This post is a must-read for actors, improvisers, and anyone who’s ever struggled with self-esteem. Reproduced with permission from Jimmy Carrane‘s blog.
I recently had an audition for NBC’s “Chicago Fire.” A security guard, a couple of lines. Pretty easy… or so I thought.
But, whenever I have an audition, I put so much pressure on myself that it’s no longer about getting the job, it’s about my self-worth. The sad thing is I have been going to audition after audition for more than 20 years — for commercials and industrials and bit parts in movies and TV shows — and 70 percent of the time when I leave an audition I sink down into a terrible pit, asking myself why I am even trying to be an actor.
At home, my wife, Lauren, ran the lines with me. It gets frustrating running the lines with her since she can memorize them after four or five readings, but I feel like I am back in high school cramming for a World History test.
We kept going over the script and each time, I wasn’t getting the reaction I wanted from her, so I kept losing confidence. Lately, I have been so needy in my acting and performing, looking for that outside validation from my wife, and when I don’t get it, I am more than willing to blow every opportunity that comes my way. They call that self-sabotage. I left the house feeling like I sucked.
When I walked into the room for the audition, the director and producer sat comfortably in the back on a leather sofa. I tried to find the girl who was going to read with me as someone handed me a tiny microphone to clip onto my shirt. Then I nervously began to read the script.
They let me read it three times, normally a good sign.
The second time, they said: “Don’t bend down when you deliver the lines.” The third time, they said: “This guy is business as usual.”
When I was finished, I felt like I might have a shot. I took direction pretty well and they had asked me to do it three times, which meant they must have seen something they liked.
As I was leaving the room, the casting director, whom I have known for years, followed me out and pulled me into vacant room and said in a very supportive tone:
“Do you know you are reading the first line?”
“Um… um…. No, I didn’t,” I said, feeling like a brick hit me in the head.
“I wanted you to know that. That is how you lost the last job.”
“Is that what I did in there?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said. Obviously, if I had to ask her, I was doing it in there.
“What can I do next time?” I asked, still seeing stars from the brick.
“You know the script. Memorize the first line. Say it to yourself five times in the waiting room before you go in.”
Immediately, my brain went to three places:
1. Oh god, they will never call me in again.
2. I suck.
3. I want to kill myself.
But after a few minutes I realized that her feedback was actually incredibly helpful, and I felt hopefully that she’d taken the time to give me some constructive notes. Maybe it meant she thought I had potential.
The next night I went to couples therapy with Lauren, and I still had a bit of an emotional whiplash from the day before.
At the end of the session I said: “Maybe I am projecting this onto Lauren, but I don’t think Lauren thinks I am a good actor.”
There was a long pause, and I heard her squirm on the couch next to me.
“I have to be honest with you. I don’t think you are a good actor.”
Another brick. Then I went to those three places again. (Refer to above)
I felt angry. She was telling me this now, after we just got married?! She is my wife, she is supposed to support me. I was devastated. What was I supposed to do with this?
Later, I talked to my friend, Dan, who said, “I don’t know what this all means, but I bet it makes you a better actor.” Though I still felt angry about this, I had to agree with Dan.
After a week of wanting to kill my wife for saying this, I started realizing something: What I hated wasn’t her opinion about my acting, it was my opinion about my acting. I was the one who didn’t think I was very good. And though in a perfect world your partner should think everything you do is Oscar-worthy, I would rather have her be honest with me than blow smoke up my ass.
And I started thinking about some of the lessons I’ve learned from other improvisers over the years. Jon Favreau used to be an improviser here in Chicago before he went on to become a hugely successful writer, director and actor. He wasn’t known as a great improviser, and he got lost at iO and couldn’t get any recognition at Second City or The Annoyance Theater. It was safe to say Jon wasn’t getting much validation from the improv community he wanted to to be part of, but he didn’t let that stop him. Favreau believed in himself. He believed he had talent. And he especially didn’t care what other people said. After he got a co-starring role in the film “Rudy,” he went out to LA and made things happen for himself, starting with writing and starring in “Swingers.” He surprised everyone, except himself.
When it comes to confidence, I am a work in progress. The one thing I am clear about is no one is going to have confidence in you, if you don’t have confidence in you. If you believe you are good, they will believe you are good. Any TV and film jobs I have booked over the years all had the same thing in common: I went into the audition ready to play with confidence.
I am going to be blunt. Working on my confidence takes work. Constant work, hard work, and sometimes I will be able to get help form the people I am closest to and sometimes not. And the more confidence I get, the less I look for outside validation. Even from my wife.