Being a ‘Good’ Actor Isn’t Good Enough

Learning how to be a “good” actor is only step one of your value as a professional actor, and it isn’t enough to make you worthy of success. You should know how to talk, listen, respond, react, and behave like a real person in imaginary circumstances. That’s the price of admission to this game. You don’t even belong on the field if you don’t first know how to act well.

Once you’re on the field, though, now you’re up against other skilled actors, and what will make you more consistently bookable than others will be your ability to help tell compelling stories, combining your skilled acting with thoughtful, creative choices that bring the story to an elevated level—hopefully to the sublime.

Disappointingly, most of the actors I meet never achieve, let alone move past, Step 1. It’s hard enough to convince an actor that they’re not God’s gift to the world and inherently deserving of accolades and film and series lead roles without proper training. Once you actually get an actor into a class, you have to pray it’s a good class that will be a responsible steward of the responsibility to deliver solid value and hold the student to a standard of excellence, as opposed to kissing his or her ass and coddling them into a workless but hopelessly optimistic future.

Even if the class is the best one on the planet, you’ll still see the majority of students taking it for granted, cutting corners, and not following through on the details that separate practice from perfect practice. And as the legendary Vince Lombardi said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

So you can eliminate from contention for greatness the vast majority of actors aspiring for working actor status and success. Maybe one in 10 actors is doing things right, but probably closer to one in 50, in my book. Doing things right means working tirelessly on the growth of your skill in the craft, having and pursuing a solid strategy to organize your efforts in a sensible and achievable order, and securing the right tools and community for what I call, “support infrastructure,” including always having someone to rehearse with and put you on tape as part of your prep.

Therefore, I want to encourage you all to not see being a “good” actor as the penultimate goal. I want you to strive for being a masterful storyteller, which, in my experience, is the only path to becoming a brilliant, working actor. Brilliant, working actors are rare and deserve all the success they often get—the result of the relentless pursuit of excellence.

You can’t look at each audition as a chore, but as an opportunity to craft a compelling contribution to the project. Knowing your lines and making a choice is not enough. You have to have considered as many choices as possible, explored the ways each one could affect the story, and made a thoughtful decision about what tells the most interesting, moving, or funny story to you that still honors the text. Go into each audition knowing everything about the project, the story, and ideas for how your part can make the best contribution. That’s what professionals do. Be a professional consistently without the expectation of booking, and you will book more than you ever expected.

If you’re only an actor for the money, validation, attention, or glamour, get out now. It’s not for you. It’s an art form, not a strategy for wealth creation, or stardom. Excellence in the art form itself must be your motivation. People in our industry want to work with the best artists, not those who want success the most.

I’ve become a firm believer that unless you shift your focus as an actor from one that is self-centered and all about success and booking to one that is focused on self-development, excellence in the art form, and masterful storytelling, you can’t have a joyful journey. And life is too short to not enjoy your journey towards whatever end you hope to achieve. A grueling, unhappy journey can only have catastrophic effects on your personal, professional, and artistic life. Don’t do that to yourself.

Personally, I want to be an extraordinary person and live an extraordinary life, but it won’t be handed to me. I know have to earn it, through gumption and consistent, hard work. What makes you worth a studio or network’s trust when they’re preparing to spend tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on a project? What are you doing that makes you extraordinary? Because extraordinary people do extraordinary things.

If there’s any reason to read what I write, it’s because I believe in your ability to be a master of our craft. I know that with the right attitude and discipline, no matter who you are, you can be a working actor. I’m not here to blow hot air up your ass and tell you that everything will be all right, but I am here to tell you that you already have the power inside of yourself to make everything all right. It just comes down to whether you really want to work for it… 

And whether you want more out of this life than to just be a “good” actor.