Sunday, 16 November 2014

The Toughest Things About Being An Actor

Being an actor is tough. Career instability, financial insecurity and constant scrutiny about how you look. Makes you wonder why anyone would do it for a living. But those aren't the truly difficult things. Oh no. Here are just a few of the things that are far worse...

Spotting THAT person you went to drama school with in a ‘Check Out These Amazing Next Big Things Who Are The Stars Of The Future And Are So Much Better Than You And We’re Featuring Them Even Though They’ve Got Plenty Of Work And There Are So Many Other Hardworking People Would Could Benefit From This Kind Of Coverage’ type article.

Look at them, all lovely with their hair done all nice while you’re sat in a pair of pyjamas that you haven’t removed for the last 3 days. Hang on, did that stain just MOVE?

Your favourite pyjamas being in the wash.

You know the ones – comfy enough to fall asleep in at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon, warm enough so you can avoid putting the heating on even though the mould on the walls has formed frost and respectable enough to answer the door in without the postman looking too horrified.

Pacing a free bar entirely wrong.

You’ve been invited to a thing. You don’t want to go because, well, your favourite pyjamas are clean and you’ve got the flat to yourself and RuPaul’s Drag Race is calling…

“There’s a free bar.”

You turn up horrifically early, hoping to get in on the free bar action. Now, generally the rest of the night will go one of only two ways:

Every photo of the night features you clutching three glasses of wine with your boozy gaze only able to focus on any available snacks


You decide to be sensible and not make a fool of yourself. Maybe you’ll brace yourself and do some much-needed networking. You average a glass of wine every 45 minutes only to discover the free bar was only for the first hour. You slink off home at 8pm and pick up a sausage roll and a bottle of Lambrini on the way home.

Social networking

‘OMG. Just been offered the most AMAZEBALLS job. All top-secret right now though! ARGH! #soblessed’

‘Need me my own PA! Soooooo busy today! 3 castings, 1 voiceover, 1 meeting with top director AND a costume fitting!!!! #WhatAmILike?!?!?!?!’

‘Oh NOOOOOOOO. Been offered a totes AMAZING film role but it clashes with the most DIVINE theatre role. SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT I SHOULD DO! #hatemylife’

We all have these. You’re flicking through trying to see which of your old school mates now has the worst hair (hey now, mullets with a copper sheen are very popular in more rural areas) and one of those status updates pops up. You know you should be pleased for them but all you do is scream at the screen and become even more determined to live-tweet Homes Under The Hammer.

Questions about your career.

  • Oh of course, I totally know when you’re going to see me in EastEnders. Let me just let the Casting Department know that I’m booking myself in for the 2015 Christmas storyline…
  • I do all types of acting. No, not porn.
  • Yes, I have been in something you might have seen. Your mum.

These are your stock answers to the stock questions that you will always get. They will usually come from well-meaning folk who, to be fair, have no idea what to say to someone who has willingly chosen to pretend to be a tree for a living.

Seeing friends in plays

Personally I think ‘seeing a friend’s play’ should be the new term for anything that should be discussed behind closed doors and after a thorough check for bugging devices has been carried out.

There is a lot of pressure as an actor when you go to see a friend in something. Firstly, WHY THE HELL DIDN’T YOU GET SEEN FOR THIS? Oh, I mean, I’m really pleased that my friend is getting this wonderful opportunity. But you will be overly critical. You’ll spend most of your time trying to work out which is the annoying one in the cast (there’s always at least one) and the rest of the time either being insanely jealous (if you liked it) or wishing you’d sat nearer the exit (if you didn’t.)

And then there’s the time in the foyer/bar/street after, especially if you didn’t enjoy it. What do you say? Do you lie? OF COURSE YOU DO…

“OH MY GOD! Well done you! You must be exhausted! How long did it take you to learn all those lines?!”

And, of course, you then realise that you’ve heard those lines before. HANG ON A MINUTE – people said that to YOU the last time YOU were in something. The Circle of Acting Life, friends.

(DISCLAIMER – if you’re a friend and are reading this, I totally loved YOUR play. It must’ve been so hard being on stage that long.)

Shakespeare questions at pub quizzes

  • Complete the title: Romeo & ________
  • What is Shakespeare’s first name?
  • Name any character in Antony & Cleopatra.

Shakespeare is tough and of course you’re going to pretend that you’ve read every single one of his plays and understood it and loved it (“My, Shakespeare! It must’ve taken you so long to write that!) So it’s no surprise that when the inevitable question comes up at the pub quiz, all eyes turn to you. When in doubt, either pretend to have not heard the question, quote the Oxfordian theory that Shakespeare didn’t write the plays anyway so the question is invalid or just answer ‘Leonardo DiCaprio’ and hope for the best.

Playing Charades

Actually, mime and the type of acting you do are two very different things so no, it’s not your fault that it took your nan three hours to work out that you were doing ‘I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.’ Those 3 years at drama school were definitely worth it and the fact you now can’t feel your hands does not bring your acting talent into question.

Not being able to use any other photo apart from your headshot as your profile picture

Guys, this is TOUGH. It’s alright for everyone else, they all have fun photos of them wearing a silly hat at the work Christmas party that they can use. Sure, you’ve got photos like that too but how can you possibly use that when there’s a photo of your airbrushed within an inch of your life? IF YOU DON’T USE THAT THEN HOW ELSE WILL PEOPLE REALISE THAT YOU’RE AN ACTOR AND IT’S THEREFORE OK THAT YOU HAVE FACEBOOK CHAT OPEN ALL DAY?

Daytime TV.

Learning the day’s viewing schedule is very demanding and has meant that you’ve forgotten many important things like why you wanted to be an actor in the first place and the last time you washed your hair. But how else are you meant to know when to have your fifth cup of tea (it’s when you fly for the remote to switch off Loose Women.)

But still, at least we get to do our food shopping on a weekday, eh?

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Quiet At The Moment

“Have you got any acting work coming up?”

“No. It’s just really quiet at the moment.”

If you’re an actor and you’re not Benedict Cumberbatch, Olivia Colman, Martin Freeman or Sheridan Smith then, chances are, you have this conversation on an almost daily basis. If you’re like me then you’ve probably already seriously considered having the answer tattooed to your forehead to save time.

But is it really “quiet at the moment”? Generally, it’s always quiet. Throw a date an actor and within seconds they’ll be able to tell you why they’re not getting work at the moment…

January 12th? People are still getting back to work after Christmas and the New Year.

March 8th? People are trying to work out when Easter is this year.

July 22nd? Everyone’s going on holiday now.

October 28th? Working out Halloween costumes, innit.

As depressingly impressive party tricks go, this skill falls somewhere between playing the spoons badly and being able to name every Big Brother runner-up. But still, every actor needs to be able to show off something. 

As far as acting work is concerned, I’ve had a terrible couple of years. Some people complain of dry spells whereas mine is increasingly looking like it might easily develop into a dry decade. But can I blame it all on the industry or is it me that’s to blame?

So I thought I’d take a real hard look at what work is out there. I took one casting website (a website I pay £20 a month to use and be able to apply for paid work) and recorded the work that has gone up this week. Now, firstly, we need to take into account that some jobs are posted and taken down the same day. I can’t record those because, funnily enough, my call centre manager isn’t particularly sympathetic when it comes to a vague idea I’ve had about a blog. So today I checked all the roles that have been posted (excluding teaching jobs) since Monday 13th October and the results are as follows:

Paid work:
Female roles: 86
Male roles: 104

Unpaid work:
Female roles: 137
Male roles: 183

Now, my point isn’t going to be about the difference between male and female roles available. I’ve written about it before, I’ll probably write about it again but, for today, you can think about that on your own. My point isn’t even about the amount of paid work versus unpaid work. Again, that’s for another day. No, my point is about the amount, or lack of, work available.

Now, for the sake of argument, let’s pretend that I’m ok with working for free and happy to apply for both paid and unpaid roles. On the face of it, 223 roles for me as an actress in the space of a week doesn’t seem so bad. That’s about 32 roles a day to contend with. Considering I'm also trying to deal with getting in 8 glasses of water, 5 pieces of fruit and veg and 10,000 steps a day, it's almost too much to cope with. But, of course, take into account the jobs that aren’t in London, the jobs that need a 17 year old blonde, the jobs that need you to be a fire-eating juggler who can do a headstand on stilts, and, like a ratatouille that contains 6 (SIX) different vegetables, you're whittling your number down a lot. So that then narrows it down to maybe 4 or 5 jobs a day, if you’re lucky. Well, that’s still alright, isn’t it?

Well, not if you take all those other pesky actors into account. Apparently there are around 38,000 actors signed up to this particular site. And with 510 recent roles up for grabs then, well, that’s only 37,490 actors going without this week. This means there are only roles for just over 1% of the actors on that site and only paid work for a measly 0.5% of us. Of course, actors are getting their work from other sources too and a percentage of that 38,000 will be already working or not using the site…but still…the worst case scenario hypothetical statistics are making me a little teary….

And if we presume there’s a 50:50 gender split, I can be potentially up against 18,999 actresses. That’s a lot of people. In fact, that’s 18,999 more than I’d like there to be. 19,000 is the population of a small town. That’s not what I want from a small town. From a small town I want a cracking bakery and an OAP called Val who can tell me all there is to know about the local bus route.

I know people who have put up acting jobs on this particular website who have gone on to receive in excess of 1,000 applications. And often they only have maybe 3 or 4 roles to offer. Even if you’re looking to fill a cast of 10, that means you’re potentially turning down 99% of those who applied to work with you. Those are a lot of sad faces and if there's anyone who can ham up a sad face, it's a sodding actor. 

And then, of course, there are the practicalities of applying for these roles so you’ve got at least got a chance of being within that lucky 1%. If you’re relying on these sites to get work then, chances are, you’ve got a day job to keep the wolves from the door and the milk in the fridge. And these jobs (often promo work, call centres, waiting/bar staff or teaching) often mean that there’s very little time to get onto these sites and actually find yourself the work you really want to be doing.

I currently work in a call centre which means applying for these jobs during the day can be tricky. I get roughly 30 seconds between each call which, by the time I’ve shaken off the joy of being told to piss off for the 78th time that day, I don’t really have a chance to find a suitable job, write a killer cover letter, select the best headshot and submit my details. I try and do what I can on my lunch breaks but, again, by the time I’ve eaten, rested my eyes and ears and then put my soul back together, my time is limited. So I apply when I get home at 10pm, hoping that they decide to check their submissions starting with the most recent. 

So is it really quiet at the moment? Yes, it is. When you're applying for poorly paid jobs on a Friday night, the buzz of an 8 hour call centre shift still ringing in your ears, that's about as quiet as it can get. It’s quiet for me and other 99% who are all hoping that, soon, we’ll get our chance to be in the 1%. But until that time, it's probably best you just don't ask... 

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Nothing To Showreel

I don’t currently have a showreel.

If I was doing pretty much any other job (that wasn’t a writer, musician, designer, singer, etc) then this wouldn’t be a problem. Accountants don’t need to submit a fancy time-lapse video of them balancing books and judges don’t need to attach a .wav file of their gavel hitting. But as actors, to prove that our CV isn’t just a pack of lies that we dreamed up one quiet Wednesday afternoon, we’re expected to have hard, physical evidence of our ability to be on screen.

Now, for anyone who either knows me in real life or follows me on Twitter, you might have spotted that my last couple of years as an actor have been about as fruitful as Scotland. In fact, I’ve got to the point where I’ve even considered committing an unsolved crime just so I can get the chance to play myself in the re-enactment on Crimewatch. Thankfully the realisation that I probably wouldn't even mange to get cast for that has put me off and I'm clean as a whistle, guv. Honest.

So I find myself without a showreel. The things I have been in have either been made by buffoons who are so inept that even providing a copy of my work is far beyond them or they’ve been corporate jobs who won’t allow their precious training video to be seen by the public for fear that it’d just be too upsetting for people to witness. As it is, I’d be better off chasing down GoogleMaps cars and trying to get the footage they’ve got of me wandering down Crouch End Broadway.

But the problem with not having a showreel is that it makes it damn hard to get into things that would help you towards getting a showreel together. When you’re pitting yourself against a small army of Doppelgangers, it’s no surprise that the casting director goes for the ones who can prove that their CV isn’t just a well-formatted wish-list in Times New Roman. So you can’t get work because you don’t have a showreel and you can’t get a showreel because you can’t get the work. And you can’t even get an agent to help you get work because you don’t have a showreel to show them your work.

“Oh hello, Catch. The usual, is it? One 22 coming right up.”

What to do then? I’ve got new headshots in the hope of at least attracting a few people before they realise I’m seriously lacking in the dramatic montage department but they’ll only take me so far. It’s getting to the point now where I’m going to have to do some unpaid work if I want my showreel to be any more than just a grainy clip of me, aged 6, playing Jack Frost in the school play. I’m not really in a financial position to do so and supporting the majority of unpaid work (the whole debate around unpaid work is for another time) makes me feel more than a tad queasy but what else are you supposed to do?

Making your own work? Yes, but that takes planning, getting equipment, writing, finding time amidst earning money to pay bills and organising other people who are all trying to do the same thing.

Stealing Jennifer Lawrence’s showreel and sticking my own head on hers? More tempting.

Infiltrating the police and stealing all the CCTV footage of myself that I can find? Probably the most likely.

Or maybe, just maybe, I might get lucky. On second thoughts, someone get me Jennifer Lawrence’s showreel and the number for the Met. 

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Sandwiches, Crisps & Lead Roles: The New Wave of UK Actors

Actors. They're everywhere. On your television screens, in your theatres and making you run the gauntlet as you travel down your local high street. You might even say there are too many. But do you care about what they have to say when someone hasn't put a script in their hand? Probably not but we've decided to talk to Benedict Lewis-Fox-Irons and Resty McUnemployederson, two actors who represent this worrying rise in thespians...

Benedict Lewis-Fox-Irons: "I really hate not getting all the roles." 
Cloak, £12,389, Shakespeare's Personal Collection.

Benedict Lewis-Fox-Irons

Lewis-Fox-Irons is white, 29 and grew up at Eton. He stars in The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, Black Mass, Magik, The Yellow Birds, Jungle Book: Origins, Flying Horse and every other film currently in pre-production. He's even in films written by writers who aren't even born yet. This year he has been in so many films that 2014 has been officially declared a year of rest for all other actors. He lives between Los Angeles and London so he can ensure he can always be where you aren’t.

What did you like best about being at the Oscars?

Being up for every award going. It was slightly embarrassing when I was nominated for Best Sound Mixing and Best Makeup and Hairstyling, seeing as I don't really even know what those mean, but I thought it just looked neater if I was nominated for all the awards. Everyone agreed because my Dad pays their wages.

Have you had an “Oh my god, I’ve made it” moment?

Oh definitely. It was the very moment I was born.

What’s been the least glamorous moment of your life so far?

I once had to audition for a role. There was this awful mix up and I even saw one of the other actors who was up for the role. He'd been on ITV, for goodness' sake. It was so humiliating that I had everyone fired and put the actor in a 5 year run of a play touring schools about farm safety.

Have you ever been starstruck?

Yes. I have a lot of mirrors in my house. You'd think I'd be used to it by now but my reflection just gets me every time.

What are your must-haves on set?

The lead role, obviously.

What was your first job?

The lead in some film. It only made $3 billion at the box office which was just awful. I've tried to forget about the whole thing. I'd rather we moved on, please.

What makes you angry?

Tom Hardy. He gets far too many roles for a man with only 3 syllables to his name.

Resty McUnemployederson: "Sorry, can you give me a second, 
I just need to take this call from my temp agency." 
Pyjamas, her own but she thinks they're C&A, £4.50

Resty McUnemployederson

McUnemployederson is female, in her 30s and grew up in a house. She stars in a short film that was banned from YouTube for being such poor quality and she’s been in a play that was universally hated by 11-16 year olds. She lives in a flat with 8 mice and a damp problem.

What did you like best about being at the Oscars?

Haha, the what? Oh, do you mean Oscars Nightclub? Probably Happy Hour. If you get there early you can get 5 shots for £5. It’s usually still daylight at that time but it doesn’t matter. It gives me something to do.

Have you had an “Oh my god, I’ve made it” moment?

I have actually! I had to run for the 43 bus yesterday and I was convinced I was going to miss it but I made it just in time which was a relief because my pay is docked if I'm late for my shift at the call centre.

What’s been the least glamorous moment of your life so far?

She gets out her CV. Well, I mean you can take your pick really. Being barefoot and filming in the freezing cold at 2am? The film set that didn’t have any food? Having to crawl around on the floor and fight other actors for stale bread? The time I got wedged in the doorway of a casting suite? Actually, you're probably better off just scanning in my CV and showing that.

Have you ever been starstruck?

Oh yes. I'd once got comps to see at friend at the Royal Court and was waiting at the bar to get a glass of tap water. Unfortunately I didn't realise Nigel Havers was also trying to get to the bar and he pushed me out of the way. Pushed and struck are sort of the same thing, aren't they?

What are your must-haves on set?

A sandwich and some crisps. They get really angry if you have to do another take because your stomach was growling too much. Oh, and somewhere to sit. That’s always nice.

What was your first job?

I helped out at a vet's surgery. I once got to hold a pot-bellied pig's head.

What makes you angry?

When my pyjamas are in the wash. It's really awkward answering the door in just your pants.