Whether you are an up and coming actor or a seasoned thespian, we have advice, stories and tips that will inspire you.
When actors act, they are in the business of creating chemistry, creating a relationship, and making it believable. Say you are playing a romantic relationship (which happens often), and you need to create chemistry with your partner. Sometimes you might just meet them for the first time that morning on set. What if your role is that you’ve been married for 10 years? That relationship needs chemistry and history. You need to make choices and create specifics.
Actors will often ask their acting teachers if they are “ready to audition.” Do actors also ask their coaches if they are “ready for headshots?” Is that a crazy idea? Personally, I don’t believe you should give too much power to your acting teacher. (Unless, of course, it’s me!) I do see a pattern here that’s worth a conversation. As with career advice from anyone in the industry, take it and muse on it; it may or may not apply to you. This conversation is based on years of observation, working with actors just moving to LA.
I’ve often heard industry leaders say, “Television is a writer’s medium, film is a director’s medium, and theater is an actor’s medium.” How true that is.
Do you love “being an actor” or do you love to act?
When I first became an actor, I often heard this said: “Writers write, directors direct, and actors talk about acting.” I was furious, angry, I hated that statement, and I still do. I found it insulting, and degrading to actors. How dare anyone make that claim! I was dedicated. I didn’t even understand that statement, so let’s talk about it. Is your choice to be an actor ego based? Is your soul called to act? Is it a combination of the two? Where do you stand (or better yet, how are you living your life?) in relation to that statement?
My past three blogs have been about the business of being an actor. I’m going to jump forward here and talk briefly about how we define a successful actor. Better yet, what is success? How do you define it?
If you’ve followed my last two blogs, you'll remember I talked about how you are a business, and must have your own business plan. It should be flexible, while holding you accountable, and it should make you feel good about yourself and your progress. I also discussed how there is no one formula, curriculum, certification, or credential to make a successful acting career. I personally believe there are certain required credentials, but still no specific career path.
What are the credentials that actors need to succeed? Acting is one of the few professions that does not require a degree, or even specific training to get a job. It’s the only profession I’m aware of where if you have the best training in the world, studied at the finest institutions, performed theater all your life, and practiced under the most prestigious acting coaches and gurus - you are not guaranteed to get work.
The beginning of the year is the perfect time to do a self-assessment; to review, make plans, and set goals. In my classes at the Actors Workout Studio, we spend time in January and February working on goals and actions, and discussing the actor’s business model. Painfully, a lot of actors don’t want to discuss the ugliness of business, just the beauty of making art. Some students even avoid my business classes altogether, and return when we get back to learning the craft.
I am pleased to say, I am following my own advice. If you have been reading these articles for a while you would know that I am a huge advocate of self-production, creating your own material. So, in keeping with what I am asking all you to do, I am writing a screenplay. It's not my first, it's actually my seventh. And, as I am forging my way through my third draft it occurred to me that there are lessons to be learned about acting from writing. What are they? Here are four simple thoughts that come to mind:
I had an interesting conversation the other day with a casting director friend of mine. We were discussing the various acting roles and which ones are the hardest to play. The first thing that came out of my mouth was the crying roles. But, my casting director friend reminded me that most women can cry at the drop of a hat, so for some those are easy. Just because it took me years to get comfortable with crying on camera doesn’t mean it’s that way for everyone. Then she said rage is a tough one. Back when she acted, that was very difficult for her. That may be generally true for women but most men I know can get there in a nano-second. So, we sat there going back and forth trying to come up with a reasonable answer. Finally, in one of those rare synchronistic moments, we said at the same time, “One Line CoStar Roles!”
I’d like to take a slight jaunt off the normal path and talk about one of the reasons I am proud to be an actor. I just finished watching the “Breaking Bad” finale and I was thrilled. Not only was it a great finish to a great series, I am extremely proud of my fellow actors (many of whom I’ve worked with) who knocked it out of the park and showed the world what great acting and great storytelling looks like. Admittedly, I am a little jealous that I never booked a “Breaking Bad” episode, but I am actively part of the group of people who make shows that keep people endlessly entertained and that is more than enough to make me proud.
I was having lunch the other day with a working actor friend of mine and the conversation turned to how different each set is. Some are friendly, some are not. Some move fast in some move slow. Some are fun, some not so much.
Continuing on with the things we talked about last time, here are five more dumb things actors believe. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
It's ironic and sad, all at the same time, how much crap we get told as actors. Acting is one of those peculiar arts because everyone thinks they can do it (even though they can't). People don't listen to a great jazz musician and say, "Why would they play a D Dorian scale on top of that chord, I'd never do that," unless they were a brilliant musician with a well trained ear. But, people say similar things regarding acting all the time. Things like, "I wouldn't say that if I was in that situation." Or, "Look how she's crying, that's so fake." Or, "Right, who would ever just stand there if they were talked to like that?" I'm sure you've heard a few yourself. Unless you're an actor you have no idea how hard it is and what goes on behind the scenes. That said, let me clear up a few stupid things people, including industry people, say about the business of acting.
1) All actors are self-centered egotist
Wrong. All actors aren't, only some are. All joking aside, actors are natural born hams. It is our job to entertain people and that means being at the center of attention and manipulating people's emotions. And the best are usually extremely comfortable being at the center of attention. But, that doesn't mean all actors are self-centered (or selfish) It just means we enjoy engaging people. Some of the actors I know and love are incredibly generous and giving people. Who's always the first to start a telethon or give away a huge sum of money when a natural disaster hits? Celebrities. Yes, they are often the first people the media turns to when something happens, since we know and love them, but they are still givers. Bottom line, there is nothing wrong with loving attention, it makes for great acting, but that doesn't mean actors are selfish or self-centered. It's just a part of our psychology and behavior. We're extroverts, which is often mistaken by introverts as being self-centered. That said, take note if you ever do get successful not lot let it go to your head. Staying humble is the key to longevity.
2) You need to be broken down if you want to learn to act
Okay, I think I hate this one the most! Unfortunately, I have heard this from far to many teachers in my time. They believe that we as budding actors are too protective of our real emotions and deepest vulnerabilities. So, in order to rid ourselves of that "habit" and make us truly vulnerable creatures who wear our emotions under our skin we have to be broken completely. We need to be stripped naked of everything so we have no habits left. Then, and only then, can we be rebuilt into an "acting machine." It's a pile of crap! Don't believe it. Why do actors like Jennifer Lawrence and Joaquin Phoenix win awards even though they've never taken an acting class in their life? I'm not here to bash acting teachers. Most of us need them in order to get our technique to the place where it is second nature. We need to be able to be "in the moment" once the camera starts rolling and that often takes years of mentoring work to get us there. But, if you break someone down completely, you take away everything that makes that person unique and totally fascinating. They become just like every other typical actor out there. Boring. Take acting classes acting but find a teacher who doesn't constantly tear you apart. The damage is often permanent. Study with someone who encourages you to be you, to be unique!
3) The only way to succeed is to put all your time into acting
This sounds like good advice, like it actually might be true. And granted, it certainly does’t hurt if you obsess over learning everything you can about being a good actor, but the truth is the more well rounded you are, the more fascinating and entertaining you will be. The characters you play will never be just like you and they are often multifaceted. That’s probably one of the reasons you love acting so much, you get to play people who do things totally different in life than you do. So, never stop expanding yourself and living life to the fullest. Get some great hobbies. Start a bucket list (no matter how young you are) and start checking things off that list. One of the best things I have done for my acting career in the last year or so is to get licensed as a NASCAR driver. Not only was it amazing but I felt so much more alive afterwards. It’s infectious. Get out there and meet as many people as you can. Help the homeless and get to know them. Make friends with an elderly person. Try new foods. Live, live, live! The more you live and get out there, the more interesting you become. And, let’s be honest, this is a business of who you know and the more you get out there and get to know people the more work you will get. Trust me!
4) If you want to make it as an actor you have to come to LA or NY
Well, this one is a fresh sore spot for me since I’m here in LA and I just finished reading an article on Hollywood Reporter’s website about how out of town production is destroying the entertainment industry here in LA. But truth is truth. You don’t have to be in LA or NY if you want to make it as an actor. There are some amazing small markets around the country right now. Places like Louisiana, Illinois, Florida, Georgia, Connecticut, New Mexico, Oregon, etc. In fact I signed with a big agency in the Southeast because of the amount of good work available out there. The truth is most of the bast actors in the world are right here in LA (and many in NY). So, if you are here, realize you competition is not only the best in the world, but it is also abundant. There are literally hundreds of thousands of actors here in LA all trying to get the same work as everyone else. Your chances are far better elsewhere. And, there are some great indie films shooting all over this great country of ours. So, if you’re not here yet, get going where you are. Fill that resume up and then think about moving here to LA or NY. It’ll definitely benefit you in the long run once you make it to Tinseltown.
5) If you want to make it you have to be gorgeous and in great shape
Let me say it right up front, it can certainly can't hurt if you're gorgeous and in incredible shape but as I write this "The Heat," with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, is making a killing at the box office for a second week in a row. Try telling Melissa, one of the hottest stars in the world right now, that she'd be doing so much better if only she were prettier and in better shape. Why do we love Melissa so much? Because she is completely comfortable being herself and is totally willing to make a fool of herself in oder to entertain us. That is a rare individual you can't help but admire, right? She doesn't give a rat's patooty if you like her body or not. She just cares that you are endlessly entertained by her. And let's be honest, I think she has a great look. She is a definite type and we know just how to cast her. We wouldn't have an industry if it wasn't for the character actors out there. And, if you don't already know, the "Real People" type is the most common type used in TV, film and especially commercials. So, if you are gorgeous and in incredible shape, good for you. Use it to your advantage. If you're not, like most of us, then embrace the concept of being yourself and use it to your advantage. As I am prone to say all the time, you are unique, like a snowflake, and thus you have no competition when you are yourself. When you are comfortable being who you are, you are unstoppable!
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Mark Atteberry is an award winning actor, teacher and photographer. As an actor his work includes features like Miranda July’s "The Future” and Ang Lee’s "The Hulk.” His recent TV work includes “The Newsroom,” “Rules of Engagement,” “Luck,” "House M.D.," “Justified,” "The Closer," “The Mentalist,” "Dexter" and “Criminal Minds.” Mark can currently be seen on “The Newsroom.” Mark is internationally known for his commercial advertising and headshot photography. His clients include NBC, CBS, A&E, Bravo, CAA, ICM, WME, and Big Lots. Mark regularly teaches and lectures on the topics of "Branding, Marketing and Type" and "How to Succeed in the Entertainment Industry." He has authored or co-authored several books on the business of acting including the best selling, "Working Actor's Guide to LA." For more of Mark’s acting credits go to: http://imdb.com/name/nm0040992. For Mark’s headshot photography go to: http://idyllicphotography.com. And, for Mark’s classes go to: http://beaworkingactor.com
I received a deeply touching, well thought out email last week and thought it would make for a lively blog topic. So, with her permission, here are the emails and my responses. Though I have her blessings to show this, I’ll change her name to Susan to protect the innocent and keep her anonymous.
The Initial Email: Is My Skin Going to Be a Problem?
My name is Susan. Thank you for writing your blog! I came across it at random and really dig it.
My question for you is rather odd:
I am constantly working on my acting; I'm 23 now but have been acting since I was about 4 or 5, until about 17 then stopped. Now, I've taken it back up again and always try to find something to do whether it be plays, films, whatever. However, I've hit an odd stump.
So my question is, sometime when I was about 12 or 13 I went to South America and got chewed up by Mosquitos. Huge scary South American dangle legged card carrying members of terror Mosquitos. And they chewed me up everywhere. Legs, arms, back, everywhere, save headshot height and up. So now it's 10 years later and although they're getting better, I have all these spots all over me.
I have terribly pale skin so they really stand out. So I'm wondering if that's gonna be a problem for film acting. As a professional you surely know how good makeup works or if anyone would even be willing to deal with all that.
I usually wear cardigans and stockings so no one seems to have noticed yet. But I figure I can't do that forever.
Should I just stick to theater and not even bother with film? Or just do the follow your dreams thing?
Brutal truths always welcome :) Pretty lies not so much
My Response: It’s All About Confidence In Yourself
Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad you're enjoying the blog. I get a kick out of writing it.
First of all, let me say how sorry I am to hear about the damage the mosquitos did to you. I'm sure that must be difficult at times. It is difficult for me to answer your question without knowing you but let me say this; acting is much more about confidence than anything else. So for me, it all comes down to is how you let it affect you.
Makeup can do wonders. I see actresses all the time who have tattoos, scars and blemishes covered over with makeup. Obviously it takes time to cover them up effectively, and that can be a hassle, but it is definitely doable. I don't know how pronounced your spots are but I am sure they can be covered over. That being the case, it becomes all about your attitude. I would ask you, how confident are you about yourself and your work? I don't want to say that it will not be an issue at all, because I could never anticipate what every director will think, however if you let it bother you then it will definitely be a problem. If you are confident and comfortable with yourself, despite your spots, you will be fine acting as a profession.
Trust me on this, nothing sells an actor more than confidence. If you walk into an audition self-conscious, you will almost never book it (even the greatest actresses sometimes struggle with this). If you walk in confident, and not worrying or judging yourself, then they will be drawn to you. I know it's not the same thing, but I have a broken back from a bad accident and so I walk funny and can't bend over properly. I've noticed if I am self-conscious about it I never book the audition. When I go in, just have fun and don't care what they think, it always goes well.
My friend, Nick Vujicic, is the greatest example I can think of regarding this issue. If you've not heard of him he is a motivational speaker and an actor who was born with no legs and no arms. If anyone has a reason to feel insecure, it is he. And yet, he is one of the most confident, happy people I have ever known in my life. He rarely lets his severe handicap get in the way of his humanity, warmth and confidence. As a result we love watching him when he speaks. We did a film together called "Butterfly Circus" and he is awesome in it (and the star). Check it out and watch his confidence. Watch how little he lets his situation in life affect him as an actor and as a human. Here is the link:
Hope that helps. Again, it is impossible for me to make this decision for you but if it affects your confidence then it will certainly be an issue. If it doesn’t, and you are comfortable being yourself despite your situation, you will be fine as a film actor. It all comes down to how well you can sell yourself.
One more thought, have you ever considered writing and acting in a one-woman play or show about this issue? If not, I would highly recommend it. One of my favorite quotes ever (and I use it in my classes all the time) is, "The thing you hate about yourself is probably the thing that will make you the most money." The brilliant TV director David Nutter said it and I completely agree with him. When I finally learned to love the things that I hated about myself, and brought them to my work, my career took off. Now, when I tap into those things, my acting is as good as it gets. I would encourage you to turn your story into a positive and do a one woman show about it. I guarantee you it is a story that people would love to hear.
Keep up the great work, Susan!
Her Response to My Email: Her Perspective Is In Place
Thanks for all your advice, I've definitely considered the one act play idea. It reminds me of that girl that went on you tube with the horrible acne and puts on makeup etc. if you haven't seen it, here's a link. Abc news and many others have given her attention because it, thus proving your theory correctly.
I'm not sure how I feel about America's obsession with this idea of "flawed" characters making it through. There's also the model with exempt on her legs etc. I haven't really put enough time into the theory yet, but I assure you I’ll take the time to do some processing on the subject.
I am so sorry to hear about your accident. Back issues, I believe are the worst to live with. Especially as an actor. I'm glad you don't let it get to you and I'm proud of you for working through it! :D
Right now I'm on my way to Sephora to pick up some hardcore coverup makeup! I have a commercial on Saturday- probably got the part due to confidence! I will definitely continue to pursue film and like you said, just let my confidence do the work for me. After all, the spots don't really bother me. It's mostly out of politeness that I'm self conscious about them. I don't want to make people feel uncomfortable thinking I'm diseased or drugged. Hahah
Thank you again for writing to me!
I appreciate everything you do for all of us!
My Response: We’ve Been Given Exactly What We Need
It sounds like you have the right attitude and a great perspective. That makes me happy to hear.
I do want to point out one thing though, I never think of people as being "flawed characters making it through." I am one of those who believes that God has given everyone what they have been given for divine reasons. Literally! It is what makes each of us unique and differentiates our path from everyone else on the earth. No one human attribute is better than another and no one human challenge is any worse than another. We've been given exactly what we need. So, I would say we all have "divine differences" but are never flawed. It sounds merely like a subtle rewording, but the difference is huge. We all have something special that makes us unique and fascinating to the core. The real gift is that we, as artists, get to use our uniqueness to draw people to stories that can touch the heart and change the world.
Congrats on the commercial and break a leg! And, keep up the great attitude!
I see what you mean by the flawed thing! The way I saw it before was not that these characters were flawed truly, but more of a typecast or archetype of "flawed" through the media pop culture perspective. Naturally, I don't think flaws exist because there's no such thing as perfection, since we're all made up of living particles, living particles that have a biological lifespan etc and therefore are not static, and if it is not static it can't be perceived at perfect because perfection must be static. (Whew! Mini rant!)
Flaws seen on famous types make them more appealing to audiences because they can relate. Or at least this was my theory prior to your email. :)
I really like what you wrote, it definitely changed my perspective! I'm a huge fan of the fates. You're absolutely right, I agree completely- everything happens for a reason!
My Final Thoughts,
One of the greatest gifts an actor can give to an audience (the world) is to tell them that they are magnificent, just as they are. Don’t fall for that advertising world malarkey that beauty is all about how perfect Photoshop can make you look. It’s a load of crap! Beauty is refusing to let anything get in your way of loving each other. Beauty is embracing everything that makes us different from one another. And, absolute beauty is confidently saying I love who I am and I love who you are! That kind of confidence will win you the world and secure you place as a top notch actor, despite what life throws your way.
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Mark Atteberry is an award winning actor, teacher and photographer. As an actor his work includes features like Miranda July’s "The Future” and Ang Lee’s "The Hulk.” His recent TV work includes “The Newsroom,” “Rules of Engagement,” “Luck,” "House M.D.," “Justified,” "The Closer," “The Mentalist,” "Dexter" and “Criminal Minds.” Mark can currently be seen on “The Newsroom.” Mark is internationally known for his commercial advertising and headshot photography. His clients include NBC, CBS, A&E, Bravo, CAA, ICM, WME, and Big Lots. Mark regularly teaches and lectures on the topics of "Branding, Marketing and Type" and "How to Succeed in the Entertainment Industry." He has authored or co-authored several books on the business of acting including the best selling, "Working Actor's Guide to LA." For more of Mark’s acting credits go to: www.imdb.com/name/nm0040992. For Mark’s headshot photography go to: www.idyllicphotography.com. And, for Mark’s classes go to: www.beaworkingactor.com