Backstage Experts Answer: 16 Ways to Fail as an Actor
Our Backstage Experts are acting teachers, coaches, casting directors, actors themselves, and everything in between. Having been in the industry for decades, they’ve learned plenty and know what it takes to succeed, so we knew they’d be the perfect group to ask the following question:
What’s one sure-fire way to fail as an actor?
Here are answers from 16 industry professionals!
(And if you missed the last installment of this column, check out “What Do You Wish You’d Known Before You Started in the Industry?” and see how to get your acting questions answered at the bottom of this article!)
Paul Barry, L.A.-based Australian acting teacher One of my first Backstage articles dealt with this question in a broader sense in the industry.
As for what an actor can do to fail in performance, I would encourage you to consider that failure is welcome, and should, in fact, be embraced. For every piece of advice suggesting traps to avoid, there are A-list stars who did exactly those things and still maintain terrific careers. They may even have those terrific careers as a result of ignoring such advice.
Regardless of your level of experience, you will always manage to screw something up. It’s only a matter of time. However, the one thing that all successful people have in common is that they haven’t given up yet. If you want to know what real failure looks like, it would be the alternative. Giving up.
Is taking a risk, arriving late on set, or shouting at the casting director a way to fail? Maybe. Maybe not. But one sure-fire way to fail is to quit or not even try in the first place.
Tracy Byrd, L.A.-based casting director The easiest way to fail as an actor is by managing expectations. For some, each audition brings an expectation of booking. When, or if you don’t book, you feel rejected. Book the room. Create relationships. Breathe and enjoy the journey. The journey is the destination.
Marc Cartwright, L.A.-based headshot and editorial photographer Currently I think the easiest way to fail is to sit back and expect that someone is going to hand you a part based on talent alone. Unless you have some major nepotism working for you, you need to be out creating a name for yourself and not just waiting for an agent or manager to sell you. Strengthening your social media, creating your own content, and networking with filmmakers at festivals are all ways in which you can be proactive.
Stephanie Ciccarelli, co-founder of Voices.com Being arrogant is one of the surest ways to fail as an actor. One example of this is when an actor interprets set direction as mere suggestion. Choosing to stray from what you are asked to do could result in a lot more than not getting the role. When the person in charge provides you with direction, follow it to the best of your ability (given it falls within your boundaries as an artist). Make the performance your own, but don’t go so far as to omit or drastically change basic requirements of the script because you think you know best. Casting people want nothing more than to get the right people in the room. Prove that you are deserving of the opportunity by respecting the casting director, their client, and the script. If you do this, you stand a better chance of being invited back or landing the role.
David Patrick Green, founder of Hack Hollywood One sure-fire way to fail as an actor is to follow the herd. Every actor has to realize that the reason they will be successful is because of their uniqueness, and copying what other people do either in pursuing their careers or in their acting is a guaranteed way to fail. They already have one of everyone else, so just be yourself.
Cathryn Hartt, founder of Hartt and Soul Studio The only way to fail as an actor is to give up. Never say no to yourself!
Many years ago, my sister (Morgan Fairchild) was going on a commercial audition for a product for an advertising agency that had turned her down just two weeks before. I asked her why she was wasting her time even going. She said, “If I don’t show up, they don’t get to say no to me!”
By that, she meant that she would definitely not get it if she didn’t show up.
Whoever shows up the most wins. Whoever quits, loses. Period.
Kate McClanaghan, L.A.-based casting director If you expect to be “directed” with every utterance and move you make, you’re actually asking to be micromanaged, whether you realize it or not, and it’s a deal killer! In other words, you may (inadvertently) be demanding the director do your job for you. The director has more than enough to do without having to babysit your performance. No one likes to be micromanaged, and frankly no one (in their right mind) wants to micromanage you either. Instead, be a valuable member of the creative team from the start, whether you’re on an audition or on a job. We want to see what you have to offer first and foremost—how you think this scene should go—and then we’ll offer our two cents…at which point we expect you to apply it. That’s true collaboration. Not waiting to be molded and shaped within an inch of your life. Otherwise, your career will begin and end in the very same spot, and you will have only succeeded in frustrating yourself.
Stefanie O’Connell, found of the Broke and Beautiful Life The easiest way to fail as an actor is to get too comfortable. Whether it’s becoming too comfortable in your survival job such that you no longer push yourself to get into auditions and classes to improve your skill, or getting too comfortable at a certain stage in your career such that you don’t take the risk required to get to the next level, even if it’s where you really want to be. There’s a fine line between contentment and complacency, and the latter can be dangerous to any personal or professional pursuit.
Jessica Rofé, founder and artistic director of A Class Act NY Don’t beat yourself up and try not to get in your own way! It’s easy for neurosis to creep into your consciousness—especially after an audition. Try not to be angry at yourself for not giving your best performance. Stop second-guessing yourself! That defeatist attitude will surely defeat you in the long run.
Gunnar Todd Rohrbacher, founder of Actors Comedy Studio I think most of the time when you ask questions about how an actor can succeed or fail, thrive or flounder, win or lose points, etc., you can just replace the word “actor” with “person” or “human.”
For me, the easiest way to fail as an actor is the way I think people fail as individuals, which is to take without offering.