Being an actor is one of the most exciting journeys anyone can ever choose to embark upon. At the same time, it can be one of the most frustrating. Like a quarter flipped into the air waiting to hit the ground, we never know what to expect, only that we’re going to get one side of the two sided coin of life.
Not to bash you with metaphors, but what if you found a way to be the whole coin and not just subjected to whatever side it landed on? What I’m truly saying is that you can be excited about whatever happens in your acting career, no matter if you’re flourishing or still looking for your break.
With that being said, I want to introduce you to someone you all probably know as “Cadillac” from Netflix’s The Get Down, “Sgt. Ellerbee” from Baywatch or the “Black Manta” from DC’s upcoming Aquaman.
My cousin, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, has had amazing success in his young acting career. He has had roles most actors dream about and is still as humble as he was growing up in New Orleans. One of the most impressive things about him is his tenacity and dedication. Blessed with loads of talent, it just doesn’t stop there. He works hard everyday and is always focusing on ways to better himself and his craft. One of the most impressive things to me was his ability to have a strategy and adjust it as he needed. He’s a great actor, but an even greater man. Before I give the entire interview away, I’ll let you read some of the career making insight he’s been generous enough to share. I’ve compiled these questions in a way that every actor can benefit and come away feeling like they have what it takes to succeed and be fulfilled in this industry.
YAM: My acting teacher Ron Van Lieu once told me (at my audition for Yale School of Drama) that the people on both sides of the desk want the same outcome. Meaning the casting director hopes that the next person to walk into the door is the person that is going to make them say, “Wow!” If you can give yourself that gift, then the rest is about having fun and sharing your talent. An audition is your opportunity to play the role. Enjoy it, and move on.
SRG: What an amazing gem! What are some of your favorite things to do to prepare for an audition or screen test?
YAM: Assuming I’ve prepared the script and scene to my comfort, I just make sure to properly warm up, and have a good breakfast or meal with clean carbs in order to suppress any nerves. I strictly avoid coffee on audition day. Even if you’re not nervous, coffee can make your body anxious in ways that just aren’t helpful in an audition situation. I think lastly is, I just like to go have fun and do my best for that day. I never try to impress anyone. You have to know that you’ve impressed the room just by making it that far. So…..That helps to take the pressure off.
SRG: Very true. I’ve seen pressure be the demise of a lot of performers. What’s been your biggest obstacle to success in the entertainment industry? How has that challenge made you a better person and actor?
YAM: As someone who has had a considerable amount of success relatively quickly, I would say that my biggest obstacle has been knowing when to step away from the work and dedicate time to self care. And that’s important in order to be a better actor and person especially. In my experience, everything eventually suffers when one isn’t balanced. Working a lot means that a most of your time is already dictated for you, so it’s that much more important to build in a space to be centered and take care of what your body and energy is craving. I like to think I’m getting better at that.
SRG: That’s an amazing point. You can’t work if you’re burnt out. What’s the most important thing for an actor to do, without question, when they feel like giving up? For example, you’ve been on a hundred auditions (lol, that’s a bit exaggerated), no callbacks, no sign of progress, How do you turn it around?
YAM: This is a tough one and there’s no way around that. I would recommend three things: 1. Create your own work. Just so that you’re in practice. Because if you stay ready you don’t have to get ready! Also, some actors find the most (more) success when they create their own lane! (Issa Ray, Michaela Cole, Donald Glover) 2. Know that auditioning is your job and treat it as such. Be prepared, Practice, Perform, And don’t be precious! Throw away the sides as soon as you walk out of the room. 3. Most importantly, stick around! In acting, some things happen sooner for some people, but if you stick around, your turn will come.
SRG: How important is it to stick to your plan to be a success as an actor? But also, how do you truly know when it’s time to make adjustments?
YAM: I think it’s important to plan to make adjustments! Haha. Have a goal, have an idea of what you want your career to look like, or the type of projects you desire to do, and be open to learning and inviting new creative ideas along the way. In terms of planning, discipline is key, but do not confuse discipline with stubbornness. It’s ok to learn, grow and change as an artist.
SRG: Lol! Ok, what would be the most valuable advice you would tell to a new performer who just got out of school, who just moved to Los Angeles, New York or Atlanta, who aspires to the success that you’ve had in this industry?
YAM: Keep up your practice! Acting is NOT like riding a bike. If you don’t use it, you lose it. You’ll always have talent, but skill and craft must be ongoing. When you graduate you will likely feel at the top of your game, that’s great! Keep that! But also know that you feel so confident because that was your life every day for 3-4 years. So don’t stop your body/text/vocal/clown work. If you do that, and stick to some of the advice above, I think it’ll help out a lot.
SRG: You’ve shared such amazing, insightful information, but I want the world to know the truth. Lol! Ok, I’m only going to ask you this because you’re my cousin. But can you please tell the rest of the world I taught you everything you know, including those Cadillac dance moves? Lol, let me stop! You don’t have to answer that, hahaha! But on a serious note, anything else you would like to tell to the millions of actors that will be reading this looking for a spark to move closer to their dreams?
YAM: Hahahahaha I think we know several people who can take some credit for Cadillac! That character is all throughout the family! I would say… go for it! You are enough!! Believe in yourself. And also… don’t be the one left waiting. Get up, get out, start failing, and start creating!
And there you have it. The thing I find the most inspiring about this whole segment is that you are likely only a few steps from succeeding as an actor. As Yahya stated, put you first. When you understand that you are already more than enough, you are already the superstar you desire to be, great things happen in your career, but most importantly your life. Take this advice, apply it to yourself and go get the success as an actor that belongs to you.