The first question that I get when I accidentally mention that I am an actor is, “So, what’s your day job?”
The only other question that I get when I accidentally mention that I am an actor is, “What have you been in that I might have seen?” I don’t even want to get into a rant about how that sentence really throws me.
Let’s move on shall we? It all starts at a dinner party or a barbecue at a friend’s house. “So, what do you do for a living,” the CFO for a credit union asks me? For a moment, my brain goes into this robotic state trying to calculate the best answer that won’t need me to further explain myself. My second choice is to just tell them my day job profession. The last choice is the truth. I am a professional actor. That means I have been paid scale plus 20% to be on a television screen, movie screen, on stage, or in front of a microphone voice acting. Sometimes I work on very small films for very little money or copy, credit, and meals. Does that count as being a professional? It does in my book.
When I first joined the Screen Actors Guild in 1989 (We were not joined just yet to our sister union AFTRA), I was told by the SAG cashier, “Congratulations on becoming a union member. You know, 85% of SAG actors are unemployed at one time or another.” Ouch. I’m sure the guy was just trying to be helpful, but a great truth arose from his words. For me, as well as some of my colleagues, we are very happy when we work and, in my case, feel validated for all the auditions that didn’t end up in a job. But, the annoying thing is that even after I have booked a job and I am on set, I am wondering to myself, “Where is my next job coming from?” I would love to say I have grown so much since then and now am at peace with the nature of the business, but that’s just not true. I am secretly in fear that I will never work again.
So, as a result of not being cast as a regular cast member of a Netflix, Hulu, Apple TV+, or a network show, I, like many of my fellow actors, sometimes have a day job to make ends meet. I am not ashamed of doing what I need to do to keep the lights on and my mortgage lender happy. However, I rarely mention it during show business functions. Why I don’t mention that I teach tennis, acting, and filmmaking classes, is a stupid reason. I feel like perhaps I am admitting to some failure in my career for not being an A-Lister. Ridiculous, you might say? I agree, but I also am being honest.
But, in the last few years, I have changed my mind about “So, what’s your day job?” and have come to realize the deserving I do to myself and the folks that pay me and, in a sense, are my benefactors.
So, in a way, every time I teach tennis to a group of little kids, or face a room full of fresh-faced people learning the basics of acting and perhaps dreaming one day of having a life as a working actor, I am grateful to these people that help me keep a float during the times when I am not on stage, or in front of a camera.