5 ways to piss off a director | StageMilk

5 ways to piss off a director

Written by on | Acting Tips

Directors – they have been kind enough and perceptive enough to give you a gig, best decision of their lives right? Well, maybe and maybe not. There are definitely some behaviours from actors that can make directors wish they had taken up neuroscience, accounting or even sewage maintenance instead of dealing with some actors! In any event, these are five big red flags that will make any director upset, if you do all of these I can guarantee you will never work in this town again.

You don’t know your lines

Nothing is going to piss off a director more than an actor who doesn’t know their lines. Sometimes you can learn something extremely well (you think) then turn up on set and it all disappears from your brain. Missing one or two is no big deal (generally) but let’s be real, as an actor it is your job to learn your lines. If you cannot speak the script you cannot do any acting. It is the foundation of all of the rest of your work.

The trick here is to learn your lines so well that even when you are under stress, on set in front of 70 odd people who are all waiting on you to say what the script says, that the words still come out of your face. An actor who repeatedly fails to say what they are supposed to is on a one-way street to seriously pissing off their director.

You can’t take direction

This might seem obvious, but taking direction can be one of the hardest parts of the job of an actor. Sometimes you feel like you really took an idea on, but when you see it back in the monitors it looks exactly the same as the previous take. Again a lot of the issues here come out of the stress response of the actor. A persons ability to take on complex ideas dramatically reduces when they are under stress. But just as learning lines is the foundation for an actors work, taking direction is the bricks and mortar. The director has a vision they are trying to carry out and it is the actors’ job to facilitate that. If an actor is unwilling or incapable of taking on direction they are not going to have a career for long.

That all being said, not all directors are created equal on this front. I was on an advertisement recently where the direction I received was “Can you pull this face?” followed by the director making a specific facial expression at me. My response of “Sure…. Why?” did not go down well. Point of my story, communication is a two-way street. If you do not understand a direction, seek clarification. On bigger projects, other actors on set or assistant directors who may be able to clarify things for you. As long as you are doing everything you can to take on their ideas you’re on the right track.

Not sticking to your role (on set)

Okay. Unless you are a legitimately the director on the project, don’t direct other actors. Just don’t do it. Just like you wouldn’t step up to the lighting guys and tell them where to point the lights, or change a lens for the DOP, leave the directing to the director, the producing to the producer and the set design to the set designer. If the other actors are open to talking about the scene, analysing the text, and working collaboratively – that’s great! Go for it. But no one likes being told how to do their job, so just let the other departments do theirs, that’s what they’ve been hired to do.

Offer an opinion if requested, be open and ready for change by all means. But an actor that walks around to the other cast members and tells them what they should be doing, when they aren’t the director is going to significantly annoy everyone.


Alright Mariah, just reign it in. Big ego’s and big demands don’t endear you to anyone. Even the ultimate diva of them all – Mariah Carey famously found her scenes cut from the film The House because she was turning up four hours late to the shoot, then demanding the script be changed to what she thought was a better storyline. All of her parts ended up on the cutting room floor.

Be on time, be prepared, be professional, always let the crew eat first if there is catering. They’ve been doing physical, manual labour all day and need that butter chicken to keep them going. Some people believe that because acting requires so much emotional work, they have the right to be emotional off-set as well as on and it is just not the case. Be professional at all points. You are there to do a job and it is just like any other job, be polite, prepared and ready to work anything outside of that is going to land you in hot water. If you need to have a breakdown? Do it in private.

You can’t hit a mark!

To continue the house building metaphor, hitting a mark is the walls, doors and floors. You’ve got to be able to do it. Joaquin Phoenix said “You’re supposed to hit your mark, find your light and know your lines.” and he is not wrong. If you cannot hit a mark, the camera or lights are not going to be focused on you and a whole range of people have worked really hard to ensure that only to have you stand in the wrong spot!

Quite often I will step out exactly how many steps it is from my starting point to my mark, which foot I need to lead with and practice it till it is in my body. If you want to see a bunch of actors hitting the hell out of a few marks, have a look at the seminal political TV show The West Wing. Outstanding stuff.


There you have it, five of the biggest pet peeves for directors, that are bound to piss them off. Avoid these red flags like the plague and you are sure to have a long and fruitful career as an actor. Do all of them, and expect to find your scenes on the cutting room floor!

About the Author

Patrick Cullen

Patrick is an actor, writer, comedian and podcaster based in Sydney, Australia. A graduate of the Actors Centre Australia in 2014, Patrick has been working in film, TV and theatre across Sydney and Brisbane ever since. Patrick can be found glued to test cricket in bars across the land.

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