Sometimes You Have To Call In A Specialist: Making a Name From Your Special Skills

“What I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.” – Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills in “Taken” (2009)

When you’re just starting out as a small fish actor in a massive pond, you’ve always got to be on the lookout for some way to shine, some way to make a unique mark among the millions of other hungry actors like yourself. 

And we all have that one actor friend who is, shall we say, “gifted.” 

The actor with the special skill set just as particular as that of Liam Neeson in “Taken,” if perhaps not so lethal. 

This would be the actor you always see at the callbacks.

It’s also the actor you often see quickly rising up to the top of whatever pond he or she happens to be swimming in, and seeking out bigger lakes and oceans.

And when you think about it, special skills these days can be all you need to leverage your way into regular work – if not actual fame. Depending on how you define “special skills,” people from Hugh Jackman to Kim Kardashian got where they are today due to their special skills! 

Hugh for his ability to sing, dance, act and do on-set combat – you know, actor stuff – and Kim for her ability to…uh, well, to quote Joel McHale, she’s “famous for having a big ass and a sex tape.”

That apparently counts for a skill in this day and age. Who knew?

We’re by no means suggesting that the low-road Kardashian path to fame is in any way a recommended path. However, her story can be an opportunity for reflection on special skills. We all have them, but we don’t all use them to our best advantage. 

So what’s the best way to maximize your certain set of skills and parley them into a career? Here’s a few ideas.

1. Get To Work

Here’s hoping that you’re more prone to the Hugh Jackman route, that is, mastering skills one can perform in polite company. Here’s also hoping you’ve submitted your info here to NYCastings, the site where more agents and CDs go first when looking for talent! 

Now down to brass tacks on special skills: If there’s one thing you do NOT want to fudge on your acting resume, it’s the special skills section. Look, most people aren’t going to check up on whether you really played the lead in the senior production of “Bye Bye Birdie” at uni, but if you have “expert-level equestrian” on there and you get called in to read based on that, guess what? You better not be afraid of horses. Be honest in your self-assessment as you fill in this section. You do not want to get a reputation for not being able to live up to your “reputation.” If you’re applying for an office job and you exaggerate your MSWorks background a little, usually no one’s the wiser. But when it comes to acting and going out to read based on your special skills, your exacting honesty is everything.

2. Remember, They’re YOUR Skills, No One Else’s

Here’s the thing about your special skills: they are YOURS. They are unique to you, and no one else in the history of the world possesses them in quite the same configuration or with the same quirks and styles as you. Far too many up-and-coming actors get so caught up in trying to shoehorn themselves into every single gig that comes along that they forget this. When you’re looking to market yourself it’s important to remember, no matter how good an actor you are, ultimately who you’re marketing is you, the actual you. Instead of trying to cram yourself into every set of shoot requirements that comes along in the casting notices, focus instead on ways to put yourself out there with what you’ve already got. 

3. So What You Got?

Here’s where it’s time to get creative. Do you have a hearing-impaired sibling, and thus grew up with ASL? Were you on the swim team? Do you attend a capoeira class? Granted, some life-skills along these lines are more likely to come in handy than others. Being an avid scuba diver is somewhat more likely to come up on a casting notice than being able to make a great tuna casserole. But at the same time, it’s up to you – and it’s allowed – for you to get a little creative here. If you have studied a martial arts discipline for any length of time, for instance, it’s on you to really do some leg work and get that marketed. Join social media groups, post videos, network that particular area, always emphasizing that you’re an actor first. There’s no reason why something like that should be moldering in a corner of your resume waiting for someone to come across it. In this day and age when Marvel films drop seemingly more often than the clocks change, there are more roles going for people versed in stage combat than at any time in history. 

4. Where to Share 

First, in this epoch where the information coming at everyone is like the roar from a jet engine, it’s not good enough to post a couple videos of your latest class or competition to your YouTube channel and  simply wait around poolside for the Kardashians to call. If you’re going to go the special skills route, you’ve got to market that sucker relentlessly. You’ve got to get it into high volume in order to make an impact. The trick about marketing special skills is becoming “that actor who does martial arts,” and possesses a certain look. When the CDs and producers pass your name around between them without you having to lift a finger, that’s when you’ve done your job. 

5. Don’t Forget To Work On Standard Special Skills 

Remember our friend Hugh? Don’t forget the importance of expanding your range as a dancer/singer/fighter/actor. Take another class, learn to tango, pick up a free online course on a new dialect you’ve always toyed with but never really owned. Special skills are where it’s at, and the more – and the more better – yours are, the more you’ll help yourself in this oh-so competitive world!


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