What follows is an exchange that started on Facebook. I don’t always have the time to reply directly to actors who reach out to me outside of the preferred “Send me a question for a future Your Turn” format, but when the young actor who contacted me agreed that we could use this exchange as this week’s Your Turn, I went ahead and answered privately right away. Because this was an exchange, there will be two sections of italicized text below (her words to me), edited from our back-and-forth to work in this Your Turn format.
Hollywood seems to like to categorize people and box people into stereotypes — you’re either black or white (or in my case, Asian). What do you do with those people who appear mixed? My manager dropped me because she doesn’t know what to do with me since I look ethnically ambiguous. Hollywood likes their Asians really stereotypically Asian-looking and I can’t fit that. My agent only sent me out twice during the whole year because casting directors aren’t calling me in because they can’t figure out how to cast me.
Frankly, I’m tired of this. Amy Adams was able to hit it big after dyeing her hair red. Some people can change their luck with a quick cut and a new ‘do, but for me, I’m thinking I have to change my entire race. Should I then just try to look white since I can’t be Asian? I could lighten my hair, take new headshots and label myself Caucasian if I’m lucky enough to pass as that.
I know you’ve just started becoming super busy with new projects (or perhaps you’re just always super busy like the Energizer Bunny), but you know I’d be eternally appreciative of your valued input whenever you get a chance.
Wishing you a prosperous 2009!
Okay, first things first. Your manager didn’t drop you because she “doesn’t know what to do with you because you look ethnically ambiguous.” Your manager dropped you because she wasn’t earning enough commission off your bookings and she used your ethnicity as an excuse, rather than just stating the facts: “You’re not making [her] enough money.”
No one drops someone due to ethnicity — especially not ambiguous ethnicity — because that’s actually one of the hottest “things” in the breakdowns in the past couple of years. Just like when reps say, “You’re not SAG, I have to drop you,” it’s not the real reason.
The real reason is: They’re not earning money on you, they’re getting bad feedback on you, they’re not creative enough to figure out how to pitch you, or you’re doing a bad job when you go in the rooms they do get you in. You’ll never know the real reason. But you were not given a real reason. You were given an excuse you can’t negotiate your way out of. You can’t say, “I’ll take classes! I’ll get better!” to answer that. You could say you’d take classes if your manager admitted that she was dropping you due to talent, bad feedback, consistently poor performances when she is getting you into the rooms. But she didn’t say, “it’s your talent,” because she wanted to drop you, not to negotiate how you could do better in order to stay with her.
So, let’s move away from the excuse your manager gave to justify dropping you. Are you actually having a lack of confidence intersecting with an identity crisis? Most actors will find ways for their lack of confidence to undermine how they feel about themselves in ways they can’t change (too short, too tall, hips too wide, oddly-shaped features for which surgical procedures would be cost-prohibitive, wrong gender, wrong race, wrong age, blah blah blah). It doesn’t help when someone you trust in the industry reinforces your self-doubt by saying exactly what you fear is “wrong” with you is why she’s dropping you. You and I have emailed before about your confidence and I think that’s the bigger issue, here.
Someone who is confident and who feels great about being exactly who she is doesn’t hear, “I’m dropping you because you’re X,” and think, “Oh, jeez. She’s right.” Instead, the confident person hears, “I’m dropping you because you’re X,” and says, “What a bullshit excuse! What’s the real reason?”
So, because I’m almost 100% certain your former manager’s excuse was not at all representative of the true reason you were dropped, I’m going to suggest you stop thinking up ways you can appear “less Asian,” since you’re not stereotypically Asian-looking. You are a completely castable type, and it has nothing to do with “how Asian” or “how Caucasian” you look. Where you need work is in your level of confidence and perhaps in your craft. (And readers who are wondering how I know that, please know that this email exchange was with an actor who has read for me before, not just someone I’ve never met, writing in with a question.)
Hang in there. Stop worrying about the stuff you can’t control and focus on the things you can. Produce your own work, write your own short film or play, do open mic stand-up, create your career. Waiting for the perfect breakdown that describes you 100% is a waste of time. And it takes all the power away from you and gives it to the rest of Hollywood. That’s bullshit too. Take your power back and create your career. Build a fanbase that totally gets you as you are. Stop trying to change yourself to be what you think we want you to be. You can’t get into our heads. Stop trying. Total waste of time.
Thank you sincerely for your response and patience in enduring yet another frustrated actor’s rant; I agree that my manager used a bullshit excuse and I’m not new to getting them, but my agent uses the same excuse so it gets me wondering if there’s any truth to it, that’s all. Basically, I get this same excuse so much — from agents, directors, my manager — that I finally have to figure out what to do with it. I’ve been ignoring it for some time because deep down inside I never believed it, and continued to submit myself to roles regardless of ethnicity, but this “you’re too ethnically ambiguous” crap keeps coming up, so I’ve started to doubt.
Even a director I know who is of mixed ethnicity himself won’t consider me for Vietnamese roles because I don’t look full Viet, though ironically I am and he acknowledges that there are full Asians out there who can vary from the typical look.
Yes, I know my manager dropped me because I wasn’t making her money, and I don’t blame her for that, but it makes me then question: Why am I not making her money? I don’t think it’s my talent that’s the problem because I’m not even getting sent out enough to even showcase any skills. So naturally I think it’s my looks. What’s the first thing casting directors notice/look at? Your picture and looks, right? My looks aren’t getting me in the door. And I’ve changed my headshot a gazillion times (each time getting a better photographer) so I doubt it’s that.
And don’t give me the “you don’t have enough credits” line because I know of developing actors like me who get chances all the time. You know what’s funny? A lot of rising Asian talent out there are biracial and mixed (Dichen Lachman, Kelly Hu, Mei Melancon, to name a few), yet they can fit Asian roles because they look more Asian than anything else. Here I am 100% Asian and I’m being told I can’t play Asian. But alas, if, as you say, this really is just a bullshit excuse, I’ll have to learn to ignore it.
I’ve hit a wall and I’m desperately trying to find out what the problem is and fix it in order to move forward because I believe I have the power to control certain aspects of my career. But I’m taking your advice and will give up trying to figure it all out (cause there’s just way too many factors — I’ve learned that from reading your columns) and just work on what I can actually control and just hopefully, one day I’ll find my luck — or as you suggest — make my luck.
Awesome. So glad you asked the real question: “Why am I not making [my team] any money?” That is what we need to focus on.
Let’s start with your look. Don’t keep changing things. Stick with the same headshots for a while. Get your brand clear and stop confusing us with different looks, every time you submit. We won’t know who we’re going to see if you look different in every headshot. Meet with an image consultant or type specialist and get very clear on your actor brand. Nail that. And stick to it. Confidently.
Next, your credits. Build them. Sure, you can get a shot at getting into the room before you have credits, but having no credits makes that harder to do. Why make it harder? Do student films. Do waiver theatre. Build up your resumé and build up your reel. That lessens the risk we perceive when considering whether to take a chance on you. Anything you can do to show us you’re castable (because you’ve already been cast) is going to make this less of an uphill climb than it already is, for everyone!
Get known. Do showcases and CD workshops. Show us what you can do — and be really excellent every single time. If you’re not getting invited into the room via submissions and pitches by your team, you have to go to the rooms that you can simply buy your way into. I know, that’s not ideal and some people are militantly anti-workshop and anti-showcase. I get that. That’s fine. But the fact remains that there are many relationships being built between actors and casting directors after an initial exposure at a workshop or showcase. If you’re truly wonderfully talented, all you need is that shot. Buy a shot. Buy a few shots.
And if you’re not yet truly wonderfully talented, get into classes. Take classes into which the instructors invite industry guests a few times each year. That way you can both improve your craft and get in front of buyers without that tough “getting into the room” issue being a factor.
Now, you know I’m going to talk about self-producing and creating buzz. In fact, I’m going to do a whole column on this next week. (Any readers out there who have produced their own work and want to write in via my email address below to share tips, how you got started, what you learned, what you read, what you’d recommend to others getting started, what you’d do differently this time, etc., I’d love to hear from you!) But one of the most powerful things you can do to put yourself — as you are — in front of the buyers is to produce your own work and get buzz for being so wonderful that the industry begins to hear it’s a “can’t miss” short or web series or play! Don’t think it happens like that? WRONG! Happens all the time and it’s actually the most effective, powerful, “control is in your hands” way to get on our radar.
Submitting, mailing, and hoping your agent and manager are pitching you with passion on every appropriate project that comes across their desks is the most passive way to “make it.” One step up from that is doing workshops, showcases, and taking classes that include industry exposure. And one step up from that is creating your own — excellent — work. More on that next week. 🙂
Finally, you want to get into the room and do good work. Yeah, that first part is what you don’t control, except via creating a reputation by getting yourself in front of the buyers through submitting, being pitched, doing workshops, taking classes, performing in showcases, and producing your own work. So, what you need is a paradigm shift. Get to work. Forget any thoughts of how you can “pass for Caucasian” if you change your hair or have painful surgery or anything ridiculous like that. Being in the Caucasian talent pool certainly means there are thousands more roles for you to submit on, but it also means there are tens of thousands more actors against which you’ll compete. And how will your soul feel, while you “pass”? Don’t compare yourself to Amy Adams. She didn’t get where she is because she changed her haircolor. It’s never any one thing for anyone. It’s all of the things you do.
Are you submitting? Are you in class? Are you doing workshops and showcases? Are you producing your own work? If the answer is NO to any of those items, you’re not doing all that you can to get invited into the room. And because you’re so certain that if you could just get into the room you’d book, you need to take your career back and do everything you can to get that invitation. And then don’t waste that opportunity!
What has happened the few times you have gotten invited into the room? Have you been excellent? Or just good? Think back to the times you’ve gotten in and not been cast. Don’t think about the reason they gave you: “We don’t know how to cast you.” Think about the real reason. The one they won’t give you: “You’re not talented enough to overcome that we’d have to be creative to see you in this role.” Believe me, if you’re amazing, they’ll see you in any role, whatever your ethnicity!
If you’re not getting the truth via audition feedback, get it from your coach. I’m betting confidence is part of the issue. Obviously, that’s a spiral. If you’re not confident, you won’t be seen as talented, and if you’re not very talented, you can’t be confident. The problem is, you’re not going to get the reinforcement via bookings before you fix the issue. You have to fix it and THEN you will get the positive reinforcement you’re so desperate to receive.
You know I adore you and wish only the best for you. I think you’re in your own way to a degree that could be dangerous. When you start trying to come up with ways to change who you are (and not just a little bit) in order to please an unpleasable group of people who continue to give you an excuse that has nothing to do with reality and everything to do with “you can’t argue your way out of it,” that’s scary. Spend this energy on getting in front of the buyers and producing your own work. Check back next week for tips on that from those actors who have absolutely made it happen — and with great results!
Wanna be sure your tools *and* your mindset are in peak form? Let us get you in gear with some FREE training right now!
Let’s DO this!
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000977.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.