My email address is on my IMDb profile and occasionally I’ll get “fan mail.” What is my responsibility to answer when maybe they’re not just fans but possibly pervs?

There’s an older man who has written the same email multiple times, complementing my work and my physical appearance and then asking for a response and a photo. Feels to me like the photo is for “personal use,” so to speak.

Then there’s someone who saw a show I did on Netflix (glad to know it’s out; I haven’t even seen it yet) and the email referenced other projects I’ve done (also from my IMDb I’d guess) and it feels less pervy but I still don’t know how to respond.

Then there’s people who reach out on Twitter and replying there feels much easier and less risky. I want to communicate with fans — I even feel responsible to do so — but I don’t want creepers stalking me. Am I being too nice?

This is SUCH an important topic to discuss. I minimized it in the fourth edition of Self-Management for Actors, but in previous editions — especially the first edition — I talked about the disproportionate number of “fan mail” coming from prisons. Remember, this was back when these were hard copy snail mail letters, often with return envelopes requesting autographed photos. Almost *always* to prisons. Yes, really.

It’s a reality of being in this business, I’m afraid. We *are* gonna get mail from less-than-legit fans. When your gut says, “Erm… this feels… *off*…” it’s probably for good reason. Certainly, if you want to get deep into this territory, there’s a great book called The Gift of Fear.

But let’s step away from the potential way-down-there bad thing that could happen and just look at the surface level likelihood that it’s a person with genuine interest in what you’re doing, how you look, who you are. Cool. Fans are fun.

Just keep in mind that they are fans, not friends. THEY will feel as if they know you. Think about how much you know about your favorite actor or, if you watch reality TV, your favorite “reality star,” your favorite Periscoper. You know a LOT about these people because they’re IN your home, they’re ON your handheld gadget. You FEEL intimate. The good news is, you know where the line is. Some fans do not.

There was a time I was entering the venue where I was to do a free talk for actors with the guys from CastingAbout and the owner of Breakdown Services. While I was standing at the check-in table, letting ’em know I was headed to the green room, I felt someone behind me, stroking my hair. Of course, I assumed it was an “inner circle ninja.” You know… someone with whom such intimacy would be not-so-weird. Like… my business partner or one of my assistants or even Keith.

Nope.

It was a stranger. I turned, expecting a friend, and when it was a stranger, I’m sure the look on my face changed. She quickly said, “Oh, I’m just so excited! I can’t believe I’m meeting you!”

It was weird. And she will always be “the girl who stroked my hair.” That’s what it says in my show bible.

Now, we’ve had exchanges since then. She has submitted on projects I’ve cast. She has emailed about my column. She has tweeted me. It’s not creepy. But you won’t see me saying, “Ooh! Thirsty Third Thursday is coming up! You should join us!” Sure, she can learn when TTT is via the BonBlasts or my tweets or just doing math on the calendar, but it’s the level of personal reaching *I* do that blurs the lines, potentially, so I’m always careful not to blur those lines.

I’m also not likely to ever cast her in anything because if she got weird with ME, what on Earth might her behavior be on set with a famous actor? More hair-stroking? Something even creepier? Clearly, boundaries are needed here.

All that to say, here’s how I advise you handle the above.

When your response is, “Oh! Wow! I’m so glad the show was great! I’ll have to fire up my Netflix to watch! Thanks for letting me know. I haven’t seen it yet!” you keep it about the work, which allegedly is why there’s contact. Try that if you feel like being that polite is important. You’re probably pretty safe. But with the first example, since you’re getting what’s clearly a form letter that he’s recycling, imagine that it’s not just you to whom he’s writing… and possibly from prison. They are HUNGRY for any response and if you’re providing a photo, well, you’re likely right about that “personal use.” Yes, your photo is gettable from the Internet, which is why it’s got more perceived value when YOU send one to him. You’ve opened the door for intimacy. It FEELS different to him, due to your level of involvement.

So… decide how that feels to you.

I’m a polite southern girl and therefore bound by southern law to say “thank you” to everyone who pays me a compliment, ever, so I get you. But there comes a time when the response, “Wasn’t that a great show?!? Thank you! I loved being a part of it,” is more than enough. And eventually, you don’t make that a direct response, but instead you tweet, “LOVE the response I’m getting from X, Y, Z! I so enjoyed being on that show and I’m glad y’all loved it too!” Everyone who wrote to you feels as though you’ve said hi to them with that, but you’ve kept them from feeling like you’ve said, “Let’s have a relationship.”

These are really good questions to ask, early! Coming up with a policy for how you’ll deal with fan contact before it happens with overwhelming frequency is very smart. In the end, take it as the compliment that it is and don’t feel obligated to reply, respond, send over an autographed photo, or anything else. They’re thanking YOU for the work you’re putting into the world. To keep doing good work is to repay them for their gratitude.

If you really feel you must respond, perhaps have an “assistant” email address you use to respond, so the contact is coming through a (fictional) third party? Obviously, at a certain tier, your direct contact information will disappear altogether as your team will field all fan interaction. Map out how it feels best for you now and how you’d like it to feel going forward.

And congrats on having this outreach! It’s great to hear from folks who enjoy what you do as a storyteller, isn’t it?


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/001997.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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