Versatility Is Killing Your Acting Career
The Medicine Bottle
Your eyeballs feel like they are about to pop right out of their sockets.
Your temples are literally throbbing. You can actually hear the relentless thumping of blood between your ears.
It hurts, like, really hurts. A pain that is so intense it actually blinds you. You need to find something to take, quickly, or you might actually be sick.
You peal off the duvet, slowly swivel your legs off the edge of the bed and after a couple of seconds of doubting whether getting up is such a good idea, you decide to get this over with as quickly as you can manage.
With your eyes almost fully closed to avoid the light you fumble your way to the wardrobe where you find the warmest but least flattering coat you own and put it on, straight over your pijamas. You don’t care that you look like a tramp on a come-down.
Keys. Wallet. You don’t even take your phone. All non essential items would just add to the burden of this blistering headache. Bedroom door. Front door. Flights of stairs. Street. You don’t even know how you are managing to coordinate the movements of your feet, it’s like they know where they are going.
15 steps and you’re at the traffic lights. Button pressed. The waiting seems to take forever but be over before you know it all at the same time. Your brain is fried. Despite the traffic light countdown buzzer that rivals an ambulance siren you make it across the street and count your lucky stars that you chose a flat directly opposite a…
Pharmacy. Pharmacy. Pharmacy. The pulsing, neon sign like a beacon of survival.
You muster up the last ounces of courage you have left and try to enter through the door with enough energy to convince the chemist that despite your outlandish attire you have not been sleeping rough awaiting your next fix. You make it to the front of the queue.
On the counter are two large bottles. One green, one blue.
The green bottle reads:
“MEDICINE: For aches, pains, bumps, lumps, rashes, gashes and everything in between.”
The blue bottle reads:
“HEADACHE CURE: Cures your headache, fast.”
An easy choice.
You Are The Green Bottle
Right now you are that green bottle of medicine.
Trying to be all things to all people so you keep yourself open to every possible opportunity that could arise. You submit your nice, versatile headshot for every single job that is vaguely within your age-range. Your showreel has a nice, versatile selection of clips on there to show a versatile range of characters you think you could be right for. You probably even tell people you are quite a versatile actor when they ask you what sort of acting you do (duh, so is every actor it’s kinda part of the job).
I bet you even have it written in the first line of your bio:
“Jane is a versatile actress who bla bla blaaaaaa…”
You know what you are really saying about yourself when you describe yourself as versatile?
You are saying that you don’t know what you are and you don’t know what you want to be. You are saying that you are good at everything but great at nothing!
You are saying: “If you can’t find what you’re really looking for I’m the next best thing.”
Who wants to be the “next best thing”?
I’ll tell you one thing: nobody wants to cast the “next best thing”. Every time you put yourself in front of a casting team you are telling them: if they can’t get what they really want… you’ll do.
By branding yourself as versatile you are sabotaging your own chances, you are setting yourself up for failure most of the time. Why are you doing that to yourself?
Here’s why you’re doing it…
You Don’t Know What You Are
You actually have no idea what you are.
You might think you know what you are. Some people might have told you what they think you are. Maybe your agent thinks you’re one thing, your acting teacher thinks you’re another thing and your mother’s convinced you’re a star.
But really you don’t know. And you haven’t the first clue about how you would go and find out. So instead you take the easy route – you heard me – the easy way out!
Instead of figuring out exactly what you are so you can demonstrate exactly what that is and pitch yourself as the absolute perfect version of that…
…you just call yourself versatile and continue on with your general existence doing bits and bobs here and there but never making much progress and certainly not in a direction you choose.
You’re Afraid Of What You Are
You have a sort of idea of what you are. You’ve been cast as the same type of role now three times. You see actors a few steps ahead of you that look like you, from similar backgrounds, similar age to you, playing that same type of role…
…and you are terrified that you are going to get stuck playing the prostitute or the terrorist or the dad for the rest of your life.
You’re better than that. You are above that. The thought of perpetuating that stereotype sickens you. It makes you feel like you are selling yourself out, losing your integrity as an artist and giving two fingers to the years you have spent working on your craft along with all the people who supported you along the way.
And deep down…
You Don’t Know What You Want To Be
You’ve never actually sat down with yourself and really put thought into what success looks like for you. You’ve got a vague idea of what it might be like, you can see others living variations of a life that you think you might like but you don’t really know what that means for you.
If I asked you to describe a day in the most successful version of your life you would struggle to answer. Not because nothing makes you happy. Just because you have been so ‘busy’ with life that you have never actually stopped to think about where you are going, what you want to be doing in 5, 10 years time.
What is going to make you happy for the rest of your life.
So instead you stick with ‘Versatile’.
Versatile is ok. Versatile is safe. It’s easy to convince yourself that versatility is a skill, a talent, a challenge even.
But do you know what the real challenge is?
Hitting the nail on the head.
Not just knowing what you are and what you want to be but actually living that, sticking with that and not letting yourself get distracted by the shiny toy that is versatility.
Taking what you are, embracing that and going out into the industry like the flaming ginger, Irish, torch you are and shouting:
“This is what I am.”
And being bloody great at it. Like that blue bottle of medicine – not just headache medicine; but a headache cure. And not just any headache cure – a fast one.
And here’s how you do just that…
Let me warn you at this point:
If you are lazy – this wont work.
Please do us all a favour and close out this blog, return to your instagram and your cat videos and continue on with your versatile existence. There ain’t room in this town for any more lazy actors.
For the 10% of you still remaining – I hope you had your Wheetabix this morning.
Be The Blue Bottle
Your “Castability” is what makes you who you are as an actor. It’s what separates the men from the boys and the boys from the girls. Castability decides whether you are a bum or a banker, a druggie or a doctor. A butcher, a baker or candlestick maker.
Castability: The area of the acting market where you as an artist are most competitive.
Your castability is made up of a few factors and once you know these you have the mould that will shape the actions you take on your career for many years.
These factors are:
Fairly obvious and not something you have much power over.
Ethnic or Cultural Origin
Ethnicity but also things like ‘Viking’ or ‘Jewish’ which have generally accepted physical characteristics but are not ethnicity. For caucasians the range falls into two main umbrella types: Northern European (Liam Neeson could play Irish, Scottish, German or Viking; if he ever works again!) and Mediterranean (Spanish, Greek, Italian, Jewish – Al Pacino could play Greek, Italian, or Shylock)
Nothing to do with your actual age but in fact what age you look like you are.
What does it look like you do for a living?
This is the most important thing you need to figure out because a characters occupation has the biggest impact on the life of that character, it determines what car she drives, clothes she wears, friends she has, bars she goes to. And so it will, semi-consciously, be the main reason you as an actor get cast to represent that character.
For example: A “Female, 30 year old, black, lawyer” has more in common with a “Male, 50 year old, white, lawyer” than she does with a “Female, 30 year old, black, beautician“. – Do you look like you belong in a courtroom or a nail salon?
Occupations also fall broadly into “working class” and “middle class”. If it doesn’t require a college degree it’s generally a working class occupation.
So the first two here are fairly obvious but what about Age Range and Occupation. How do you figure out exactly what you look like you are?
Easy: you ask.
Now, you’re not going to just ask anyone.
You’re not going to talk to your agent. You’re not going to talk to your casting buddy. You’re not going to talk to your friends.
You are going to do something that you have been warned against from birth. Something that we have feared since the first time we saw Snow White take an apple from that old woman. Something you do your level best to avoid every day on the tube…
You are going to talk to strangers!!!
The Castability Survey
The castability survey is the only way you can be sure that you are getting unbiased, honest answers to the two most important questions you need to answer about your castability.
You are going to go to your local cinema on a Saturday afternoon or the theatre at 7pm or after a matinee, dressed as neutrally as possible and you are going to ask as many people as you can these very specific things:
“Hi, I’m doing a really quick survey. Could you please guess my age?”
“Great, thanks. and what do I look like I do for a living?”
You want to ask these two questions over and over to at least 50 people of varying ages and genders and write down their answers to come up with a large pool of answers for you to draw some conclusions.
To find your age range get the average of all the answers to find the middle or ‘median’ answer. Then add up all the answers that were below that figure and average them to find the bottom of your age range. Add up all the answers above the median and average that to find the top of your age range. Simple.
For occupation, group the answers into classes – Middle Class / Working Class occupations. Then figure out which got the most answers and what were the most answered occupation. So you might end up with “Middle Class – Nurse, Doctor, Lawyer”. For younger actors – If someone answers ‘Student’ ask them “Studying what?” to find a more specific answer. The same applies for “Teacher” – “What do I look like I teach?”
Your Castability Statement
You now have concrete answers to the 4 fundamental questions that make up your castability. Armed with that information you will want to craft a statement that describes exactly what you found, like this;
“I am a 26-34 year old, middle class, Mediterranean, male banker/lawyer/accountant”
This is your basic Castability Statement and is the medicine you prescribe yourself to avoid the trap of versatility.
When you need to decide what to wear in your headshots… your castability statement tells you. When you are choosing scenes for your showreel – your castability statement shows you. When you are going on a submission spree and need to narrow the focus of jobs – your castability statement dictates what you are perfect for.
Wear it like a badge of honour. Shout it from the mountaintops. Tattoo it to your chest if you have to.
But whatever you do…
Never tell anyone you are “versatile” again.