Monday, 15 April 2013

The Not-So-Secret Actor

The Guardian has started a new blog called The Secret Actor. You can read it here: As an anonymous actor blogger myself, it made me bloody angry. In fact, I've barely stopped thinking about it all day. The thought that people might even consider that this accurately represents all actors has stuck with me for hours. So here is my response, the result of nearly 8 hours of festering musings. Enjoy (I hope)...

I'm not a well known actor. In fact, you'll never have heard of me. Yes, I'm anonymous but that's because I'm one of thousands. Even if I told you my name it would mean very little because there are so many others like me. Y'see, I'm part of The Great 98%. I'm in an exclusive club made up of a collective of actors who are lucky if they earn 35p a year and a lifetime's supply of sweaty sandwiches. Yes. I'm one of those 'unsuccessful' actors.

The Lucky 2% may have had some depressing, hilarious and outrageous encounters along the way. They've had tortuous auditions where they've had to hold up a bit of paper where their name has been misspelt. I know, makes your heart bleed doesn't it? But don't worry, that's in their past now. It's an amusing little anecdote they can tell while they remain safe in the knowledge that they can pay their rent without having to sign half their life away to a soulless call centre. The Lucky 2% may have some funny tales to tell but it's The Great 98% who are living it. Our lives are one long depressing, hilarious and outrageous encounter.

Oh to be humiliated by a piece of paper. Those of us in The Great 98% can only dream of auditions where the worst that can possibly happen is someone spelling our name wrong. If we're lucky enough to even get an audition we face far more degrading ordeals than the 'mugshot experience.' I've crawled around on the floor for three hours pretending to be a neanderthal while a production company threw chunks of stale bread at us to fight over. I've had to nervously hum 'Happy Birthday' in a dingy cellar, lit only by an angle-poise lamp and my own shame. I've had to pretend that I'm reading the news while aliens try to contact Earth via my teeth. I've run up and down a church hall for a solid 10 minutes in a swimming costume. I've been told that I should be ashamed of a reasonable character choice that I made. I've wandered around a building site for nearly 2 hours because the director didn't show up. I've fallen over more times than I dare to remember and I've fluffed my lines in front of some of the biggest casting directors in the world. I've misunderstood directions to the point where I've essentially made a fort out of every object in the room and I've worn the tightest jeans in the world to a movement audition. So, when all someone asks me to do is hold a piece of paper with my name spelt a bit wrong, you can see why it takes all my willpower to not hug them forever.

Yeah, being an actor is tough but a lot of people are struggling right now. I know actors can sometimes come across as selfish and self-obsessed but those traits aren't exclusive to actors. We chose this job and yes, we may complain about it but no one's making us do it. The 'poor me' routine won't work while there are around 2.5 million people unemployed in the UK at the moment and the majority of people are having a far worse time than we are. The nature of our work means we have to keep a close eye on ourselves most of the time but many of us are pretty good at keeping that other eye trained on the rest of the world. It makes us better actors and better people.

People think the acting industry is hugely sociable but I'm sure I speak for many actors when I say that it's very easy to feel rather lonely in this career. The reason I started writing this blog is because I wanted others to realise that it wasn't just them. We all, whatever job you may do, have those moments where we wonder what the heck we're doing and can't imagine anyone else is going through the same thing. So thank you, Secret Actor. Thank you for bringing solidarity to The Great 98%.


  1. The greatest injustice of this is that you are a much better writer than 'The Secret Actor'!

    Maybe they should just concentrate on being in the 2 per cent and put their laptop away.

  2. I've just read most of the posts on your blog and I have to say it's very disappointing that the Guardian didn't appoint you as their Secret Actor. Not only do you have a much better idea of what most actors go through, your writing style is both easier to read and far more entertaining.

    I have very little experience of anything to do with showbiz. I'm a doctor and for all the whining we do about how we never have a life and take too many exams, I think that your career path is much harder. I appreciate the work that actors do. Entertainment improves our quality of life.

  3. I recall when Daniel Craig was on Graham Norton show and he gave examples of the ridiculous auditions he had to do for commercials. It was good to hear him say these things to the wider public. There's little worse than going into these commercials auditions and the director's assistant intern (ie working for free) says something like "Oh this one is going to be such fun, we want you to walk around the room pretending to be a snowman in the sun, whilst reciting from Alice in Wonderland. In Arapaho.". Then the director's assistant reminds you that this a buy out for £1,000.

  4. For what it's worth, thanks for that stupid blog I found you. And I like you and you're much much just... better. Will be following your blog now :)


    Before I ask this question, I must first tell you of my background. I know actors pretty damn well. My father was an actor and theatre director. He ran a drama school in Notting Hill when I was a child, and also one of London's first multi-racial theatre companies. As a result we had at least 5 drama students living in our house at any one time. I would wake on a Sunday morning to Chekov in the front hall and Tennessee Williams in the back garden. Our house was one large creative melting pot in honour to the craft of the Actor.

    I myself chose a career 'behind the camera' so to speak and have worked in every possible role in every single genre that the combined creative industries has to offer in a journey that has lasted almost 25 years. I have worked in Theatre, TV Drama, Sit Com, Feature Films, Commercials, Animation, Music Video, TV Branding, Large Format Entertainment, Live Music, and I have spent many, many years working very intimately with actors.

    A wonderful actor is an incredible creature, their DNA is somehow intrinsically linked to the pulsating creative energy that is the life force of the heavens. To them acting isn't a choice, it is a pre-determined absolute necessity to which there is only one answer. These actors are few and far between.....

    Then there are those who, with a small amount of talent, and a great deal of sheer guts and determination, self-belief and sacrifice, slowly climb the ladder, but by every God damn breath they have in their bodies they are going to carry on if it is the very last thing they do.

    And there are those who through some divine coincidence, (the ancient mystic master will tell you there is no such thing as coincidence), happen to be in the right place at the right time, when Lady Luck's golden ray of benevolence shines magnificently on these lucky creatures.

    And then there are the rest.

    And it is to those who I want to ask my question. If you know deep in your soul you are one of the 98%, never to be in either of the three categories above. That your acting 'career' is a continual ferris wheel of disappointment, disgrace, and humiliation all wrapped up in an undignified coat of cynicism and desperation....I have this question for you...WHY DO YOU STILL DO IT?

    When I was young actors I would work with had lives that went pretty much like this:

    1. Theatre was the first love and one could be guaranteed of a good couple of theatre jobs a year.

    2. TV. In those days there was no such thing as 'reality TV'. So for an actor TV paid the bills. Whether it was drama or sit com, you knew the mortgage was paid and the gas bill covered for the year with TV.

    3. Commercials. How wonderful, a new kitchen!

    4. Film. A little bonus that may happen a couple of times a year if you were lucky.

    In the vapid and soulless celebrity world we now inhabit, where everyone wants 'to be famous'; where TV produces a festering pile of crap that has no opportunity for a budding actor; when every Tom, Dick and Harry has become a film maker, and has diluted that once unusual and exciting art, (where an actress is offered £3 and hour to bare not just her breasts but also her soul); And where style trumps substance every time.

    If you are still, after many years in the 98% then I hate to say it, BUT YOU PROBABLY AREN'T A VERY GOOD ACTOR.

    What is it inside of you that thinks being an actor is the road to Shan-gri-la?

    Why do you think being an actor is the answer to all of your dreams?

    I have several actor friends of mine, who after years of pain and disappointment re-trained and now have happy, loving, functioning lives.

    I have been around actors a very long time, and it is something that I come back to time and time again....WHY?

    So please can one of you write me a short, succinct and erudite answer to my question, because it has baffled me for many years.

    1. You might have a better chance of getting a "short, succinct" answer (or indeed any answer) if you were to ask a short, succinct question.

    2. Firstly I understand that there are people in the 98% who aren't very good actors, but quite frankly this comment: "If you are still, after many years in the 98% then I hate to say it, BUT YOU PROBABLY AREN'T A VERY GOOD ACTOR." Shows that there is one aspect of the industry you have failed to address and, despite your extensive exposure to the industry, failed to acknowledge and that is some extremely talented actors have simply never had the opportunity.

      Getting the job isn't always dependant on talent. A common saying in this industry is that the most talented actor often won't get the job. There are many other considerations in the casting process and talent is only one of them. I am amazed that for someone who has been around actors so much you are ready to write off the ones who didn't fit your understanding of the business.

      Re: your questions regarding 'Shan-gri-la' (sic) and what it is that makes us(?) think being an actor is the answer to all of our dreams. I will try to answer both of these:

      1. I do not think being an actor is the road to Shangri-la, in fact have no interest in this road or its destination (I'm not even sure what this question means or what relevance it has to actors or any professional for that matter).

      2. Being an actor certainly isn't the answer to all of my dreams. I am an actor because it is the best way I can express myself creatively. Some people paint, some write, others sing etc. I am sure a lot of them are in the 98% and continue to do it regardless of success as it is a need, a compulsion, if you will, to express oneself. Any creative person knows how powerful this need is and how destructive it can be if not tended to.

      I am an actor because I love it and to date have never tired of the opportunity to express myself through this medium. By your definition I am probably not a very good actor, yet you have not seen any of my work so your statement seems sweeping and uninformed, especially THE PART IN CAPITAL LETTERS. What is that? Are you shouting?

      Being in the 98% isn't ideal, but it doesn't stop me doing what I love and whilst that doesn't always pay the bills it gives me an unfathomable happiness to do this job.

  6. look, darling, if i were your agent i'd say you should be in comedy. you'd zoom right to the top of the bloody tree, know what i mean? stuff all that theatre malarkey, and get into standup. it's how everyone's doing it these days. you can do the acting bit when you're massively famous and can do what you bloody like.
    that's my tuppenceworth anywho. i'm CONVINCED you'd be a star

  7. "I've had to pretend that I'm reading the news while aliens try to contact Earth via my teeth" - this sounds like the sort of wonky stunt Ken Campbell used to visit upon newcomers under that bookshop in Camden.

  8. I've read both your blog and the Secret Actor article on the Guardian website as they were both mentioned to me by friends in the industry. I'm an actor myself and safe to say that won't be reading either your blog or the Secret Actor's in the future. They both remind me of why I don't really like most actors very much - whinging. So what if the SA had a tough time in the audition process? So what if you've had it worse? Why not spend some time trying to get work and make a living rather than writing about how little money you earn. Work when you can and live your life in the meantime. And as for the previous commenter -

    "A wonderful actor is an incredible creature, their DNA is somehow intrinsically linked to the pulsating creative energy that is the life force of the heavens. To them acting isn't a choice, it is a pre-determined absolute necessity to which there is only one answer. These actors are few and far between....."

    Have you got any idea how f***ing stupid you sound. Some people can act and some people can't. Simple as that. And of course acting is a choice. You do it or you don't. And most of the time you don't because di**heads like you are in charge of giving out the jobs.

    It's idiots like you that make me want to leave the industry so I don't have to listen to any more of your pseudo hippy b*****ks.

    1. Hi Anonymous

      Thank you for your reply. Sorry that you find my blog whingy but, of course, I can't expect everyone to enjoy what I write.

      This blog is very much a side project that I've created to help actors realise that they're not alone. The rest of my time is spent earning money and trying to get myself work as an actor. Again. I write about how little money I earn as I hope it will be of some support to other actors out there who struggle to make a living from this career choice.

      Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. Sorry you didn't enjoy it but good luck with your acting. I'm pleased you don't have to whinge as much as I do about it.

    2. Dear Anonymous,

      Throughout your comment all you have done is recreate the very thing you claim to hate. Your entire comment is a massive whinge - a little contradictory wouldn't you say? Just a little bit of information for you, everyone, not just actors, complain, express how they feel, "whinge" some of the time. I'm sure there have been plenty of times where you have done just that - you've given a perfect example above. If you find this human characteristic so hard to deal with, you might be forced into early retirement, maybe even a well deserved continuum of solidarity. I'm an actor and Miss L has helped me through times when I've felt at my utmost low. It isn't a choice to act by the way, because if it was, we wouldn't bother. We have to be actors because it's the only way we can be true to our selves. I have to disagree about Miss L talking "hippy b*****ks", truth and honesty is what I think it's called, two attributes that most people tend to lack. Oh and one more thing, I think if Miss L was a casting director, we'd all be paying our rent on time.

  9. Miss L your blogs never fail to entertain! Insightful, interesting, thought-provoking and witty observations. Thankyou.

  10. To the actor that left the comment yesterday.....

    With that much anger why don't you leave the obviously know nothing about your craft....

  11. Miss L,

    Fantastic. I love a good rant and that was GOOOOOOOOOD. Totally agree with you. As for Mr. Anonymous above whom you just responded to, I think he sits in a garret being silent, broody and worthy far too often and for far too long. Or drinks. Or both.

    Hope we see you on the telly one day. But will we know who you are?


  12. From a writer's point of view, I understand where you're coming from. You do have to be single-minded in going for what you want, so driven that every breath is concentrated on your next audition or the next part you are fortunate enough to get. It may come across as whining to those outside of the acting world but it's still a job.

    If other people had similar treatment in their jobs, they too would be moaning and whinging on their own sites. It's no different than anybody else.