A short while ago, I wrote an article on the power of perception which discussed the idea that how actors are seen dictates if and how they are cast. I’ve said that an actor exerts very little control over this aspect of the business and that is certainly true. But how an actor perceives himself or herself certainly dictates the types of roles she or he pursues.
Some actors only see themselves as leading characters and will only accept a role of that type. Others may prefer the sidekick/second banana role. Still more may be willing to accept a role of any kind.
When it comes to me, I always seek out the most challenging role. In my experience, that role is usually something other than the leading role. So, in a sense, I am probably a character actor, though I think what I pursue is something more than that and somewhat defies a description.
If I were to put it into words, I would call myself a storyteller. This is why I prefer John Merrick to Frederick Treves, Billy Bibbit to Randall McMurphy, and Renfield to Count Dracula. I really don’t have a particular taste as I will always look for the role that intrigues me, though I do seem to have a predilection for characters that exhibit great strength of spirit.
Since I view myself as a storyteller, the size of my part does not matter. I just want the challenge. If I thought the leading role in a play was the most difficult one, then that is what I would pursue. If I thought a character with no lines was the most challenging role, then that is the role that I would want. With the pursuit of the challenge, a wide plethora of roles is available to me.
Not that I will do any role that comes my way. I have refused roles in the past because I didn’t think they had the difficulty which I seek or just didn’t think myself well suited to the role. As my abilities as an actor have grown and evolved, I have become a little choosier in what I will do. For example, at this point in my avocation, the odds of me taking a supernumerary role aren’t particularly high. Just like in climbing the corporate ladder where you have to work from the bottom up, I believe a role like that needs to go to an inexperienced, untested performer to give her or him a chance to show some grace and aplomb.
As to my style. . .well, I’d like to consider myself a naturalistic actor. I try to imagine what I would do if I were to find myself in the same situation that that character does and react accordingly. Sometimes I think I’m too realistic as I need to work a little harder at being over the top when it comes to farce since my instinct is to play things as believably as I can even when my character may be in the midst of an unbelievable situation.
My perception of how I’m often cast is that directors tend to cast me in characters that seem to reflect my real personality. Though, over the past few years, I’ve managed to start obtaining roles different to myself such as the loutish drunkard, Eric Birling, in An Inspector Calls and the adult version of Don Browning in Leaving Iowa. Rest assured, child Don was very much me and probably the most fun I’ve had being me on stage.
And it’s not that I haven’t enjoyed playing the characters who reflect the real me. I’ve loved them all. But I’m me every day so I already know I can do that. In order to continue my growth as an actor, I have to show the sides of me that aren’t seen very much. This is why I’ll often try a different take on a “me” character to make it a little less “me” when I’m playing that type of role.
When I first got started in this business, I didn’t understand what acting was all about. I felt I had to feel like I was doing something in order to be acting and this road, unquestionably, led to being perceived as a poor performer.
Along the road I met those who helped me understand that I didn’t have to feel like I was doing something, I just had to do it. That is what helped me to become a stronger actor over the years. Learning to trust my instinct and be in the moment also helped me to achieve that truly rare feat of altering perceptions of me as a bad actor. Mind you, I didn’t consciously set out to do this. I just did it because I kept trying, working, practicing, and learning. My conscious goal was simply to get roles.
The theatre season is fully cast and, for the first time in years, I didn’t do a show. It wasn’t that long ago that I would consider that a failure and the frustration would be weighing on my shoulders like a ton of bricks. But my perception of me has changed and I now accept myself as a good, capable actor.
There’ll always be another show. And I’ll be offering directors all of me which is the only thing I can give. My instinct. My effort. My imagination. My interpretation. When it comes to casting me, directors may not always agree with me, but they will know that they got the best me.