I really wish I was one of those people who could get ‘NO REGRETS’ tattooed in bold on the back of my hand, so every day I would wake up and see it, realize that living in the past doesn’t get you anywhere, and jump into my day with the kind of joy and anticipation deserving of a border collie heading for the park. Instead, these fleeting thoughts of what might have been, can flit in and out of my head and I am sure they do the same for you. I have a sneaking suspicion that even those people with the ‘No Regrets’ tattoo may indeed, have some regrets. Getting that tattoo for instance may well be one.
Acting, however, presents a lot of opportunities for regrets, or things that you wish you did better or differently. Here is a list of the biggest regrets that either I have experienced or people so close to me that it feels like I went through them myself. Hopefully, this piece will help you to avoid these common actor regrets and forge a career that will make you leap out of bed like a sheepdog every day, tattoos or no!
#1 Not Going to Acting School
This is a big one, and while I don’t necessarily have it – many of my friends who are no longer pursuing a career in acting certainly do, not making the attempt or being unsuccessful in getting into drama school. We have written about drama school a lot here at StageMilk. You can read my article on how to have a career without going to drama school here. However, drama school really is a great idea if you want a career as an actor. You see it’s not just the incredible physical, vocal and technical skills that you gain from going to drama school, it’s the people. The people that you meet there and the opportunities that you gain through those people and their connections will really set you up with a career for life.
I think I have gained nearly as many professional opportunities through personal connections gained at drama school as I have from my agent. This all being said, getting into drama school is incredibly challenging, we have lists of the best drama schools in the world and a guide on how to get into drama school here. This is the most common regret we hear about, and if you are thinking about going to drama school, I would encourage you to rip the bandaid and get yourself an audition!
#2 Not Making Time for Auditions
One of the most challenging parts of being an actor, especially one who lives in a big city is managing the work/life balance. It is extremely expensive to live in LA, New York, London or Sydney. Until you do it, you don’t really know what expensive means! Trying to balance out making enough money and having time to go to auditions is extremely difficult. There have been times in my career where I have had to turn down an audition opportunity because I really needed the money from my day job. I speak to a lot of actors who have young families and they find that balance even tougher to manage. You will have to decline opportunities sometimes in order to ensure you can pay rent that week. This can be a big source of regret, what if I had gone to that audition? Booked that job? Got that gig? Quit my day job and just focused on my acting? All of these are fair questions to ask, but they are not useful. They don’t drive you forward, you can only do what you can do – if that means working a shift so you can eat that week, then I say do it. It’s not easy finding that balance, so just keep working at it and do your best, that is all you can do.
#3 Getting Slack with Diet, Exercise & Voice
This hits particularly hard for me, as of everything in this list this is the one I am most guilty of. Acting requires fitness – mentally, physically and vocally. We all know that staying fit, eating healthy and doing regular vocal warm-ups is going to help you be successful as an actor. It’s self-explanatory but the more you put in the more you get out. Given the tumultuous events of 2020, the impact of lockdowns and quarantines keeping focused and looking after yourself got harder and harder. Personally, my diet, exercise and consistent practice on my acting really fell away over 2020 and that has been a significant regret for me.
#4 Not Changing Agents
This is a tough one and a really common regret for actors. Is your agent really the best person or organisation for you, for where you are at in your career? If you can answer this honestly in the affirmative – well, sensational. If not, then you need to ask yourself some big questions. Leaving an agent is not an easy thing to do. In fact, it is quite the opposite. However, there is no more important relationship for an actor than the relationship they have with their agent. It has to be good. You have to have each other’s backs. You have to be sure that your agent is fighting for you, and they need to be sure that you are fighting for your career. If they are not doing that, if they are not fighting for you or you are not fighting for them, it’s time to leave. This can be a major regret for actors, don’t let it become one for you.
#5 Not Doing the WORK
The number one reason why you didn’t book that job – not doing the work, not doing enough work, not being prepared to the point that you can play freely in the audition room, on stage or on set. You can never do enough work, on every line, on every moment, every single time you go to work. On my first big TV job, I had to work up to a crowd ogling a crime scene, and say the line “Hey – get away from there! Don’t you have any respect?” Tiny line right, clear intention, clear moment. I did minimal work on this moment, I figured it would more or less take care of its self. News flash – it didn’t. Once I was on set, amongst some experienced actors, surrounded by heaps of extras and close to 100 crew, I panicked and I completely forgot the line and made an idiot of myself on my first day on set. This is a big regret for me and a great lesson learned. Your lines will never take care of themselves, you have to take care of them! Always do more than you think you should and you’ll avoid having this regret!
#6 Living in regrets
As much as all of these things (and many more) can be big regrets for actors, the most important one of all is not letting them dominate you. We all make mistakes, in fact, we are almost constantly making mistakes in some way or another and it is vital that we learn from them. Do not let your regrets become the driving force in your life. Look at your actions objectively and ask yourself, what can I do better next time? How can I improve my performance? Can I do something small today, right now to learn a lesson from my past? Also, remember that the past is gone, tomorrow never comes and there is only today, today is the day that you can learn from your mistakes and grow as an artist and a person, so make the choice to improve.
Those are just some of the biggest regrets you might have as an actor. By no means is this an exhaustive list, but these are the ones that have had an impact on me or the actors around me. Remember, the most important thing is to learn from your regrets and attempt to get better as a person and as an actor.
If you’d like to practice your craft on a regular basis, why not check out our online scene club, before not doing so becomes a regret!