If you’ve been a working actor for any length of time, you’ve surely experienced the surreal moment of walking into an audition waiting room and seeing a dozen or more people who look a whole lot like you. I had the privilege of meeting the incredible John Carroll Lynch (Fargo, American Horror Story) after a show I did some years ago. As he hung out with the cast, he shared a story of working in Hollywood in his early days, even after the success of Fargo, and walking into audition after audition that was like that.
“It looked like every overweight, balding white guy in Los Angeles was there,” he said.
So, it’s great to have a clear type, for sure. And of course it’s great to be called in to read. But when you find yourself in a place like that, surrounded by a million carbon copies of yourself, a bunch of other actors who share your same basic hair color, body type, age and etc., what can you do to make sure you’re the particular one they remember?
Unfortunately, far too many actors don’t put a lot of thought into this vital question. The end result for them is, even though they may bring the goods when it comes to auditioning and performing the material, and even though they have the right look, for some reason the CD and production team remember someone else better – and gives them the role.
And it’s not just about the audition itself either. As we all know – and as the hoary old cliché goes – it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. It’s an old saying but it’s true: so very much of finding success in this business has to do not with what you do once you’re in the audition room, but rather how you network and leverage yourself in order to get into that room in the first place. Here then are a few ideas for making sure you will be remembered!
What we’re talking about here with regard to networking and getting yourself on the radar of the people who make the decisions is marketing. Yes, we actors are artists, and many of us like to think solely of the purity of the craft and focus only on that. But the simple truth is, you can be the best actor in the world, but if you just sit at home by the phone waiting for it to ring without doing some leg work, you’re likely to be waiting a long time. Part of your job is selling the product that is you. That means you’ve got to take some lessons from the minds of marketing.
If you can take a moment to think of yourself as the product you’re selling, you can start to better wrap your head around the idea of marketing: what are your marketing materials like? Is your headshot up to date? How about your website? Nobody wants to buy a product whose dusty packaging and label looks like it was designed in late 1979, or order something from a Geocities-era website.
Also on the topic of headshots, make sure when you update them that you work with a HEADSHOT photographer, one who knows how to leverage the latest styles in headshots to give you something that nonetheless is attention-grabbing, and looks a bit different from all the rest. You don’t want your headshot in the pile to be the two-dimensional equivalent of that audition waiting room, just another actor who looks exactly like all the rest.
There’s a great old Monty Python sketch called “Crunchy Frog,” in which a health inspector warns a chocolatier that he must change the name of his product to reflect what it really is: “Crunchy, Raw, Unboned, Real, Dead Frog” if he doesn’t want to be fined.
“But our sales will plummet!” wails the candy-maker.
I relate this very ancient bit of very silly humor to illustrate the notion that a catchy product name is vital to selling a product, and actors are no different. If you have a difficult to say or extremely generic name, think seriously about punching it up to a stage name with a bit more pizzazz. In order to succeed in a highly competitive business like acting, you’ve got to use every weapon at your disposal, and a punchy, memorable name is a great start. Think about how much more fun it is to say the names these stars went with instead of the original:
Allison Brie – born Allison Brie Schermerhorn
(Could you even fit that on an Emmy? Would you want to??)
Katy Perry – born Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson
(“No, I’m NOT THAT KATE HUDSON! GOD!!”)
Criss Angel – born Christopher Nicholas Sarantakos
(Watch me make ten syllables disappear…)
Andrew Lincoln – born Andrew James Clutterbuck
(Who do you think you are, buddy? Benedict Cumberbatch?)
Mahershala Ali – born Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore
(Nope. Not touching that one.)
Say My Name
And, once you have your super cool new name, make sure you update everything with it – including grabbing the website and changing your email to match it. Don’t make the rookie mistake of forcing CDs to try to correctly write some obscure email address like email@example.com for instance. Give them yet another opportunity to remember your name by grabbing your website, say MaxPowersActor.com, then use your email from there: Max@MaxPowersActor.com. Same goes for starting social media pages with that name as well and directing all your marketing materials to them.
One other thing: list your phone number! And ANSWER it!! Guess what, CDs are busy. If they want to get in touch with you, they’re going to pick up the phone. Far too many actors miss their opportunity because out of habit we don’t answer calls and delay on calling people back. Don’t be another casualty of communication! Get in the habit of answering calls even from unknown numbers if you’re out there reading a lot.
Finally, once you’ve got all your marketing materials locked down, you can get back to the part we all really love, and that’s the acting! Make sure when you go out to an audition that you’re bringing that rock star energy into the room with you from the get-go. You want them to associate your cool new name and your awesome acting talents with a bright, energetic, fun person in real life.
Remember what a mentor of mine taught me long ago about auditioning: it’s not up to them to make you feel comfortable when you walk in the room – it’s up to YOU to make THEM feel comfortable. They’ve been dealing with tense, nervous actors all day reading the same lines over and over again – it’s exhausting being on the other side of the table too!
So if you can roll in with a relaxed smile, a funny quip, or a word about how you enjoyed a previous project the director worked on, you’re giving yourself a great leg up toward being remembered – and booking the role!