If we actors can learn anything at all from having watched Jon Hamm play Don Draper all those years on “Mad Men,” it’s the importance of having a high tolerance for alcohol.
Wait, that’s not it…Well, that’s one lesson, sure.
But what we’re going to talk about today instead is the importance of branding.
How many episodes did good old Don have a flash of brilliance in the pitch meeting, some stunning revelation that somehow penetrated his brain through the fog of bourbon, allowing him to make a previously unseen connection that turned expectations on their head, and thus re-creating the client’s product as exactly What America Needs At This Moment.
Prior to those meetings, the client had a product, but afterward they had a brand.
That’s what we ought to be looking for as actors: A Brand. That hard-to-define sense of weight, that sense of being whole, a complete entity. That feeling that your product (you) has a solidity that confers confidence on those around us. When you walk into that audition room, you want to make an impact before you ever even open your mouth.
In other words, you want to be exactly What America (The CD) Needs At This Moment.
Now, as actors, of course we’re all about trying new things, stretching our wings and playing a variety of roles. You need look no further than comedic genius Steve Carell in his dramatic turn in “Foxcatcher” to see that learning the skills, working tirelessly, and dedicating oneself to the craft of acting means there’s an endless universe of characters out there for us to play, no matter where your wheelhouse is.
So of course nobody wants to paint themselves into a corner. However, when it comes to casting, putting yourself out there as an everyman or -woman capable of playing anything can sometimes backfire. By going too broad and not deep enough, an actor can sometimes come across to casting directors, producers and directors as bland or non-committal.
So how do we go about creating a brand for ourselves?
1. Know Your Look
The first step toward creating a brand is knowing what it is you’re selling. If you’re trying to market hot sauce, putting it in the diaper aisle is probably not going to help your sales. If you’re a girl- or boy-next-door type, trying to pull off an grizzled, intimidating tough guy persona is going get you chuckles, but probably not many roles. So you have to start with an honest self-assessment of your apparent age and physicality and go from there. Are you a mom type, a cop, a college student, a professor, a gangster, an accountant? And what kind of personality type does your face convey? Scientists tell us that the human mind subconsciously makes an assessment of another person even before the first glance is completed – we’re talking microseconds. It’s not fair, but what that means for those of us with so-called “resting bitch face” is that we can be the warmest, funniest, kindest people in the world – on the inside – but at first glance, a lot of people are going to find us cold and unapproachable. The key here is to take what you have and don’t fight it – run with it! If you’re a hard-faced cowboy type, exploit it! If your initial look says quirky, bright nerd-girl, don’t fight to make yourself look like a haughty supermodel – go with what you’ve got!
2. Get Comfortable
Seeing that you’re comfortable in your own skin is the first thing most CDs look for in an actor, so if you’re straining to be something you’re not naturally, it’s going to show. Again, the branding is about creating an initial impression – you’re going to have an opportunity to show them your chops and cut loose as the versatile actor you are and act against type. But that’s only going to happen if you get your foot in the door, and that won’t happen if you present a confusing mishmash of possible types, or come across as a bland bowl of everyman oatmeal in terms of personality.
3. Know Thyself
A great maxim for actors looking to create a brand is: “Whatever you are, become more of it.” Whatever gives you joy, whatever makes you feel most alive or connects you to your most inner, honest self, that is what you should be doing in life. And to tie that in to the craft of acting, you should be looking for opportunities to do what it is you do best and what fits your personality – whether it’s goofy physical comedy, or being an intimidating brute, or a sarcastic wit, don’t be afraid to push further into that area. If a variety of voices is something you can do comfortably on command, highlight that in your reel, and project yourself as someone who can play various characters. Again, this isn’t to say we should all resign ourselves to playing one type the rest of our lives, to being “the mobster guy” or “the girl with the weird voices.” It’s just that, as the cliché says, you only get one chance to make a first impression. And since we’re talking about acting, keep in mind that the camera – or in the case of casting, the CD – makes that snap judgment about what you represent from the first second you’re seen. If you see a can of Campbell’s soup or a Hershey bar, you don’t have to think about what it is; you process it subconsciously. So make it easy for CDs to process what they see when they see you, or your resume, reel or headshot. Make it easy for them to cast you!
4. Brand Is More Than Look
Speaking of resting bitch face, it’s okay to have that as your look – it’s not okay to actually be a “resting bitch.” Your brand is going to be about more than just your face – it’s going to be about the energy you bring to the casting room and to the set. The last thing in the world you want is to get a reputation as being difficult to work with. Even if your brand is “tough-guy mobster,” when you walk into the casting room or on set, you should strive to be engaged, open, and present. Within your image, no matter what it is, there should also exist the picture of a friendly, professional actor who is ready to work. If you can present as part of your brand that you’re relaxed, eager to collaborate, and can take direction, you’re going to find yourself getting called in more. Not only that, you’ll find yourself getting bumped up more often too when you’re working on a film or television show – getting more lines, more days of work, etc. It may not seem like it, but there is a very small circle of people working in this business – and God knows people talk. You can get cast – or NOT receive a phone call you’ll never even know about – based on how you comported yourself on your last job.
5. Make That Brand!
You can begin to create your brand right from your resume too – especially if you take advantage of NYCastings. You can upload not only resumes and update them on the fly, as well as download and print them right from the site, you can also upload up to 30 photos and lots of Video & Audio. That way you can make sure to present a variety of looks highlighting your particular brand! You can also submit for specific jobs, and send self-tape auditions to define your special types of talent.
Much as in acting itself, the initial challenge of branding is to make specific choices and then take them all the way, just as far as they can go. Don’t be afraid to pick a lane and roll with it as far as it takes you!