Next month will mark four years since I first stepped foot into this casting career of mine. I am still brand new at this and I learn something about my job every day. So, when I see patterns emerge quickly, I feel pretty sure that I’ve stumbled upon something worth writing about. I probably saw some of this happening back when I was an actor, but it didn’t really stick out as a potential pitfall for actors’ careers until I began seeing it from the perspective of a casting director. There’s this moment when certain actors buy into the “spin” their people put out there about them. I’m not saying actors shouldn’t embrace personal goals (and “live as if“) or aspire to leap from costar to guest-star billing, but there are some risks involved when an actor chooses to believe the hype and ignore the all-important reality check.
More than a few actors I’ve known for a few years have “gone through the change,” as I like to put it. Once upon a time, they would submit through Actors Access on the indie films I’d have listed. They’d come in and preread for any role. They’d come back for callbacks. And, if their booking earned them their SAG card or brought them to a higher quote, they’d send a little thank you my way. All very cool stuff. But since some actors’ rise through the ranks from “indie film darling” to “studio blockbuster principal” happens much faster than the average rise through the ranks of an indie film casting director, I find these actors who once pursued me are now unreachable, mainly due to their people.
Now, in case you’re thinking I begrudge anyone the success I’m seeing these folks experience, please let me set the record straight. I am a huge fan of success. I don’t care who finds it. It blisses me out to see anyone happily living his or her dreams (and I strongly believe that anyone who feels jealous when others are happy is simply bummed about not finding ways to bring his or her dreams to life). When actors actually have reached a level at which an indie film is beneath them, I get it. Hell, I cast my first feature film (a $25,000 SAG Experimental) for $100 and I haven’t worked for that rate since! But when I see agents or managers steering their clients away from certain roles or projects because they have a plan for the level the actors will reach, I get nervous. This is where a certain amount of self-management and regular career and goal evaluation becomes essential.
You’re a STAR, Baby!
Probably my least favorite bit of hype generated by well-intentioned agents and managers is the idea that actors are too big to go out for certain roles, certain projects, certain meetings. I had one manager call to — I thought — confirm her client’s appointment, but what she did instead was tell me that her client was “not doing supporting characters anymore.” When I pushed to learn more about this decision, it came down to this: The actor had been doing really well in co-star, supporting roles, but if she were ever to “break out,” it would take saying no to playing second banana from here on out. Okay, I get that in theory, but then I went back and watched that actor’s demo reel on Actors Access. Nope. Nothing more than a, “May I take your coat, sir?” in the flashback of an episode of LOST. That’s great, but there needs to be momentum behind a push to “go lead” in order for it to actually happen. And I worry that this decision to not work (heck, forget “not work,” at this point, it’s “not audition for work”) at “lower levels” could cost the actor visibility and heat that could help that transition along.
Worse still is when the team makes a decision like this for the actor, without checking in with that actor about this new plan. More than a few actors have contacted me to ask why I stopped bringing them in on the indie films I cast. When I reveal to them that their agents and/or managers are not submitting or pitching them for my projects (and especially when I pull up the team’s submissions, filled with actors of the same type), I see actors feeling punched in the gut. I’m not telling you to micromanage your representatives. If you entered into a relationship with someone you trust, you’re probably fine! But if you suddenly aren’t getting into the offices of the very casting directors who would claim to be among your biggest fans, something is off.
I totally support the concept of “moving up.” I had to say no to several projects last year that (had I been asked to cast them in 2004) I’d have cast! It comes with the territory. If you’re doing everything right, if you’re experiencing some level of success, you’re building your reputation and getting opportunities that you’ve been reaching toward. So, of course you would accept those! The problem is, I keep seeing actors who are saying no to auditions because those auditions are for roles they feel (or their team feels) are beneath them. Certainly, that works out great for actors who now get a shot because these folks aren’t coming in, but I’m concerned about actors buying into the hype before it’s time (or without some sense of a need to check in with reality).
When in doubt, on this concept, consider Paul Dano who played Dwayne in Little Miss Sunshine. Imagine being told, “You’re up for this role in which your character won’t speak for 3/4 of the film. You’ll be a principal character, but your ‘dialogue’ will take place on a notepad, because your character has taken a vow of silence. Eventually, you’ll speak, but the story’s not really about you anyway, so you’ll be the ‘B-Story’ guy.” Do you jump at the chance to play that role? Well, if you read the script you sure as hell do! And, anyone who has seen the finished product can tell you that Paul Dano kicked ass in the role and did more for his career by accepting the role than he would have by turning it down due to the fact that he only uttered a dozen lines.
The Role Is YOURS, Baby!
Ooh, this one is really annoying. And it happens a lot. I’ve mentioned before that actors will often do staged readings or take meetings and that they should never believe these experiences equal their lock on the role they play. (Heck, even pilot season series regulars get recast at first table reads. You just can’t be sure you’re a sure thing until the checks clear.) But regularly, I will have actors decline auditions because they are convinced they already have the role.
Case in point: An actor played a role in the play on which a film I later cast was based. Seems simple to me: Apples and oranges. A different casting director for the play than for the film. You get called in to audition; you show up. Yes, you have the advantage, having originated the role, but you’re now in the mix with thousands of actors from the casting director’s database and even if the filmmaker sees you as the actor to beat, you still need to get on the CD’s radar. It’s not because we don’t believe in you! It’s not because we don’t trust the filmmaker! It’s because we’ve been hired to share our opinion — based on being in the business of evaluating talent and creating cast lists that lead to festival wins or distribution deals — that we “get a vote.” And if we don’t see your work, we can’t consider you.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen actors decline auditions because they’re certain they already “have the job.” Again, good news for actors who get appointments due to the fact that these front-runners opt out of the evaluation process, but bad news for actors who may be victims of believing their own hype. Look, unless a CD calls your agent with an offer, you don’t have the role. (Heck, even then, you don’t always have the role.) Sure, auditioning may be a courtesy on your part, but what else are you busy doing that day that you can’t go in as the front-runner, show up, show off your craft, say thanks, and then get back to it?
You’re Actually in This for the Long Haul
I think what most people forget is that they’re in this for more than just today’s opportunities. Sure, it may not sound impressive that I’m bringing you in on a SAG indie feature film for which you’ll earn a grand per week if you are cast, but who knows what I’ll be casting next year? Who knows what the director will be shooting in five years? Who knows what the producers’ next pet project will be? And if you’re already on everyone’s radar as someone who rocked (even when the budget was under a million dollars), don’t you think that’ll help when we’re trying to decide who gets in on meetings when the film’s budget is twenty times that? I guess it’s a little like fair-weathered friends in a sense. If I don’t see you for a couple of years because you’re “too big” to read for my indie projects, but then you’re all over my radar because my next project is a studio feature, how do you think I’ll feel about bringing you in? Like I said, I don’t begrudge you your success, but if your closest competitor in “type” not only showed up on the indie film but booked it and rocked the festival circuit, I may not even hold auditions for your type next time. I may just call that kid with an offer.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000663.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.