Being a freelance actor is tough. Enough said. It’s an intricate and complicated entertainment world that we ourselves are trying to navigate. There is so much behind the scenes that goes on that many people are perhaps not aware of. Many tear drenched pillows, blue and yellow knees, hollow heartaches, empty stomachs and weightless wallets. But there is also standing ovations, Oscar worthy cameo roles, bouquets of flowers and fulfilled souls.
While I love the innocence when people ask me what do I do and I answer them, the sequential questions and thoughts that follow do make me dread answering. If you can answer these questions with confidence, then big props to you. But perhaps you can relate back in your early acting days, when you were fresh in the industry. This is an attempt to alleviate some anxiety for my fellow freelance and aspiring (or “struggling”) actor peers.
Here are some things non-actors say to actors and what we say and what we’re really thinking.
You are so good. You should be on (insert popular TV series). Why don’t you go on (said TV series)?
What we say: Aw, thank you so much. That would be lovely wouldn’t it?
What we’re thinking: I would love to be on said TV series. That would be a dream come true. And guess what? I’ve auditioned for them several times for different characters. It’s not that easy. You would be good as a CEO of a company. Why don’t you? Because just like with a job application, you apply and they select you whether you fit what they are looking for. And although there are so many reasons why I didn’t get the part, the bottom line is they thought someone else fitted the role better.
Oh, you’re an actor? What have you been in?
What we say: Oh, I haven’t been in anything big yet. I just did a few shows here and there. I’m an aspiring actor. Actually I just act in my spare time. It’s a hobby.
What we’re thinking: Nothing. I’ve been in nothing that you would even know or that you would deem significant because it wasn’t on TV or a major musical. It was a small play I put together with my theatre group, or a small scene I did pro bono for the film students at university. I have been in 3 jobs at the same time, while trying to pay for my acting classes, and working the night shift at the bar with little to no sleep. Or my best piece I’ve done is the one where I sit in my room all day waiting for auditions, while practicing my accents and watching movies for “research”.
Wow, you’re an actor? Do a piece for me?
What we say: Oh no thank you. Maybe another time? (Laughs it off).
What we’re thinking: As much as I love acting and performing for an audience, of course I want to publicly open out in a Shakespearian sonnet, or cry on cue. But alas, I’m not a street performer where you throw money at me and I give you a show. The moment I book a show you’ll be first on my emailing list when I send out invites. Hey, you’re an engineer? Build something for me!
Are you going to be the next Charlize Theron? (For my fellow South Africans)
What we say: Thanks for the compliment. Maybe one day.
What we’re thinking: As much as I’d like to dream, I highly doubt I will get picked up by an agent in a bank while throwing a tantrum for a cheque that just bounced. Charlize Theron is incredible, without a doubt. But she is not the only South African to make it to Hollywood. And who said I was going to Hollywood? I’m still trying to pay my rent, feed myself and my dog, before I can even think about applying for a green card while praying to God I get it, and going into debt to afford a plane ticket to the States, with no place to stay, no agent and not enough money to join an actors union.
You must get a lot of money!
What we say: It’s enough to survive.
What we’re thinking: BARELY! Yes, I might have got paid a couple thousand for that one advert I did a few months back. But that money has to last me several months before another acting gig comes along. Forbes has distorted it for the rest of us who aren’t Dwayne Johnson, Jackie Chan or Matt Damon (this year’s highest paid actors in 2016), who are getting about $60 million! I’m lucky if they throw in a free lunch on the job. Yes, there are some actors who are living quite comfortably, some even sitting pretty. But for the rest of us working our way up, home cooked meals and discounted theatre tickets are our way to live.
When’s your big break?
What we say: I’m not sure. Hopefully in the future.
What we’re thinking: If I knew when my big break would be, I would go straight to free parking and collect 200 when I pass begin. I could be struggling for years, or hit a major role tomorrow. It’s so unpredictable. I can’t even tell you what I’m doing tomorrow. I may think I’m doing nothing, and then 4pm I get an email from my agent saying I’ve got an audition where I need to speak Chinese while juggling on one leg for the next day at 9am. We’re living on the edge.