You might have read the title for this page and thought: “Andrew, I am struggling to even get auditions, I am not in a position to say NO to acting roles!” However, over time you will begin to get more auditions, book more roles and even be offered parts without having to audition (audibly gasps).
This actually happened to me last week. Out of nowhere I was offered a role!!!
This sounds like a great thing, however, it was really difficult to work out whether to say “Yes” or “No”. I realised I didn’t have a great system in place to help me decide what to do. As actors, I think it’s important to establish a system early on and have a clear roadmap in place to help steer our acting careers. Knowing what we want, and what we value, will help guide us and make more empowered decisions. So here are some things to consider:
#1 Say YES to Everything (Early in your Career)
Before we look at how to decide when to say “NO”, I want to share some really helpful career advice. Years ago, I interviewed a very successful theatre director Lee Lewis who said that the thing that established her career was saying yes to everything early on. For years, she said “Yes!” and worked on anything and everything that came her way. When you are still early in your acting career, you are in an accumulation phase where your goal is to make as many connections and get as much experience as possible. You are a sponge! So, if you are at this stage, saying yes and just getting loads of experience is a great way forward.
The caveat is you must be always prioritise your safety. Saying yes to everything will mean saying yes to some unpaid and low-paying work. Always research the team and check that it aligns with your values. Make sure you are working with a reputable team and that you are not being taken for a ride. Finally, listen to your mind and body when it comes to burnout: you can choose when you’re at capacity, but not when burnout will start to affect you. Get ahead of it and avoid it at all costs.
#2 Define your Values
It is vital as an actor to set out your values. As you navigate a career, these will be tested again and again. I encourage you to reflect on why you are pursuing acting and what you wish to achieve with your work. I don’t mean your goals (we will look at those next). I mean deep down: why are you doing this? And what do you want to contribute? Knowing what is important to you and solidifying your personal values will be a lodestar during your career.
You may then decide to avoid promoting certain products in commercial work, or avoid certain stories that you feel are not in alignment with your values. Investigating who you really want to be as an artist will help you decide what to audition for, and then accept.
#3 Define your Goals
After you have a solid understanding of your values, the next considerations are your goals. I see many actors wasting their energy spreading themselves very thin, desperate for any role. Your goals should be laser-like in their focus.
If you want to be a screen actor, getting experience in front of the camera is paramount. So if you get an opportunity to shoot a film and be on-set for a week, it may still be worth taking for the experience even if the script is less than stellar. Furthermore, doing a six-month school theatre tour may not be the best option for you. It sounds so simple, but it’s amazing how lost we can get as actors. If you have clear goals at the outset you can then submit for jobs, audition for jobs and accept jobs that all coalesce around your goals.
More on goal-setting for actors.
#4 Great Writing
“Follow the well written word and it will not fail you.” – Bryan Cranston
If there is a single piece of acting advice that helps guide me, it’s this. If the writing is good, you will look good. The end. Great writing is the support system that underpins all great acting. Assuming a project is in alignment with my goals and values, this becomes my main consideration.
Now, great writing is different for everyone. It’s a personal thing. But put simply, you need to resonate with the writing and feel excited to perform it. If it feels clunky, difficult and awkward, then in my experience that is exactly how it will feel (and look) in performance.
#5 Great Team
Sometimes the writing underwhelms, but it’s worth taking a job to work with an awesome team. There is a chance you might be missing something in the script and once you understand the director’s vision it all clicks into place. If the script doesn’t immediately grab you, always aim to research the team and see if you can have a further discussion with the director. Even if the script isn’t as strong as you would like, if you really trust a director, you are in safe hands, and chances are it will be a great gig.
I will always make this a big part of my decision making process, and I encourage you to do the same.
#6 Career Progression
You might have noticed that this list didn’t start with career progression. That’s because I believe the best way to progress your career is to be good. In marketing, they say “word of mouth” is the most powerful form of advertising. It’s also true in acting. When great actors are coming through the ranks, people talk and get excited. So doing great work will be what helps you progress. If you are offered a big role, but you don’t resonate with the script or creative team, you may get your break but will it really showcase you at your best? I have seen so many actors accept roles thinking they will get famous, but instead they fall flat because they didn’t shine in the role.
Wait – STOP! I am not saying to text your agent that you don’t want that Netflix job. The reality is a big gig is a BIG GIG. If you get the opportunity to level up your career and have a swing at a huge opportunity, you probably have to take it. But making the decision purely on the basis of the paycheque or size of the production is not a guaranteed path. If opportunities are abundant, always pick the one you connect with more.
Last, but certainly not least, is money. We are artists and we love what we do, but we also have value. Real, tangible value. And for most of us our goal is for acting to sustain us, or at least be part of our professional life. Money is therefore always a consideration. Most actors are not particularly excited to shoot a new commercial, but booking a great commercial gig might translate into 3-6 months of living expenses, a flight to LA, a year of acting classes, new headshots etc. Remember you are a small business and money gives you the opportunity to reinvest in your career. So, yes, money is important.
But even though it’s very important, the reason I have put this last on my list is because all the above considerations must come first. You should never take money or be tempted by money if it goes against your values.
I hope after reading this article you will be inundated with offers for amazing acting roles! However, whether it happens right away, or in a couple of years, I encourage you to assess what you really want from your career and what it is you value. As actors, we can sometimes feel like puppets in the industry, but we are NOT. We are the empowered storytellers and we have more autonomy than we may think. It’s your career and your life. Don’t ever underestimate that.