Dear Bonnie

I do all that is in my control when it comes to my career and know many fellow actors who do the same. But I do have a simple question for you. How — and why — is it that so many unknown British and Australian actors are able to come here and immediately get work — and, I’m talking about major principal and guest roles, not little under-five or co-star, either — in American film and TV productions, even though American audiences have no clue as to who they are?

I get a little frustrated when I see unknown British actresses — particularly black actresses, but white too — who seem to be able to jump to the head of the class and land a top-notch agent. It seems agents — and casting directors — are increasingly biased against American actors, particularly if they don’t have a BFA or MFA in theatre from an institution of note.

But there are plenty of good, solid actors in Hollywood and across the USA, for that matter, that have lots of excellent theatrical training, but seem to be looked over in favor of overseas talent.

I am interested in your thoughts on this issue.

And thank you for being a beacon of light, integrity, honesty, and service in an industry that’s not always known for its kindness and willingness to help others.

Sincerely,
Jennifer

Hiya Jennifer. Thanks for writing in. I’m gonna say some stuff that may talk you OUT of seeing me as a “beacon of light, integrity, honesty, and service,” but hopefully the whole picture of what I’m saying will help you with your perspective.

First, I don’t know how many actors you know, but I know a lot. A lot, a lot, a lot. Now, some of them are the finest people on the planet. They’re amazing. In fact, I make it my business to surround myself with the best people out there, and many of those folks are actors. Disciplined, craft-focused, business-savvy, smart, fun, serious actors. I love them.

There are also, however, a buuuuuuuunch of flakes out there. Actors who can’t be bothered making the trek from Santa Monica to Burbank for an audition at 4pm on a Friday. Actors who will spend months selecting a headshot from their last shoot, never commit to an ongoing acting class after researching coaches, or forget to update their online profiles are in the mix, right? Complainy-Janey types. Those who’ll know there’s a bunch of work to do, to hit the next tier, but when you ask what their latest actor-related accomplishment was, they’ll tell you about this “really great blog” they’ve started reading, or they’ll tell you they grabbed a copy of Backstage and that they really, really intend to do some submissions. They’ll show you the labels they bought from Samuel French, they’ll tell you they’re enrolled for CD workshops, but when you ask WHO they’re targeting for representation or casting opportunities, they can’t even pull a name from the air.

They’re wannabes. They think picking up, moving to LA, getting headshots, and putting up their info at a couple of acting sites “counts.” They don’t join The Actors’ Network. They don’t attend free events put on by SAG Foundation. They don’t audit classes to find the right fit. They don’t work on a script idea with fellow creatives. They never get around to editing their reel or breaking down a scene or researching targets or learning the names of showrunners whose stories align with the ones they want to tell.

Now, this is not to say that British or Australian actors DO all those things. Certainly, there are flakes in every population! Nationality does not dictate a level of professionalism by any means. I’ve worked with actors all over the world and I can assure you that there is no one group of people with a lock on HUSTLE. It’s a personality thing.

What I think you’re seeing is the most driven folks — wherever they’re from — succeeding. And “driven” isn’t the only element, of course. There’s drive, there’s talent, there’s training, there’s the right look for the right role at the right time, and there’s a shitton of luck. Absolutely, many international actors are better trained than many actors we know here in LA. Read Jen Ponton’s wonderful POV on the difference between NY actors and LA actors, and the mythology of the cities as some of the reason for that difference.

Absolutely, there are people who get incredibly well-trained all over the world, but it’s because there are so many people pursuing a career in acting who have NO training, or very little training, that those who are very well-trained, with accent-neutral speaking voices, and the willingness to put in the work seem to excel. The amount of WORK that goes into even being able to come to Los Angeles to compete, if you’re an international actor, means that a lot of those folks take the gig VERY seriously — especially when compared with actors who never really had to work that hard to even get a shot.

I’d reckon that — unlike your assessment that American actors are being overlooked for roles — actors are considered among the international actors, and the best actor for the job wins out. Sometimes, that’s just gonna happen to be a non-American. And it’s gonna be due to MANY factors — the greatest of which will have very little to do with the actor’s nationality. Will some CDs or agents give a shot to a Brit or an Aussie who has few credits, but not give the same shot to an American with the same level of credits? You betcha. That’s no different than you maybe preferring one style of music to another. You know what you like and you know why you like it. 🙂 It’s not about fairness, ever.

Look, LA is The Super Bowl. The best actors from around the world come here to compete at the highest level of storytelling available. That’s awesome! The next time you hear another hobby-level actor sitting around grousing about how his agent’s not getting him out, or asking a casting assistant her pet peeves at a workshop, I want you to think about the actor who trained for years, went through the painstaking process of getting cleared to work in the States, moved across the world to be here, and only has a few years to make the most of EVERY opportunity. What is THAT actor doing? Hustling. They know it’s a window of opportunity through which they’re hoping to maximize their options.

A lot of other actors here are just plain lazy. There, I said it.

Finally, I will ask you not to keep score about who’s getting cast and who’s not getting cast. It’s just gonna make you crazy. There’s no conspiracy to NOT cast Americans. Everyone in this industry is just looking to tell the best stories we can together, and sometimes that job gets done with a Brit, sometimes with an Aussie, and sometimes with a Yank. It’s not personal. It’s business.

I say, seek out the best people in this industry that you can find and surround yourself with them. Be positive. Stay plugged in. Work hard, yes, but also smart! Have fun. Research the heck out of your targets and this market. Know the players and their plays. I should be able to quiz you on anyone you’re targeting and learn more about them than I’d ever imagined learning. The actors who are really out there working — by and large — are the ones who are MAJORING in the world they want to inhabit.

And focusing on THAT stuff is so much more fulfilling. It’s stuff you control. 🙂

Enjoy the journey, Jennifer! Here’s to your next gig — alongside a team of talented professionals from all over the world!


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/001603.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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