A few months back, I put out a breakdown for a project in which there were two roles that caused a bit of comedy (in the Actor Darwinism style of comedy) regarding age range. Luckily, my current breakdown has a wide-open age range, which allows everyone to just totally be themselves as they submit. So refreshing!
But back to the one from last fall: One role called for submissions from actors 22 to 27. Another role called for submissions from actors 35 to 48. Obviously, these are very different age ranges. But, amazingly — or maybe it’s not that amazing after all, considering how often it seems to happen — actors submitted on both roles. Many actors. Actors who were probably about 30 in real life.
Okay. But all you teach a casting director when you are sure you’re right for EVERY role is that you couldn’t possibly be excellent at ANY role.
Think about it from the casting director’s point-of-view: She’s looking for someone in his quarter-life-crisis stage of life for the first role. She’s looking for someone who may have gone through a divorce or put a parent in a retirement home for the second role. These are not small shifts in a person’s life! And that means, even if you’re SURE, at 30, you can still play 22 to 27, if you’ve had life experiences that put you way past that “fresh out of college, not sure what to do with your life” phase, it’s just not your bullseye.
And if you’ve not yet been married, you’ve not yet suffered the loss of a parent, you’ve not yet had children, you’ve not yet had anything “bigger” than the move to Hollywood to put under your belt, how can you compete with actors in their late 30s up through their late 40s for the second role? Of course, there’s something that has happened in some lives that make the age range more than just a number. There are “old souls” who are 17. There are “adult children” who are 34. There are people whose life experiences make them *feel* younger or older than they truly are. And, yes, sometimes it’s their physical appearance that adds to the perception.
I always think about the best show ever, Beverly Hills, 90210 (specifically, the Brenda years, of course), when it comes to that physicality issue. Ian Ziering had already gone through his “mid-20s spread” when he was cast to play Steve Sanders in the pilot. (The “mid-20s spread” is something we look for in casting men to play college or high school students, especially on a TV series, where — like on BH90210 — they’ll say everyone’s a junior in the pilot, the show will become a hit in season one, and producers will decide they’re all juniors again in season two, so they can milk more out of this high school setting. As for the physicality I’m talking about among males, it’s when the shoulders broaden, the chest puffs up, and the neck thickens.)
Of course, Ian Ziering wasn’t the only older actor playing the role of a high school student (sophomores are generally 15 or 16), but at first, he was the one whose physique belied the storyline the most. Until “geeky freshman” David Austin Green (the series’s version of Sixteen Candles‘ Anthony Michael Hall — right down to the underage driving of the cool kid’s car after a huge party, in the pilot) started going through *his* mid-20s spread, and producers had to get him in the same graduating class as the rest of the crew before his physique made things really uncomfortable at this school.
One of the reasons older actors get cast to play younger (even in the co-star roles) on TV series set in high school is because they need to help the viewing audience believe the reality that these series regulars (knocking on 30) actually ARE in high school. Surround ’em with actual 15 year olds? As a producer, you’re screwed.
Okay, so there’s a zone during which your age range has to be a little off from what age you actually are or what you really could bullseye best, because Hollywood is lying to people every day and if your 27 looks “high school,” go cash those checks. Of course, it’s not just there. It’s also the “I am mom to a teenager on this show, but in real life, I’m 28” thing. You have to play trophy wife to a 50+ year-old celeb who is hoping he can still play early 40s, and, well, he can, if they make his “wife” an actor who would make folks in real life think he was out with his daughter (apparently on TV it doesn’t work the same way). Don’t get me started on the “senior citizen sexual performance” classification of commercials on the air right now. Actors I *know* are in their mid-40s are playing AARP members because the advertisers believe that Cialis users need to feel as though they still look as good as that 45 year old, even if they’re way past 65.
Hey, whatever. Book the work. Cash the checks.
But, it’s no wonder actors get really confused about their own age range, when there are so many variables.
So, here’s what I’ll tell you — especially if you’re in a huge market like Los Angeles and working on-camera: Cultivate a 4-year age range. Interview your bookings, track where you’re getting paid (smaller markets and stage work will yield different results), and find patterns that get you to your four most castable years. Re-do this homework regularly, because as you age (and, more importantly, as your bookings evolve), your age range will shift. Don’t worry about what is true. Don’t worry that you’re getting cast to play 34-37 but you’re actually 30. Or 40. You’ve tracked your castable age range — a 4-year age range — and that’s a part of your bullseye.
When you meet with someone who says, “Oh, wow… I could actually see you playing 16,” when you’ve decided your age range is 20-23, you’re able to ninjaly say, “Y’know, I actually *did* play a teenager in a student film not so long ago,” and that way you’ve let them be brilliant, you’ve “yes, and…”-ed their great idea for how broad to see your age range, but you didn’t come AT THEM saying, “I can play 15 to 25,” which is a line that will get you taken less seriously by the buyers, every time.
Specificity is your friend. Always. Choose a lane and drive in it (since you simply cannot drive in two lanes at once, and a too-broad age range is too much road). Embrace your most castable four years. Be open when someone wants to pay you to work outside that four-year range. Get booked. Cash the checks. Thank me when you hold up something gold and shiny.
Wanna be sure your tools *and* your mindset are in peak form? Let us get you in gear with some FREE training right now!
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001783.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.