When you think of yourself as an actor, do you think of yourself as your “brand?” Or do you think of yourself as an actor who is more interested in expanding your boundaries; someone who is committed to developing the skills and artistry to play the widest range of roles possible with equal strength and believability? The way you answer that question may tell you whether you are more committed to your acting or to your marketing.

When I worked at Halpern and Associates talent agency, actors we met would sometimes tell us their “brand.” We appreciated their awareness of what they could do, but we only represented strong, versatile actors. We wouldn’t send every client out for every role, of course, but we did expect every client to be great in every role we did submit them for. We never considered signing anyone who felt strongly connected to only one part of their personalities. Casting always loved our actors because they were so much more than a brand. When they would call to hire an actor they would talk about how the actor expanded the possibilities of the role, gave it dimension; they would thank us for sending them a “real actor.”

Casting director Gayle Keller, (The Big Sick, Trainwreck, Louie) has this to say to actors: “You don’t need to worry about your brand. Just be as prepared, interesting and true to yourself in the role as you can be. The bottom line is that you have to show that you’re skilled and interesting.” This is especially true in today’s marketplace. With the writing and the overall quality of what we now call television being better than ever, actors are expected to bring more than they ever have to the audition and to the role. Gayle agreed with every other casting director I spoke to. They expect no less than a fully embodied human being in the audition and ultimately will hire you for the roles they think you are right for – your brand doesn’t matter to them.

Brad Gilmore, known for casting such films as Girlfriend and A Bag of Hammers, prefers actors who are willing to show all of themselves and their talent, “When you audition for me, I’d rather not have you try to trick me into thinking you’re this or that type. I want to see someone who has prepared extensively to bring the role to him or herself. If you’re presenting a brand you’re putting up a barrier between us and I can’t get to know the real you. It’s not acting, it’s a sales pitch and I’m not buying.”

The concrete nature of branding is also at odds with the constantly changing energy of life and the fluid nature of creativity. Living a life focused on putting forth a small, fixed idea of yourself can cause you to become rigid and non-adaptive, separated from the natural rhythm of human experience. You sacrifice your spirit of creativity, your artistry and your flexibility in the interest of pushing this prepackaged picture of yourself on the world. This compromises your overall power and effectiveness as an artist.

True actors spend their time not focusing on defending and selling a brand, but rather doing the work that allows them to go more deeply and more meaningfully into themselves and their acting. They are creatives who are always looking break out of the cage of branding and play with big boys, the real actors. They have an awareness of who they are and what they can play, but they never narrow themselves down to a brand because they know that a brand is far from the whole story they have to tell. They know that it’s short sighted for actors to lose their focus as creative beings because they think they’ve discovered part of themselves that may sell.

One of my students looks like a big threatening biker. He’s well over 6 feet tall, heavily muscled and tatted. He auditions for, and books, the roles that you’d expect. That said, he’s never thought that that’s all he could play and he never stops looking for ways to expand himself as an actor. Recently he was asked to audition for a recurring role as a lawyer on a network show! Because he never bought into the smallness of branding and seeing himself as just the “mean biker,” he was able to easily tap into what he needed to audition for the role of a lawyer – and to book it.

Dale Raoul, a character actress well known for her work in True Blood, Under the Dome and now Heathers takes a similar stance. “Why put limits on yourself? Being typecast is somewhat unavoidable primarily based on what you look like. Let the outside world pigeonhole you. The job of the actor is to use imagination to explore a myriad of different personalities. This year alone I’ve played everything from a rich society matron to a down- and- out hoarder. What could be more fun or challenging?”

Without question, marketing is important to any actor’s career. But, is it more important than the dedication it takes to be to being a skilled and compelling actor? In order to succeed as an actor, not just as a commodity, you need to be spending your time living with your eyes open, leaning into new experiences, growing and training to be that special actor who can breathe real life into any role you audition for. Before you start planning how to tell people about yourself, you need to have honed your awareness of the many facets of yourself and of your talent. If casting can see from your auditions that you are a grounded, confident, compelling and fully embodied actor– you’ll become the person they have to hire. This is what actors who see this as their career aspire to and work toward. And that’s the only “brand” you need to be.

 


Craig WallaceCraig Wallace’s background in script development combined with his 16 years of coaching actors enables him to find the job getting moments that others miss. His expertise in breaking down text and years of coaching experience has made him “L.A.’s go to private coach.” Sign up for his group or private classes at wallaceauditiontechnique.com.

 

 

 

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