“Let’s face it. You’re never going to be a household name.”
I actually said that to an actor last week. I know. Me. Miss “You Can Be Anything, So Never Limit Yourself” herself. And y’know what? I meant it. But when I saw the look on the face of the actor to whom I said those words, I realized that what I needed to do was define my terms. Because it’s really easy — when our lives are wrapped up in this industry — to believe that everyone whose work we know is a name actor, that everyone whose name we know is a household name, and that everyone who gets photographed by TMZ is a celebrity.
But the real test is this: What would happen if I took your photo and showed it to a random housewife in Iowa? Or to a ranch hand in Wyoming whose life has nothing to do with the biz and who sees entertainment as entertainment, not as an index of bankability? Would these people know your first and last name, your three best films, and which of all the projects you’ve done was considered your breakout?
For all but maybe 50 or so actors on this planet, the answer would be NO. And I’m probably being generous with the number 50. You may say that Jeremy Piven is a household name. He’s not. To most of the people on this planet, he’s just some guy. To some people, he’s “that guy from Entourage.” And to people in this industry, he is, and he has been, Jeremy Piven for decades. Name actor? Definitely. Before Entourage? Less so. Known, working actor? Absolutely. For a long time. So, when I’m talking with an actor who would be lucky to have a career as healthy as Piven’s (and don’t get me wrong, I do acknowledge that it is indeed healthy and will continue to be), it’s fair to say that a goal to be a household name is one that’s probably never going to be met.
(Let me state for the record here that of course I know that no one knows for sure. No one can predict with 100% accuracy who’s gonna make it and who’s gonna leave town in a few years, choosing to be a big fish elsewhere or choosing to leave the biz altogether. So, yes, of course, it could happen. Of course. It’s just so completely unlikely that to have it as a goal is unhealthy. Heck, even if it were likely, fame is usually an unhealthy goal to have.)
Those who do become household names? They’re talented. Yes. That’s a given. Being even moderately successful in this industry requires a baseline of talent. Done. These folks are also filled with charisma. They ooze it from every pore. You can’t take your eyes off them when they enter a room and you never will be able to figure out exactly why. They’re charming in interviews, they’re quick-witted or smart or so goofy that you forgive that they’re neither quick-witted nor smart. And they love what they’re doing. They are enchanted and mystified by the road they’re following. They simply love getting to work. They have a blast just being who they are, every minute. Or at least that’s how it looks most of the time. They’re almost never in it for the fame. That fame thing is just something that happens because of how talented, how good-looking, how charismatic, and how lucky they are.
But when an actor comes to Los Angeles with his or her eyes on the prize of fame, of “household name” status, of being stopped on the street for autographs and stalked on Robertson for photographs, I want to ask that actor to redefine success. For his or her own sanity.
Because success — when it’s measured in autographs and red carpets and stalkers and paparazzi and private jets — is too far away. When, instead, it’s measured in “straight offers” and “straight to producers” or meetings to strategize which project will be next of the many from which you’re choosing, and handlers who tell you at which mics to stop as you navigate the red carpet (not as the film’s mega-watt-star but as one of the many wonderful, working actors whose work everyone loves), well, then you’re getting warmer. And even better, when success is defined as you, being happy, pursuing the work that you love in the place that you love surrounded by people that you love and who love you, seeing measurable progress over the years, as your name moves up casting lists in more and more offices, while you remain gratified and fulfilled by the work you’re doing, well, that’s the bullseye. That’s success you can attain. That’s success you can attain right this moment.
Yes, have your dreams. Aspire to be the best, most wonderful actor of all time! Go for it! That’s never a sucky goal. But rather than feeling driven to have all of the fame-related goodies that may or may not (and, let’s face it, most likely will not, if you look at the odds) come your way, imagine the joy that comes from being a full-time working actor whose name is on lists in every casting office. Breathe in imagery of delightful meetings with working professionals, see yourself welcomed onto set after set for decades, let the fun of picking and choosing your projects years ahead of time be a motivator. Vibe that up! Because those who come to town swaggering and saying, “I’m going to be the most famous actor on the planet in two years,” end up leaving town in three years, bitter and pissed that this business conspired to keep them from success. (It didn’t. It just used different definitions than those folks chose to use.)
Besides, the sooner you get down with defining your successes along the way as getting put on avail or having a network test, going to producers or taking a second meeting at an agency in contemplation of being signed, the easier you’ll be able to communicate your successes — yes even these “little ones” like having a callback for cryin’ out loud — to your friends and family who don’t “get it” and keep asking when they’re going to see you on TV.
I saw a manager’s Facebook status update last week. It was about how a client had tested at network and didn’t get cast. Heartbreaking. Maybe even a little anger was in there. And I wanted to scream, “Are you kidding me? Celebrate! You had a client test at network! That’s huge! That’s fantastic! That’s closing in on making it. That’s so many steps closer than anyone else working as an actor or aspiring to work as an actor ever may get! Celebrate!” But I said nothing. (I instead made a note to mention in this week’s column that defining success is a team-wide predicament, and we all need to be in alignment that progress is progress, period.)
I love it when I see agents and managers rejoicing that their clients are getting close. Yes, of course, it’s even better when the actors book. And I get that the economy is stressing everyone out and the stakes feel higher than ever. But I say that means it’s never been a better time to embrace that success can sometimes mean not getting a parking ticket when you had to stay late at an audition and your meter did expire while you were in there. Because on a day when that’s the best you get, if you’re beating yourself up for not having met your short-term goal to be famous by now, you — more than anyone — need to learn how to redefine success.
So do yourself the wee favor (which turns out to be a really big one, over time — trust me on this) of simply enjoying the little victories. Rather than, “My agent won’t return my calls,” how about, “Hey, I have an agent at a time when so many folks are getting dropped or agencies are folding,” instead? Rather than, “I didn’t get a callback,” how about, “I did my best at that preread and now they know my work and know what they’ll get from me next time they call me in,” instead? And rather than, “I’ll die if I’m not a household name by the time I’m 30,” how about, “I’m so lucky to get to spend every day in pursuit of a career I love in a place that I love surrounded by people I love and who love me,” instead? Because that last one is what you’re going to be doing the most, here. Getting way in tune with gratitude on that is success, defined.
Rock on, beautiful people!
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001074.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.