I dolefully replied,
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
Even at “The Actors’ Workshop” things were hardly more encouraging. “If you are going to be an actor”, my teacher intoned, dousing our dreams in a bracing shower of reality, “it is guaranteed that you are going to be poor.”
That’s when I quit acting, or at least aiming professionally in that direction. I could handle the possibility of being poor. But “guaranteed”?
What then of the people who stay in, and find gainful employment? How do they feel, slotted at some random spot on the “Actors’ Achievement” spectrum? That’s what they wanted, right? Not fame and fortune. Otherwise they do sex tapes on the internet. They wanted to be “working actors.” Simply “plying their trade.” And now, they’ve made it.
Let’s see how that works. (An admitted “Pessimist’s Perspective.” But – actors, tellme – am I entirely off-base?)
There’s this Bruce Jay Friedman short story called “A Foot In The Door”, where, specific storyline aside, an inveterate “striver” living in “Short Hills” wanted desperately to live in “Tall Hills.”
That, at least partly, is what the “working actor” experience is all about – You get “Short Hills.” You want “Tall Hills.”
(I once heard an actress at an audition speak of – in herwords – “The Fucking Lucky Club”, referring to actors, presumably less gifted than she was, having substantially more commercial success. Shining an alternate light on, “It’s all about the craft.”)
You get a job. Are you happy? Maybe a while. But you inevitably want more.
You’re an “Extra.” Soon aspiring for a line.
You get a line. But the credits refer to you only as “Hoodlum Number Three.”
You play a “named” character. But it’s not a “Featured Role.” (And you still have to provide your own wardrobe.)
You nab a “Featured Role.” But at the “Premiere Screening” you find you’ve been edited out of the picture, ruining you opportunity to be “seen”, not to mention your date for the evening, who complains, “I thought you were in this.”
You have a “Featured Role”? You want a “Co-Starring Role.”
You get a “Co-Starring Role.” But not the “Lead.” (And the “Lead” keeps forgetting your name.)
Or you’re the “Lead.”
But it’s in television.
Then you’re the “Lead” in a movie.
Which goes straight totelevision.
Finally. Against insurmountable odds… you were somehow able to surmount… you are the “Lead” in a hugely successful, major motion picture.
You have made it to the top. You’re contented now, right?
And it has nothing to do with the size of your trailer. You’re a bigger person than that. Besides, you visited the “Lead Actor” with the larger trailer and saw that your fruit basket had kiwis in it and theirs didn’t.
So what’s the problem?
You are at odds with the director about playing a scene – your creative “visions” diametrically conflict. You’re at an unbreakable impasse, ready to “walk” if you don’t get your way. I mean, what’s the point of being the “Lead” if you still lack “final control”?
The director proposes a compromise.
“We’ll shoot one my way and one your way, and we’ll decide later which one to use.”
Fine. (“I’m not trying to be ‘difficult.’”)
They shoot it his way and then hisway. The film is edited and “locked”, a “Print” messengered to the “Lead Actor.” And wouldn’t you know it?
LEAD ACTOR: “They used his way.”
That’s why the most powerful job in “Actor” is “Director.”
Directors inevitably possess the ultimate “say.” (Actors – even the “Leads” – merely provide “raw material”, their performance assembled after they are gone.) The thing is, most actors are not particularly well suited for directing – for technical, organization or temperamental reasons. It’s just too darn hard. So they remain actors. And there is always frustration.
Top to bottom in acting, no one entirely gets what they want.
(It’s a little better in theater. Once onstage, the actor is in total control. Of course, at some point the actor comes off-stage. And the director’s there, waiting for them.
“You are playing the part… how shall I put it…?
“Yes. And we’d really like you to stop.”
Oh and by the way? Stage actors – even the “Leads” – are truly desperate to be film actors. (I have seen it on “casting” visits to New York.) Not to be crass or anything, but it’s the money.
So there you have it. Children, andaspiring waitresses – See: Yesterday’s post – dream of becoming actors, with no idea of the travails their heroes – and those beneath them on the stratified totem pole – actually endure.
Even when you know what it’s about,
There is still an “And yet…”