Hi. My name is Meredith Overcash. I just started reading your column and have found it extremely insightful and down to Earth. I particularly enjoy your columns on actor type. So, I thought you might be able to help me with a problem I have struggled with since I was acting as a child.

I refer to my dilemma as “bipolar typing.” Over the years, but especially since I have gotten into my 20s (I am 22), I have played two distinct types. I rock both types. In terms of numbers and size of role, I get cast equally between the two. One type is the young, feminine, naïve, quirky, down to Earth, girl next door. The other type is the cold, calculating, androgynous, egotistical, disconnected, supernatural psychopath. I’ve even frequently played both types in the same work. The best example of this split is one of my proudest accomplishments as an actor, playing the Shen Te (sweet golden hearted girl) and Shui Ta (cold, ruthless businessman) in Brecht’s Good Woman of Setzuan. I’m either a girly girl or a psycho creature or both!

My ultimate goal would be a career like Emma Thompson’s. I see a lot of similarities between her style of acting and the type of work she does and myself. I would love to find a way to brand myself where I have the opportunity to frequently play both sweet and scary.

I am not under the impression that typing is bad or that I can play everything under the sun, but I would hate to limit myself when I am currently equally cast in two distinct types. I need some serious guidance as to how to brand my dilemma to sell it to casting directors and agents. I am sure this blessing/curse is not limited to just me.

Thank you,
Meredith Overcash

Ah, darlin’, no, of course you are not alone in feeling what you feel. This actually came up just this weekend in my Self-Management for Actors seminar, when I worked with an Australian actor visiting the states, who has “bipolar types” (to use your lingo). She’s both a leading lady and an ethereal (other worldly) character.

We spent a good bit of time working out how to turn that into a “primary type.” And the answer usually is “girl with a secret” or, for other “bipolar types,” let’s think “comedically Disney dad, but theatrically former military leader.” There’s a type that is so complex that it is, by definition, two things. And that’s awesome, if it’s right. But often, it isn’t right.

The reason I’m reluctant to talk about that “bipolar” type is that, when actors see that as an option, they use that as the default for who they are. And they’re just wrong. Seriously, 90% of the time, they’re wrong. They’re so dang sure they’re multifaceted that they start trying to serve all possible types they can be, and they’re just not right. What’s true is that they’re not clear enough on their primary type, so they’re copping out, using the excuse that they are really “bipolar” (again, to use your word), when what’s really true is that they don’t want to feel limited.

But it’s not limiting to know your type. 🙂 And if your type (again, assuming you’re in the minority of actors who actually have a layered, dual type) is “girl next door who happens to be a psycho,” that’s awesome! Use that. Your type, then, is not the one thing. It’s the layered thing. You’re the character who is the red herring for most of the movie, but then who turns out to be the psycho killer by the end. That’s great!

Further, you’re talking about the awesome, range-stretching role you were given recently. That’s a part of what school is about. That’s where you’re taught to stretch. Hollywood is where you’re taught to focus. So, while it’s great that you have that range in you, it’s not going to serve you until you’re a name actor (and even then, you may have to really fight to show anyone what you can really do).

A caution I will give you — specifically because you mentioned a famous actor as the prototype for your career map — is this: Find someone who has just scored her first guest star. Heck, find someone who has just booked her first co-star, for that matter. Stop looking at celebrities or even series regulars, because — while these folks may absolutely have the career you covet — it’s a shorter drive between where you are now and the actor in your category who has scored that first co-star or first guest star. And if you map out what that person has been doing for the past ten years, you’re better off than an actor who watches an E! True Hollywood Story about the famous person you both hope to be, someday.

Sure, have goals of fame, but have realistic expectations of the tier above where you are now. Trust me, that will keep you out of Bitterville and will keep you focused on awesomeosity. Keep me posted! I’m excited for you!


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!


Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001136.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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