I was reminded recently that now and then it’s good to get back to basics. Sometimes we get so narrowly focused on specific goals or on targeted benchmarks that we forget the big picture. We forget to stay true to ourselves. We need reminding. Allie Costa shares her fantastic reminders for the big picture, especially when all those “little things” feel way too important.
How to Be Yourself While Pretending to Be Someone Else
When you’re an actor, you might pin your hopes on a part you don’t get. You might pour your heart and soul into a project that doesn’t give you a return on your investment. Some actors get so immersed in a role or so focused on fame that they forget themselves along the way.
So, how can you be yourself while pretending to be someone else? How can you make a breakthrough without having a breakdown?
Remember that you’ve already booked the role you were born to play: yourself.
There’s only one you. No one else will ever play you but you. So be yourself. When you’re answering questions about yourself at an audition, a networking event, or an interview with an agent, be genuine rather than feeling like you have to say or do certain things to impress people. Be yourself and you’ll connect with others more honestly. Align yourself with people who are kind and supportive, and show them your support in return.
On a day when you get overwhelmed by audition prep, or when you feel like you’ve been running on a hamster wheel, take a break. Grab lunch with friends, read a good book, take a nap, dance to your favorite song — whatever helps you re-energize and reconnect with yourself.
Take care of yourself. Days on set can be long and days without work can seem endless. Stay positive. Stay healthy. Get plenty of rest and drink plenty of water. The better you feel, the better you’ll perform.
Know your type.
You’ve got to know your type and embrace it. If you’re self-submitting for roles on Actors Access, Backstage, LA Casting, and other platforms, don’t blindly submit to everything under the sun. Read the casting call from top to bottom — the entire project description and character breakdown — and make sure you are available for the shoot dates (and, if applicable, willing to travel to the location) *before* submitting.
What is type? It’s no one thing. It’s a mixture of your energy, your heart and your mind, your interests and your abilities, and your appearance. Consider your age and the age range you can believably play, your look (your general appearance as well as your style), and your personality. When you walk into a room, are you bubbling with energy or do you slip in quietly? If a stranger took a quick glance at you, what type of job would they guess you had? These are all things to consider.
Can you describe your personality in five words? I can! I am energetic, feisty, compassionate, knowledgeable, confident. From that, there are three types of roles I often play: the survivor, the daughter, the confidant.
Once you know and accept what you project, you will submit to roles that you’re more likely to book — and that you’re more likely to love!
Dare to be different.
Just because you identify (or are identified) most closely with a certain type doesn’t mean you have to play the same type of role over and over. That would be boring and we’re here to play, right? In the past year I’ve played a runaway, a soldier, a southern girl, a Valley girl, a good girl, a ghost. I embrace the challenge to play roles that seem to be very unlike the real me and I also have fun with roles that are natural extensions of me. Some roles showcase my energetic, effusive side; others show my sarcastic side, drawing from my literal sense of humor. I’ve played a goth girl and a cheerleader approximately the same number of times.
Think outside the box. If you are the “good girl” type but you’re trying out for the role of a thief and the script doesn’t provide you with backstory, ask yourself, “What would turn that girl into a thief? Does she need money for her grandfather’s surgery or is she an adrenaline junkie looking for a rush?” If you’re an office worker, what do you do on your days off?
Playing a scene as if you have a secret is an interesting exercise. Don’t go overboard: Read between the lines when it’s appropriate, but don’t rewrite the script. Trust the words on the page and speak them with intention.
Want to do something outside of your normal repertoire? Pick up an accent. Find an awesome dialect coach or simply hang out with a friend or relative from another part of the country, or from another country altogether. Do they speak slowly or rapidly? Do they use different slang? Is their tone nasal or raspy? Record your voice and play it back. Do you sound young, old? Tired, bold?
Consider other ways to communicate, too. Sign language, dancing, playing an instrument. Not only can they be added to the special skills section of your resumé and possibly help you get new parts, they will also give you other ways to express yourself.
Know that each story has its own possibilities and limits.
I work in film, in television, in voiceover, and on stage. Different mediums communicate stories in different ways and require different skills. Research different styles of storytelling to broaden your horizons and give yourself new opportunities. If you’ve only done stage plays, you might be told you’re “too loud” or “too big” at your first on-camera auditions. Learn about different kinds of cameras, shots, and framing. If you’ve only done on-camera work but also want to work in the theatre, learn how to project your voice without feeling like you’re screaming and how to position your body so the audience can see you. Don’t be afraid to dip your toes into new waters, a new field, a new market.
Lucky for us, the act of watching movies and TV shows, seeing plays, and reading scripts all counts as research. And don’t just watch and read — go and do. Be active. Take classes. Put yourself on tape and see how you move and listen to how you sound. (Self-taping is another column entirely!) Practice cold reads with friends and relatives, even if they aren’t actors — you will have auditions with readers who aren’t very expressive, or who are a different age or gender or type from the part they’re reading, and you’re going to have to roll with it. Good actors are willing to play, to listen, and to find out what happens when they ask, “What if?”
If you got the audition, the part is yours… for a few minutes.
While you are in the audition room — whether it’s for 30 minutes or 30 seconds — the part is yours. Enjoy it. Make the most of it. Make it yours.
Make a choice. I’m saying it again: Make a choice. Preferably before you walk in the room.
If you get adjustments, listen with an open mind and incorporate the notes as best you can.
Casting directors want you to be there and they want you to do well. They want you to be the missing piece of their puzzle.
Maybe this isn’t your role.
“If the role is not yours, there is nothing you could do that would make it yours. If the role is yours, there is nothing that can keep you from it.” That’s from one of Bonnie Gillespie’s columns, and in Self-Management for Actors.
A casting director might look at you and think you’re perfect (or not) for a role before you even open your mouth. You might be the tenth redhead they’ve seen… or the first. They could have had a production meeting or a script change that altered the character’s age or appearance and you no longer fit their needs. It could have absolutely nothing to do with you.
Every audition is an opportunity to do what you love and show someone (and yourself) what you can do. Be grateful for that chance. Not everyone is able to do what they want. Not everyone is brave enough to do what they love. No matter what happens, the role was yours for the minute or two or twelve that you were in that audition room.
Let it go.
When you don’t get the part — even though you worked really hard and you really wanted it and it sounded like it was written for you — take a deep breath and let it go.
Easier said than done, right? Here’s a way to literally let it go: After an audition, throw away the sides. Exit the building and put them in the nearest recycling bin. Or, if they are running low on sides by the sign-in sheet and you’ve left your pages completely unmarked, donate them so someone else can use them.
Book the room.
If you go into an audition thinking, “This could be my big break,” and then you don’t book it, don’t let it break you. Whether or not you ultimately book the role, just getting an audition is something to celebrate, as there are often hundreds if not thousands of people submitted for a project and only a few called in.
Book the room, if not the role. Making a good impression can be more important than getting the role. Maybe you weren’t right for that part today, but next month, next year, five years from now, they could be casting something and think, “So-and-so would be perfect for this.”
Hang in there.
You’re going to feel all kinds of emotions when you prepare for an audition and when you do or don’t get a part. It can be difficult to balance both your artistic happiness and your checkbook, but it IS possible. Stay focused. Stay positive. Your career isn’t going to be exactly like anyone else’s, and that’s a good thing. It’s much more satisfying to walk your own path than try to follow in someone else’s footsteps. We are, each of us, a special and unique snowflake, yes? So go out there and shimmer and shine in your own way.
Do what you love and love what you do.
Love all these reminders, Allie! Really great stuff! Thank you so much for sharing your POV and congrats on all you’ve been able to create for yourself while staying exactly who you are! That’s the best “big picture” there is!
About Allie Costa
Allie Costa is a Los Angeles-based actress, writer, singer, and director. Her film and TV credits include 90210, Unusual Suspects, and You Me & Her. She has originated roles in numerous plays and musicals, and portrayed iconic characters in shows such as Spring Awakening, Hamlet, and Gypsy. Her original plays and screenplays include Femme Noir, Prodigal Daughter, Can You Keep a Secret? and Little Swan. Occasionally, she sleeps. Find her all over the Internet as follows: alliecosta.com, twitter.com/allieacts, facebook.com, soundcloud.com/alliecosta, and youtube.com.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/plus/pov/2015/07/back_to_basics.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the managing editor’s personal archive.