What is an actor? Is being an actor about how many jobs you book? Having representation? Making money? If so, how much do you need to make? And what if you haven't worked for a while? How long does one need to be out of work to no longer have the right to call himself an actor? Three months? Three years? And who gets to decide the length of time?
It's remarkable what people will say to actors. Once, when I was on the phone discussing rates with a car insurance salesman, he asked me what I did, and when I told him that I was an actor he said “Someone once told me that if someone says they're an actor you should ask them if they make their medical to find out if they're the real deal. So” he asked, “do you make your medical?” I was astounded at his rudeness—I replied “Well yes actually. Now tell me, did you meet your sales quota last month?”
I have the blessing of being an acting teacher as well as an actor and my students are a constant source of inspiration. Being in class with them every week keeps me connected to what being an actor really means. Dedication, determination and most important, the heart of a champion.
I am reminded of the Dodgers in that amazing game in 2006. It was the 9th inning and the Padres were winning 9-5. Figuring that their team was beat, the Dodger fans had begun to leave the stadium. Then, at the bottom of the 9th, the Dodgers came back and hit four consecutive home runs--only the fourth time that's happened in an inning in major league history. Then Garciaparra hit a two-run homer in the 10th and the Dodgers ended up winning 11-10. Now, if the Dodgers had lost their heart in the 9th—thought to themselves 'we're obviously losing—there's really no reason to keep trying since we don't have a chance'—they would never have won that game.
I have a student with Parkinson's disease. This guy is one of the best actors in my class—very talented, but what blows me away is his heart. He has a full-time job, his arm shakes like crazy when he's tired or nervous, and yet he shows up every week rehearsed, his lines cold, and plays full out every time he gets on the stage. When that arm really gets shaking we say he “wears his heart on his sleeve.” I don't think the deal gets anymore real than that.
I have another student who also works a full-time “straight” job and is tremendously talented. He is so driven by his desire for excellence that he almost always has two scenes going at any given time. He is always meticulous about every aspect of his craft. The other day I received this email from him:
“…after 9 years of busting my ass, doing drops on lunch breaks, class, workshops, mailings, student films, working survival jobs that suck the soul out of me,…I have had a grand total of about 3 auditions for paid gigs…If I could ever get in the damned room, I could do some damage.Then again, no one said it was going to be easy, did they?”
This actor has the heart of a champion.
I don't believe that being an actor has anything to do with how much money you make or what kind of recognition you get from the industry. When someone is lucky enough to make their living solely from acting that's wonderful. But what really impresses me is what an actor does when he is not working.
Do you have the heart of a champion? Do you keep playing full out when the fans are leaving the stadium and it looks like there's no hope? Are you an actor? The real deal? The answer is in your own heart.