Being an actor is as thrilling as it is hard work. The characters – if they are great – tap into the deepest parts of yourself and bring forth something as haunting as it is emotionally beautiful. Writing, by extension, is the sole control and crafting of characters and emotions until their story pours from the page. I don’t know how to be just an actor or just a writer, and I’m very lucky my talent reaches across these two worlds.
But there’s a hard slog in both these careers. There’s the struggle over the perfect word or the right sentence structure that can make even one paragraph a painful day’s labor. And there’s a struggle, too, over trying to forge a career as an actor in an industry where every single person is comparing themselves to every single other person. And not necessarily liking the results.
I’m tall. It’s a fact. I’m not abnormally tall in a sense that I reach over 9 feet and you can see me walking towards you from a mile away. I’m simply 5 foot 8″ (or 5 foot 7.9999999″ if you want to get into specifics). Where I come from, this is a reasonably common height to be and is not really all that shocking. In fact, to say that you are 5 foot 8″ in Scotland warrants you funny looks only in the sense that it’s not really that big a deal. So are a lot of people. There’s probably four other people in the conversation who are also that height, or even a bit taller.
But in Hollywood it’s a really big deal. Leading men such as Jeremy Renner are only 5 foot 9″. Mark Wahlberg is 5 foot 8″ and Antonio Banderas is 5 foot 8 and a half. Tom Cruise is 5 foot 7″, as is James McAvoy, and Sylvester Stallone. Josh Hutchinson is 5 foot 6″ and the adorable Daniel Radcliffe is 5 foot 5″. Not being 5 foot 4″ or shorter when you want to work alongside some of these great actors is suddenly a really big deal. [Note: not that any of them have asked me to, but there’s no harm in letting my imagination wander around the idea].
When I was growing up in middle of nothingville*, Scotland (*not it’s real name), there was an urban legend that the reason leading men and women in Hollywood were so short was because it cost a lot of money to build the sets, so shorter actors meant shorter walls and less money going towards production expenses. Now that’s not to say it wasn’t true at some point or other – though I googled it and it does seem completely made up – but when every star you would read about was shorter than you and your cousins, it seemed to add fuel to the myth. Add to that living in a village many thousands of miles away from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, and there’s no shame in admitting that I would have believed the streets were paved with gold if you’d told me. Because Hollywood was a magical place where movies were made and dreams came true, and everything was all gloriously wonderful like unicorns and marshmallows and soft, squishy bunnies.
It’s not quite the same when you live there.
So I have the being tall thing to contend with. And I also have the being quirky thing going for me, which is not much of a selling point when many of the casting notices want blond, pretty, twenty-something, size zero cuties. No amount of suspending belief will ever convince you I’m any of those things. I also have years of children’s theater experience under my belt, and gained my UK Equity card (think SAG) just before I moved stateside, and have been transitioning my talents into TV and Film since I moved here. It’s incredibly intimate by comparison, and being vulnerable up close and personal with your fellow actors – with a camera close enough to count the tears lining your lashes – is a thrilling and terrifying experience. There really is nothing like it.
Unfortunately, there comes a time in your pursuit of these acting opportunities and that One Big Break which will get you an acting reel and maybe an agent, and at least one more credit on IMDB, when you ask yourself if it’s worth it. It’s so easy to define our success in any other industry by the promotions we gain, or the financial security we have doing something that garners a steady paycheck so that you and your family aren’t living moment to moment just waiting in case there isn’t enough money to pay the rent. In any other industry your employer doesn’t suddenly lay you all off, as happens in the entertainment industry all the time when pilots don’t get picked up, or shows are cancelled. I don’t know of any other industry where people work a few weeks here and there, and then don’t work again for months at a stretch, even though they have an over-abundance of skills and experiences (and pages of credits filling their resume).
I heard a statistic that only 3% of SAG-AFTRA people make enough in the industry to call it a sustainable career.
So how do you define success in an industry where fame and fortune are the very definitions of having made it? It’s a hard one to answer and it’s something I pondered with my friends last night. Our success isn’t defined by our IMDB credits or whether our latest film short won an award, but it surely lets other people know that our sacrifice and unending pursuit of employment in an industry that is a harsh and unfeeling critic was indeed worth it. We are all beautiful and creative souls with talents and skills bestowed upon us regardless of whether the world sees us as shining lights. We are not the sum of our acting credits. We are not only worth knowing because we were in a film for a moment with an actor you admire. We are not even the sum of who we know or what we can bring to a role.
And while this industry is a harsh critic of our accomplishments and our achievements, we have be kind to ourselves because we are more than our talents.
Today I vow not to take it personally when I don’t get the part after a great (or terrible) audition. I vow to love myself and my talents in spite of the huge gaps in my acting resume. I am more than my credits. I am more than my characters, I’m lovely, kind, funny, quirky me and I embrace all of it and choose to define myself by the character of my soul.
So this is me saying, “I love you Hollywood, but your inability to see my wonderful talent and gangly frame as something to make your movie great will no longer bother me. For I am fearfully and wonderfully made. And I’m here to embrace all your wonderful eccentricity even if I never manage to get a role that would give my mom bragging rights over her friends. I’m an actor. And I’m a writer. And, by golly, I am great.”
Alrighty. With that said, let’s see if Cap 3 has any openings………