As an Actor do you Choose
or Just say Yes to Every Role?
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by N J Howell
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Why it may be wise to be choosy, even when it feels like you can't afford to as an actor.
I remember the beginning of my work as an actor. I had just finished a summer program in New York and moved straight to Los Angeles with no money and no idea what I was getting myself into in that world. I consider myself supremely lucky to be alive. I was so incredibly naive. But that's another story, one about whether or not a very young person with no money should go to Los Angeles. (The short answer is no.)
But we're here to talk about acting roles and whether one should just take whatever role is offered. As a struggling actor, I certainly know the feeling of letting go of any job at all. It feels like a kind of death when one wants to act so badly and then, is offered a great role that pays nothing or a terrible role that pays well but might damage the psyche or the reputation or both.
Should you do horror films?
As an beginning actor, what sort of projects do you want to put your energy behind? Even if you are only doing background work at the moment, it's not too soon to ask that question. I've personally had a lot of opportunity to do horror. After all, horror films are often low budget and take beginners a lot more readily than big budget films. I need to make a distnction between supernatural and horror. When I say horror, I mean blood, guts, gore and very little else. I've never done that so far. For me, there were several reasons.
1. I am aware that everything is energy. Stay with me for a moment, please. Horror films take one into the biggest fear spaces imaginable. The energy that is generated in the theatre is palpable; you can feel it. Often, a horror film will keep the audience there for a full 2 hours. The adrenalin rushes, people scream with the person being killed, They imagine the knife as if it were going into their own flesh. And if they are me, they have nightmares about it for weeks. I don't want to take people into massive fear and torture them with imagery that, while they may say it's fun to be titilated by, will stay with them long after they leave the theatre. I don't want to lend my energy to the presentation of senseless gore. Having said that, I won't say I'd never do a "horror" film but I think I can safely say I won't do one that doesn't have some kind of message of Light in it and the bare minimum of violence and gore that is needed to put across the dark side reality.
2. Horror films are often low-budget which means that the level of talent "may" be lower than is needed to create a memorable, cohesive film. There may be less money for special effects and the pay for talent is often minimal or non-existent. A workman is worthy of his hire, as it says in the bible. I know how tempting it is to do any work that comes your way when you are starving but if it doesn't pay, you'll still be starving when it's over and you may end up with nothing that you'd even want on your reel.
The point I'm making is not whether an actor should do horror but whether an actor wants their energy and the resource that they are to the world, to be used that way. What legacy do you want to leave? Every moment you are on film will live as long as there is film and tvs and movie screens. What do you want that image to be? If you genuinely feel, as do some spiritually aware friends of mine, that it's an important service to illuminate the fear, hate and rage places within us all, there may be roles you are within integrity to do. If there is a role that you feel does that in some way that brings home the reality that hurting one of us hurts all of us and doesn't just drag people through the mire of blood and gore, it may be perfectly in alignment for you to do it. Afer all, The Walking Dead is a form of horror but the writing also speaks to the human condition in ways that are very important to a species like us, who have brought themselves almost to the point of possible extinction. The zombies in that are absolutely horrible but they are peripheral to the humanity that still exists. For me, the Walking Dead zombies are a tremendous, troubling analogy for what can happen when humanity loses it's heart and ability to reason.
Should you do low budget?
When an actor is starting out, low budget or no budget shorts and indies may be the most accessible opportunities they can find. I personally believe shorts and indies are tremendous networking resources and help an actor stay creatively inspired as well as helping them connect with the moviemakers of timorrow. If an actor can afford to do low or no budget films, I say go for it but I'd be even more choosy with those than I would with big projects. Why? Because this is your first work. This is what people will see from you first. Choose according to the kind of actor you want to be. I didn't have this advice starting out and I wish I had. I never gave a thought to the message I wanted to share. I just said yes to whatever came my way. I was lucky that I got some great projects but I also auditioned for some that I was just as lucky to never be cast in because they would have ended up damaging my career and, frankly, my sense of myself and my sense of integrity. I'm grateful for those rejections!
After you have a few nice paid projects under your belt, I'd be even more choosy about doing low budget and I would not do no budget. I'd be paid something for my time, even if it's just a token payment of appreciation, or I'd pass.
Over the years, I became less and less willing to do commercials even though I knew that's where the quick, big money was. Women of a certain age (and men as well) are often featured in prescription drug commercials. I personally don't even believe in more than a handful of prescription medications so most of the commercials targeting women my age (61 in October) would involve me representing and, in essence, selling something I think may do more harm than good. I hope I am never offered a national drug commercial because I don't need that temptation, Lord. However, if I ever am and it's one with a list of side effects that includes cancer and death, I hope I have the strength to turn the massive 30 pieces of silver down.
Roles I want as an actor:
Over the years, I have begun to hone in on the roles that I walk away from feeling good about myself. I love giving people a reason to laugh; oh, how I love the comedic moment. I love roles that give people a reason to care about something, question something established as true, ponder potentials they never considered. I love roles that leave the audience asking questions about their sense of reality and truth.
I really don't mind playing the bad guy (somebody has to represent the dark side) as long as the Light of Right illumines somewhere in the film or tv show. I like playing roles that cause the audience to question what they believe because, through questioning, we become stronger. I also love roles with a supernatural element, roles that help an audience expand their belief in what is possible. And, spiritual roles that illuminate Truth excite me.
What kind of roles do you want to lend your energy to as a performer? Does it matter to you? I hope it does because entertainment is really just another form of teaching our children about our world. Movies are just a way of reflecting back to us, aspects of who we are right now.