No-Bullshit Career Talk With... An Actress
Auditions, rejection & doing things that make you feel alive.
Anna and I met, like any great modern day friendship, on the internet. From the offset, her energy was infectious. She’s the kind of person who truly lives. The kind of person who not only tries things beyond her comfort zone, but will tell you how it honestly felt, too. Her brilliantly written blog inspires me to live a little more bravely. Here, she writes candidly about what it's really like to be a working actress. Rejection, career anxiety, asshole producers and all.
I spent most of my teenage years sucking my stomach in.
I wish that was a metaphor for something, and maybe it is, but mostly, it’s just a sad, literal truth. As a result of several years of semi-secret bulimia, my favorite thing to ask myself as a teenager was, “Do I look thin enough? What if I suck in some more?”.
Then, the summer I was 17, my wonderful mother found an acting course in Paris and sent me off to be my dramatic and absurd self surrounded by people who wouldn’t find that weird.
Halfway through the course, I also had a realization: during a scene, I was so captivated by everything going on and the energy around me that I forgot to suck my stomach in. I forgot to care.
I think that was the moment I decided acting was it for me.
Fast forward a couple of years and I am a professional, working actress living in London, where I went to drama school and met my incredible agent. Happy ending, end of story. HA! I wish. Then again, where would the fun be in that?
Let me tell you something about being a “professional, working actress”: it’s one hell of a ride.
Fantastic, and rewarding, and sometimes makes you feel like you’re on top of the world in a way that I think only creative professions can. It’s such a beautiful high to get lost in the art of it. A script, a character, a moment, a connection with your scene partner - even just an audition. Sometimes I spend the entire day walking on clouds because of a good audition.
On the other hand, sometimes you might go weeks, or even months without an audition, or a job. And this is true for me now, at the start of my career, just like it is for award-winning actors. The beauty of the age we live in lies in the fact that more and more actors are able to get ahead (and stay sane) by creating their own work and publishing it online - but that doesn’t always negate the hurt and disappointment that come with a phone that just won’t ring. No matter how “good” or proactive you might be, it will get to you.
That’s where a strong support system comes in, and why that’s so vital for anyone but artists in particular -artists are self-destructive. If you don’t have amazing friends on speed dial who will pick you up from the floor (literally) when auditions are scarce and you’re this close to losing it… you will 100% lose it. And artists are also quite dramatic, so chances are it won’t be pretty.
It also won’t be easy. Not at all.
Hundreds of people graduate from drama schools in the UK every year. Five years is the ‘average’ amount of time people stick it out for, before either ‘making it big’ or giving up. There were 19 graduates in my year and I’m one of the 6 people who have been working since we left. I’m doing good. And still, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve cried until 3AM because it’s all just so damn hard.
Want to know the closest I’ve come to throwing in the towel?
One was in March, which was actually a really good month. I’d left my first agent and auditions were suddenly flowing left right and centre, I was booking jobs, I was on top of the world. So of course, that was when my skin decided to go crazy on me for no apparent reason (yay, hormones!) -the day before I started shooting my first short film. Of course.
Armed with 15 layers of makeup and a great fake smile, I showed up on set thinking “I’m a professional, I can do this. Focus on the work, it’s gonna be fine.” but that quickly changed when I overheard the producer and director saying they wished they’d cast a prettier girl, ‘cause me being this ugly was gonna ruin the entire shoot. Ouch.
I still can’t look at that footage without my stomach knotting up -even though my skin cleared up and that producer waited 6 months to pay me, so really, screw them.
Even so: they’re not lying when they say you need to have the thickest skin of all thick skins to survive in this business.
My second close-call was two months ago. Summer is always slow, but I was also in the middle of moving (aka hell -Londoners, you get me, right?) and in a weird place with one of my best friends, plus homesickness was taking a toll and I just woke up every morning thinking ‘I’m not good enough. I’m never gonna make it.’ If it wasn’t for the amazing two weeks in LA which I’d already booked for August, I’d probably be writing this from my childhood bedroom after moving back home to work in a bar and cry a lot. Or something.
America did the trick for me because it reminded me why I want this so badly. And I don’t mean fame and fortune -although not having to worry about my next pay check would make life a little easier, fame cannot be the end goal.
If you’re not doing it for the right reason, whatever that might be, it’s really not worth it.
If you’re doing it for yourself, though? If you want it so badly that the prospect of working in a tiny, smelly theatre in the middle of nowhere fills you with joy because it might not be much but it’s acting, and that’s enough? If you’re doing it for that 17 year old girl who loved acting so much that she kind of forgot she had an eating disorder? Well, then, keep going.
Keep trying, and trying, and failing, and crying, until good things start happening. And then some more.
Then all the terrible jobs, the hurtful comments and the ridiculous things you’re asked to do at commercial auditions will suddenly seem a little less awful.
Eyes on the prize, and enjoy the ride. I know it’s a tricky one, but I promise, it’s gonna be a good one.