Actors, why are you in this business?
Why do you put up with what you do in order to be in this business? What drives you? Being an actor requires so many risks and sacrifices with a (statistically) low probability for success. High payoff, yes, but low probability nonetheless. Being an actor is a gamble, and the stakes are your life. Your time, future, security, and your very joy are all at risk. So why risk it? Really… why? I ask every actor who comes into my studio that very question.
The question of ‘Why’ came up for me this week at the DMV of all places. I spent hours waiting there with my daughter as she applied for her driving permit. Unlike most DMV patrons who wanted to get in out as quickly and painlessly as possible, I was in no hurry. I was there to support her, observing and enjoying her enthusiasm and various expressions of excitement, nerves, and awe. Spending multiple hours in the strange purgatory of the DMV makes your mind wander, and mine wandered to the question of ‘Why.’
Whenever thinking about why we are in this business, I always recall an infamous conversation between two famous actors working together on a film. While waiting around and rehearsing some foolish bit, one actor turned to the other with the question.
“Why are we in this business? Why do we do this?”
The other actor replied, “Are you serious?”
“Yes,” he said. “Why are we in this business?”
The other actor sat down in front of him, almost angered, very serious and passionate. He looked him right in the eyes.
“Look at me,” he said.
He looked and waited.
“Look at me,” the actor repeated. “Look at me… look at me.” He went on and on. “LOOK AT ME.”
They both laughed. Yes, it’s true, we want to be looked at, to be seen, noticed, even famous. But that day it hit me. There was yet one more reason why.
Hanging around the DMV I watched so many people, some angry, perturbed, others indifferent, emotionless, hardly anyone smiling. I watched the employees, efficient and organized, impressive in their mastery of the DMV’s bureaucratic system. Like everyone there, they too were just going through the motions, barely peering from computer screens to take in their patrons, merely completing task after task as they ran down the hours of the day. With rarely a smile, eye contact, or unnecessary chatter, they conversed in monotones while accomplishing their business.
I made it my business to try and engage with people I encountered during my wait. I smiled and started conversations with those who sat next to me, though most were uninterested. We waited in about four different lines, and I tried to get a laugh or at least a little smile out of the clerk in each line, making small talk and thanking them. Most were surprised by my engagement, some felt complimented and smiled back, and others were either suspicious or unaffected.
That’s when it hit me. Actors have job to do, a purpose. We need to affect people; to make them think, smile, to move them, and make a real contribution to their lives. Our work helps keep the human spirit alive. It’s not about us, it’s about them. Our job is not just to be looked at, but to be agents of change. To change something in others so they move, so they grow.
Where are you in your purpose as an actor? Is it to be seen, or to give? Maybe it’s both. A little bit of each? I’ve known actors who were all about being seen and noticed, and others who are all about serving, connecting, and making a contribution. One approach brought no more success than the other (at least in our outer perspective of success). But when I notice the joy, peace, and inner satisfaction of those actors who give, I see more light shining through them. Some of the others seem almost as if they’re on a drug. They can’t get enough of being seen, being noticed, being famous, on whatever level of fame they’ve reached. It’s like an addiction. Some is never enough, and no amount ever truly satisfies.
Where do you stand? Why are you in this business? Why do you practice this craft? Ask yourself the question why? Then ask it again and again and again. My dream for you is that you’re in this to give; to give of yourself and to give your talent to benefit humanity in any small way you can. That’s my reason…