Confidence, Man

During an interview this weekend on BBC Radio 5, I was asked about how actors could boost their confidence, if it’s low. “Confidence is a muscle,” I said. “And just like with any muscle, you have to work it out to strengthen it.” More importantly, I believe, you have to let the muscle that is gargantuan for many actors — the one that wants to please others — atrophy so that the more valuable muscles to success in your career can strengthen.

Even though I’m starting off this week’s column talking about YOUR confidence, what I want to focus on — and what I had already outlined to cover this week, prior to my radio interview — is the confidence you instill in others, when you are specific with what you offer the world, as a performer.

For example, if you are asked to provide your age range and you say it’s 18 to 32, here’s what you tell me: “I’m so desperate to work that I need to say I have this huge, improbable age range, because if I close myself off to any of the opportunities at either end of that 14-year range, I risk losing work and I need the work too much to limit myself. And besides, I can totally still play 18. And I absolutely am mature enough to pull off 32.”

No way, y’all. No way. Not on your best day. I don’t care how good your skin is, how wise your eyes are, or how your life’s experiences dictate that you could sell all of that, reasonably. You can’t. More correctly, even if you can stretch to do that, someone else can do it without stretching, and that’s more fun to watch (until you’re a name actor stretching beyond a comfort zone and thrilling the existing fanbase with that big career risk).

The actor who instills confidence in potential buyers — especially in a large market filled with specialists — does so by limiting the age range, knowing its limits do not limit the options for work, but instead expand the chance that the actor is considered a pro who knows where he or she specializes.

“But, but, but…” you are saying, “Bonnie… I DO have a 14-year age range! I CAN play 18 and 32 convincingly!” Great. Pick four years within that range that you seriously nail, every time. No matter how much sleep you’ve had. No matter how you’re feeling. Do the typing exercise for age range, and do it in person and with your headshots, to be sure the photos you are using line up with how you present yourself in the room. Don’t ask people to limit their responses to a four-year span. Just get them to pick an age or an age range (whatever they’re compelled to share — tell them they can’t get it wrong and the goal is not to make you feel good, but instead to help you get clear on your bullseye, where age is concerned). Then lay that information out in whatever format makes you happy.

When you analyze the data, YOU narrow it down to the four-year age range that gets the most action, in the typing exercise. When you’re asked for your age range, that’s the four years you go with. Of course, if you have a ton of folks saying 24 to 28, it’s a no-brainer. And if you still have a bunch of folks saying 18, here’s the add-on: You get to say, “Well, my primary age range is 24 to 28, but I have played as young as 18, recently.” Or, better yet, let it be the agent’s idea, the casting director’s idea, the director’s idea, the producer’s idea. Let them say, “Looking at you, I think you could play even younger,” and then reply, “Y’know, I have played 18 not too long ago. You may be on to something.”

I’m using age range as the major example this week, but this goes for all factors in your brand management arsenal. While you may think you’re giving yourself more options for castability by staying general, and while you may think you’re giving the buyers more opportunities to see you as a solution to their problems by staying general, all you’re doing is missing the chance to give them CONFIDENCE in YOU as a BRAND.

Confidence is not just about what you need to pull off a brilliant performance. It’s not just a muscle you can build up over time. Confidence is what you’re hoping to instill in others so that you are the “no brainer” of a choice, when it comes to doing some great, on-brand storytelling together.

Don’t worry. Someday, they’ll want to cast you BEYOND that first, narrow specialty, so you will get that chance to show range. Just gotta build up their confidence, man. Then, they’ll have the “brilliant idea” to have you take a crazy risk that will have been a part of your career plan all along. Let ’em have that idea. Subtly drop the breadcrumbs toward that. But first, always remember, you’re building a brand. It’s the big picture to keep in mind, here. Yes, be confident, and build their confidence in YOU. That’s ninja, y’all.

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 Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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