I’ve been hearing a whole lot of complaining and excuses lately, coming from actors (including myself), and this is a terrible habit. It’s not at all conducive for effective work, motivation or proactivity. You might find yourself feeling down and out, frustrated, bored, and plain old sad at times, and for me, that’s a signal that something needs to change. I’m urging you to not give in to those feelings, but to push through them, and develop new, more helpful, habits to put you back on track. So, below the team and I have come up with 8 habits to live by which we think will make you a better human, and a better actor. We’ve also made up little challenges for each habit, follow us on Instagram and join in (it’s good to have some accountability with these things).
Golden rule of habit change:
It takes around 6 weeks to break an old habit, and to introduce a new one. So this is in no way a bandaid fix, this is a long-term commitment to your own health and career as an actor. Keen for a lifestyle overhaul? Let’s dig in.
1. Be in a constant state of curiosity
Never stop training, learning and expanding as an actor. There is SO much information out there in the world, and so many ways to consume it. I get really excited at the sheer amount of learning I have left to do in my life, and I will never stop being curious and gathering more knowledge about the world we live in.
How? Look outwards – read books, plays, scripts, then watch films, series and documentaries. Check out some TED talks, browse YouTube (responsibly…), go see some stand up comedy, listen to podcasts live music, art galleries, festivals, immersive theatre, interacting exhibitions – I could go on for days. Inspiration and information is everywhere, you’ve just got to get up out of bed, and find it.
Sometimes I’ll choose a topic every 3 or so months to be my focus for learning. For example you might want to look into environmentalism, addiction, shooting on Filmstock, living in South Africa – it doesn’t matter what it is, there is no such thing as useless information!
Habit: Watch 1 documentary every week. I’m sure you all have Netflix, browse the Doco section and find subjects you’re interested in. Documentaries also make wonderful character studies.
2. Work, and then work harder
(Some of you might be workaholics – no worries, you can probably skip this one, or instead try out different ways of working that might be more efficient and effective.)
This is a tricky one, but I think it’s important. There’s work, and then there’s work. Sometimes work is disguised as procrastination – I’m guilty of this, instead of nourishing my acting career, I find myself taking on a frightening amount of different projects to keep myself busy. So instead of working hard for myself, I’m working hard for others. Still productive, but I’m neglecting my own passion. It’s a constant battle, and I’m still working on this one.
Enough about me – some of you might struggle to pull up your sleeves and dig in to acting work. Probably because of one or two reasons – fear, or laziness. If you really want this (not fame or fortune, but an acting career), then you’ve gotta put in the hours. Yes, opportunities exist, but no one is going to hand success over to you in a little sparkly package for Christmas. Actors need to be proactive, diligent, dedicated and zealous in the pursuit of their career. And you need to have this attitude and dedication 100% of the time – not just on Mondays, and not just towards the end of the year when you realise you haven’t fulfilled your New Year’s resolutions. It’s tough out there and no one is going to wait for you, they’ll just overtake you.
I cannot be the one to tell you how to develop this kind of attitude to your work, you need to do that yourself.
Habit: Dedicate 3 solid hours of every week to your career. This could be browsing Casting Networks for auditions, having a chat with your agent, updating your casting profiles, updating your showreel, updating your headshots, cleaning up your social media platforms, researching the industry. This is just a teeny, tiny, widdle bit of admin you can focus on each week, and your career will thank you for it. This does not mean slack off for the rest of the week however!
3. Become a great listener
Listening is the essence of the actors work, both on stage and off. Acting is not talking at people, it’s connecting with people and having a conversation. And in doing so, that is how we tell stories and connect with the audience. It’s a wonderful, ephemeral, sacred thing, and so don’t let your ego get in the way of that.
There are multiple ways to practice listening in every day life – for one, stop talking so much. You do not learn anything from talking. Now that’s something to consider! If you’re in class at the moment, work on your active listening – great actors do not ‘talk talk talk’ and then go blank when the other person says their lines. Just like in real life, the character is still thinking, living and breathing! Put a scene down on tape, and watch it back – keep training yourself. Really take on what the other person is saying, and relax into it. I don’t want you to “pretend” to be listening to them, by pulling facial expressions and leaning forward – just relax, and actually listen. If you do that, whatever you have to say next will emerge naturally, and instinctively… hey, wait a minute – that’s acting!!!
Habit: Talk less, and ask more questions. Give everyone your full attention – even if you don’t like the person, even if it’s a stranger. When you are out for lunch, really listen to the waiter, when you call your Mum, ask her how she’s doing and listen when she tells you. How do you think I earned the coveted favourite daughter badge?
4. Generosity has to be at the core of everything we do
Getting a bit self-helpy here, but bare with me. When you’re acting, get out of your own way for a second. Stop thinking about how you look, or how you feel, or how badly you want this credit to go on your iMDB profile, and think about your fellow actors. You cannot act in a vacuum. Well, maybe you could, but it would be very hard, and probably not very good. I’m telling you now, you cannot do this alone, so get out of your head, and share the passion with those around you.
Writing a play? What ideas, values and concepts would you like to give to your audience? Working on a script for class? What would you like to give to your scene partner to help them? What do you love about the piece of writing that you want to communicate to your other classmates? Auditioning for a film? What is your interpretation that you’d like to share with the casting director. Make them comfortable, let them know they can trust you to do the work, show up, and make them look good.
Habit: ask an actor friend to choose a scene to work on with you. Make a promise to meet up with them once a week for a couple hours and workshop it. Film it for each other at the end if you like.
5. Stop complaining
Just like you don’t learn anything from talking, you also don’t learn anything from bloody complaining! I’ll often find myself complaining about the most trivial of things, such as not getting enough sleep, to complaining about not getting enough auditions because I’m not Asian enough, or too young, or my voice isn’t right. And at the end of the day, all of that is no ones fault but my own and I’ve got to take responsibility for it.
So instead of complaining about everything you don’t like about your life or career, and then doing NOTHING about it, write down action plans to overcome them. And if it’s something out of your control, then you definitely don’t need to complain about it, because there’s nothing you can do and that’s just the way it is!
Habit: do not complain for an entire 24 hours. If you break it, and make a complaint, start all over again. Get some friends involved, keep each other accountable. Try go for a whole week if you can.
6. Don’t think you’re owed ANYTHING (because you’re not)
Ahh entitlement… A lot of actors are plagued by this very notion – that they are owed a career because they work hard, look good and show up. It would be real nice if the world worked that way, but it simply doesn’t, especially not in the filmmaking industry. It does not matter how hard you work, or how good you look, you could still be a struggling actor, living off friends couches and baked beans. Now this doesn’t mean you should give up completely. You still need to work hard, and have goals, but don’t throw a tantrum because you’re not on Stranger Things before your 22nd birthday. Forget about any ideas that you are entitled to something, and just get on with it.
Habit: Want something? Go get it. I dare you.
7. Get used to talking about yourself
Ooo, cringe! (Especially for us Aussies). At some point in your life, you’ll find yourself at an event, screening, opening, talk, gathering and you’re going to have to do some Networking. They can be pretty slimy, but you’ve gotta do it. Instead of thinking of it as Networking, just think about making new friends and having conversations. Take the pressure off, forget about status and ego, and just talk to another human being. Part of this is being able to talk about yourself with ease and confidence. This doesn’t mean being cocky, you shouldn’t oversell your abilities, and you also shouldn’t undersell them. Say you’re an actor, and say it proud – with a full stop afterwards, not a question mark or an ellipses. Say what you’re working on, not working on, or want to work on. Get used to talking about yourself in an authentic, honest and preferably succinct way. No one likes a selfish waffler…
Habit: Write out a little spiel about yourself, and practice it at an event.
“I’m an actor, producer and occasional photographer. Auditions are quiet at the moment for me, but I’m writing a script right now, it’s a thriller, based on a true story of a journalist in Afghanistan.” Simple as that.
8. Become confident in your abilities
Rocking up to an audition, with absolutely NO confidence in your ability as an actor and what you have to offer, is most certainly not going to book you jobs. However rocking up for an audition, having made choices based on your interpretation of the script, feeling prepared and having something to offer (remember generosity) then you will definitely be in the running to land that job. How do I become more confident? Start by knowing your limits. Not feeling confident? Then what do you need to do to become confident? Is it more training? Is it more experience on set under your belt? Or a hectic gym sesh?
Confidence isn’t going to find you, you have to find it. In a chicken vs egg situation, confidence comes first, then consistent work, not the other way round.
Habit: Get a piece of paper – on one side, write out all your strengths. And on the other side, write out everything you’d like to work on. Work on one thing every month. If it’s that you’d like practice being comfortable in front of camera, put a monologue down on tape every week.
Well, that’s quite a lot of habits, and should keep you pretty busy. Remember why you’re doing this, not because some StageMilk chick behind a computer told you to, but because you want to do it for your acting, your career and your life. Don’t be too hard on yourself, beating yourself up won’t get you very far either. Good luck, and see you on Instagram!