Do you ever feel as if every other actor in the world has this magic DNA to be a “star” and that you’re somewhere in this reject pile of boring blandness? Incapable inconsistency? Loser laziness?
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to discover that besides talent (which I believe everyone has equal amounts of), success and a career in the arts is more about a combination of less understandable variables. Being in the right place at the right time, landing the right role that matches your essence, having the right people see your work, getting support from key people, catching a break and realizing none of it is actually personal.
Oh, and – working hard, not giving up, studying and growing, persevering when you want to quit, enjoying the process, not taking any of it too seriously – also help.
But I also think nowadays, there are more opportunities for all people of all kinds to break through and create their own work, find ways to be seen, get noticed in innumerable ways and find their own successful niche in a business that’s becoming increasingly fragmented and Wild-West-like.
If you don’t believe me, listen to what two amazing artists say about finding their way through the work and building a career that works for them.
“Eight years ago, I made a network sitcom pilot based on my life. It was a dream come true. A sitcom about my life? What could be better than that for a standup comedian? Well, it didn’t get picked up. I was devastated. But here’s the kicker: Failing to get that sitcom was the single greatest stroke of luck that’s happened in my entire career. The show wasn’t truly my comedic voice. It was watered down by network and studio notes to the point of being like dozens of other bland sitcoms.
After that, I no longer wanted to create projects for the Hollywood gatekeepers. The networks. The studios. Since then, I’ve created a handful of pieces for This American Life, self-produced three Off Broadway one-person shows, toured hundreds of cities around the world, and written, directed and starred in two feature films. All outside the system. Based on that work, I’ve been offered small movie roles by people who work inside the system. Which is to say: Leaving the system behind and creating something of your own may actually be thing that gets you into the system, hopefully on your own terms. The point is, forget the gatekeepers. As far as I’m concerned, what you create in a 30-seat, hole-in- the-wall improv theater in Phoenix can be far more meaningful than a mediocre sitcom being half-watched by seven million people. America doesn’t need more stuff. We need more great stuff. You could make that.”
And when one of the stars of Transparent, Gaby Hoffman was asked in an interview what she realizes now about acting that she never realized before, this is her insight.
“I still don’t quite know exactly. I know what I love in the experience that I’m having now. . . . I get to go to work every day with really extraordinary people, and our job, and very few people can say this, my job – I am paid to dive deeper into my own humanity, and do that with other people in collaboration. You know when you’re working with people who are really in it to get to the funny real tragic painful truth, then it’s almost like a spiritual experience. I don’t really know what I do, it’s almost like I go into a blackout when I’m acting. I just know that it feels really good, you know, when you connect and you find It. So I am still trying to figure out how to answer that question for myself, but I am every day curious about it. And I’m listening to myself and to all of these other people, and the writers, and everybody that I’m collaborating with and responding, and I don’t know where that’s going to lead me, and every day I discover more about who I am and what about acting turns me on. But also just who I am and how I feel about the world, and there’s nothing more exciting and energizing to me. So ask me again in a few years because I’m just starting to really think about it.”
In other words, you too can do great things, even if you often think you can’t. On your own terms, making it meaningful for you. Not because it has to look a certain way. Those days are gone. You make it look the way that works for you.