“The casting director told me I wasn’t right for that part.”
“I’m afraid of being ‘typed’.”
“My agent keeps sending me out on stuff I’m not right for.”
You’ve heard those expressions many times. But do you know what people are talking about? Do you know what you’re right for as well as what you’re not so right for?
A few thoughts.
You are right for something when you make the material work better with you than without you, when several of the following elements illuminate the role in that particular project. These elements are always in flux and have
different ascendancy in each actor at different times in their careers: physical type, training, life experience, work experience, personal quality and being ‘ready to work.’ There are more, but these cover the basics.
To define these elements:
Physical Type: The genetic recipe you’ve inherited and what you’ve done with it. These things about your person cannot easily be altered for a given production, including height, weight, body type, coloring, distinctive
physical or facial characteristics. Some actors are more changeable than others and some projects have the luxury of more time and money to help an actor in this regard.
Training: The younger the actor, the more important the training is in this mix because it gives you the window through which you view the a role and helps determine what tools you have to execute your discoveries. The more
you work, the more you live, the more kinds of actors and directors you’re exposed to, the more classes you take, the less prominent the initial training becomes.
Remember every technique that’s been around for a while was developed in response to the material being written and the technology the actors had to use. So it only makes sense that different people respond to different
techniques and different material calls for different techniques. You can’t work on Greek drama and a contemporary slice of life screenplay with only the same tools.
Life Experience: Here’s a good example of how life experience plays and doesn’t play into the notion of what you’re right for. Years ago, in one of my first jobs as a casting director, we got to call backs with three men
being seriously considered for the role of “Bruno,” a New York City cop, age 29 who still lives at home. Bruno moves out at the end of the play.
These three were excellent actors, but of very different kinds. Two of the men were 36 years old but both certainly looked young enough to play 29. However, one of them came off as too old because his physical life was very parental. It communicated something that said this guy didn’t still live with his mother. And even though he was given the note before call backs to alter some things physically, it just didn’t work because he was a parent in life, and he was the kind of actor who drew heavily on himself. He couldn’t lose the paternal stance without losing something truthful in the work. The other 36 year old was considered not so right physically, that he was a little too finely grained or fragile for a NYC policeman. The last actor was in his 40’s, looked too old for the part but had come up with a great interpretation. He too was a parent, but he had greater physical training and didn’t have to use himself as he did in daily life. He worked more from his imagination and his physicality. We could have gone with him despite his being wrong physically because of his work.
We wound up casting the second actor. He’d come up with a terrific idea that I might describe this way: he was on his way to leaving the family home, he was just a little slow. It took him the whole play to get out the door. We used him because his idea made the material work the best. Every second of his performance agitated from his intention to get out on his own.
Some actors personalize in a way that draws heavily on their life experience, some work more from the imagination or a created sensory reality, some work more from the intellect. I think good actors need some of all these techniques and the industry need all kinds of actors.
Work History: I think this is fairly obvious. You grow from each role you do, each situation you’re in, each set of actors, directors, writers, designers, etc., that you work with. This gives you more to draw from.
Personal Quality: I would define it as that which comes through, no matter what role you’re working on or what techniques you’re using. Some actors have a very strong personal quality, some are more mutable, but you all have one.
Ready to Work: I could do a whole piece on this subject by itself. You’re ready to work when you have the skills to execute what you are cast as; you’re ready to work when you can be hired to perform a service — bringing this part alive — without asking the business to solve some unconscious dilemmas for you. For example, to use a cliche, lots of people go into acting because they want some sort of approval. It’s very hard to stay in acting for that reason.
Hope this offers some food for thought.