I'm currently doing an acting course in LA. That's not something to brag about, anyone can do an acting course in LA. If you throw a stone here, you will hit a sign advertising an acting course. As well as a hobo with a sign saying "need $$ for weed" and a rapper giving out 'free' demo CDs in exchange for cash (which, I like to point out and then run away, IS NOT FREE). There is a shit tonne of acting courses in LA - some dodgy, some exclusive, some in between. I have done two courses on this trip, both terrifying and incredible, and combined with my wealth of knowledge from my brilliant teachers at home, I am full to the brim with acting inspiration.
Teachers often ask the same ice-breaking question in the first few minutes of class. 'Why are you here?' is not necessarily designed to be a philosophical, soul-searching question, but us painfully-sensitive-observers-of-life actors might take it so. At least, when it was asked two weeks ago, I did*. It was only the first moment of my first class, and I was already all philosophical and distracted. I don't mean I went off on a spiritual quest for meaning, searching my letterbox for answers and having a Native American woman blow them into my head (in case that image confused you, it was a reference to two great sources of philosophical reasoning... 'Sophie's World' by Jostein Gaardner, and The Simpsons Movie). But I did briefly wonder why I was here in LA, with very little money, doing scary classes to try and be a part of an industry that is notoriously soul-destroying. Spending a few weeks walking the streets of Hollywood - streets that are paved with gold and covered with filth, that are lined with commemorative Stars and littered with cigarette butts, that have been walked by huge movie celebrities and worked by huge transvestite prostitutes - I thought I'd feel lost in a sea of unknown, out-of-work actors who are more jaded than Nephrite**. But, to my great surprise, living in LA for a month has not scared me into working harder or giving up on acting. It has inspired me (to work harder... not give up). To all my Aussie actor buddies who sometimes, like me, feel a bit overwhelmed by the distance between our fingertips and the stars we're reaching for, this is the number one thing I have grasped - there is room for us in Hollywood. There may even be need for us.
Everyone knows this business is a bitch. One time, I was specifically asked to audition for a part I was 'perfect' for in a short film. I was so flattered... until I read my character description. It began, "Fiona. 24. Dumpy, plain, lots of cellulite...." and I was so depressed that I stopped reading and ate six kilos of chocolate instead (that'll show them!! Oh...). We constantly get our flaws pointed out - it's not usually malicious, just matter-of-fact. Here are some things I have heard in the past year, "We might do your close-up on Thursday instead and hope your skin clears up", "You look bigger than the measurements you put on here", "Can you laugh again, but be pretty", "Wow... you have no eyebrows", “We’ll airbrush your ears smaller”, and “You must be the plus-size model”. You wanna have thick skin as an actor. But that thick skin better be tanned and flawless.
Yes, showbusiness can be, to quote Bart Simpson, “a hideous bitch-goddess”. (Cheers, Bart. Nailed it.) But it can also be wonderful and creative and fulfilling, and most of the actors I know are in it for the right reasons - for the love of acting. There's just a lot of bullshit that goes with it, a lot of sucking up and sleazing off, and the time spent doing actual acting is very minimal compared to the time spent dealing with bullshit. But it's all part and parcel, and the teachers I've had have filled me with faith. Not only have they given me incredible acting lessons (thank God, I paid them a shit tonne), but they have proved how do-able an acting career is, and that there is actually a shortage of the right type of actors. Ones who have more drive than a... car? (It's late and I have done hours of classes today - I'm out of analogies). Most importantly, I learned this month to not let the bullshit discourage me, and to remember a few essential things.
Hard work pays off. A lot of people who call themselves 'actors' are not actually putting in any work. This concept was given to me by one of my teachers. You're acting career is a business. Now, imagine if you were running another business. As the boss, if you woke up at ten, went to the gym, met a friend for lunch, maybe made a phone call in the afternoon, took a nap, and then called it a day, would the business be very successful? No. Your acting career is the same. Every hour of the day where you are not doing some kind of work towards your goal, someone else is working harder than you. (This concept particularly struck a chord with me... because even though I consider myself a hard-working actor, she basically described my usual 'business' lifestyle... UNTIL NOW!) It is especially important in an industry with so many people vying for so little work. Work hard, and you will be a step above 95% of the actors in the world who are sitting around waiting for opportunities to fall in their lap.
You don't have to be famous to be a working actor. This one has been ringing true to me for a couple of years now. I get so much joy out of being on stage that I feel that I have the best job in the world already. Even if being an extra in a Coles ad is the most 'recognisable' thing I ever do, I plan to be finding and creating work on any scale for the rest of my life. There is actually a lot of work in LA for actors, obviously because most TV shows and films are made here. If acting is what you love, then keep acting. Work towards your goal of stardom, but treat every job as an opportunity to work on your skills and do the thing you love.
You are not on a time limit. Everything worth doing takes time, so if you want to be a great actor, study your ass off and keep acting from now until forever. Also, there is no age bracket that isn't represented in films, so you don't have to peak before you're thirty to be an actor. I did one Musical Improvisation class, and a woman in her late seventies came in after about ten minutes. I expected her to sit and watch, maybe knitting whilst rocking back and forth (she looked like the Granny who owns Tweety Bird, so I thought she'd behave as such). We were doing exercises of Musical Improv, which is the scariest concept on the planet - loudly singing songs you are making up off the top of your head while trying to be funny, rhyme, and find a melodic structure. She got up, was expected to improv a song with a partner in the setting of a Home Depot (Aussies, I think it's like Bunnings). She was hilarious. She was brilliant. She totally fucking nailed it. She made me happy for two reasons - firstly, because I was crying with laughter at her song about love and lightbulbs, and secondly, because I realised I have fifty years to get as good as she is at her age.
Be kind to yourself. Enough people are going to beat the crap out of you in this industry, so don't be one of them. Know your strengths, work on your weaknesses, know how to sell yourself and when to be humble (by the way, Aussie actors - it's okay to sell yourself sometimes.... American actors - it's okay to be humble sometimes!), but always be kind to yourself. If you didn't succeed in a scene, or a class, or an audition, or a job, shake it off, get over it, and don't beat yourself up.
So, actor friends who feel overwhelmed by the millions of actors trying to 'make it' all over the world, remember that there is room for us. I mean it. This is what I do when I’m overwhelmed – and this will only work for the really hungry actors like me (I use that figuratively AND literally. I’m hungry for success and pizza, in any order):
Hold your hands as far apart as you can, imagining that it stretches a mile. Pretend that’s all the people in the world who have some kind of desire to be an actor.
Now halve that to about shoulder-width. That’s all the ones who are actually entertaining the idea and doing something about it – classes, reading scripts, etc.
Now halve it again. That’s the ones who are actually talented (hopefully you are still in! You’re great! Be kind to yourself!).
Now halve it again. That’s the ones who are willing to work their asses off.
Now halve it again (if you are doing this right, it should be pretty small now...) That’s the ones who would be willing to risk being flat broke for life for it.
Now hold your hands as close together as you can, so they are barely a millimetre apart. That’s you. You are not one of a bajillion actors trying to make it. You are more than that. You are not competing against the millions of people in the mile-long group, you are in the millimetre group of the diehards, and in that little group, there is plenty about you that is unique.
Anyone can be in the mile-length line of actors, anyone can go the extra mile. But you will go the extra millimetre.
I've walked down Hollywood Boulevard every day for my acting class, and I've seen all the empty stars on the Walk of Fame, and all the spare cement yet to be handprinted in front of the Chinese Theatre. You see? There is plenty of room for us.
*Few people know (because I always forget) that I was invited to Camp Aurora (a camp for 'gifted children', or as I recall, a nerd camp where nerdy kids can be full nerds) because, at ten years old, I showed promise in the subject of Philosophy (how, I don't know, as I hadn't known it existed and then kept calling it 'filoffosee'). Camp Aurora was okay but I didn't learn much... I was jealous of the Drama students, Philosophy was shit. Our Camp teacher spent three days asking really big questions, like "Where are we?" and "What is it all about?", and I spent three days asking really big questions like "Where is the food?" and "Can I go home yet?".
**Nephrite is one of the two minerals referred to as Jade. I know that from my rock-collecting days... okay maybe I did belong at nerd camp.
By Lucy Gransbury. Follow her on twitter @LucyGransbury. Or follow her in real life. She is probably chasing an acting career or the pizza guy.