Failing Yourself

I love this industry.

Any of you out there who have read my previous blogs might be surprised by this. My previous blogs have been full of negative experiences that I have had in the industry. But it comes from a deep love for what the entertainment industry can do and does do for the world. You see it in the resilience and hope that’s nurturing shows right now, shows that may or may not see the light of a stage, thanks to the virus. You see it in faces of audience members when they have seen something true, something play or film that has moved them deeply. You see it in how actors rally around each other because they know how tough times have affected them in the past and now. And I do want the industry to look after it’s practitioners better. That is a huge concern to me because I see the waste of talent. I see the blooming mental health crisis for all practitioners in this industry.

And, perhaps, I am also talking about myself here. I feel wasted. I know panic. I know too that I have never been taken seriously no matter how hard I have worked, no matter what huge successes I have had in roles it all has come down to a gamble that never quite paid off. As a career. Not as an artist. I have achieved so many poignant moments especially in the last couple of years that I cannot call failure. The work has transcended that sense of ‘career failure’.

But the career failure still hurts. I am human after all. Not everyone achieves their dreams. That is a fact that so few of us want to face. You have to delude yourself that that won’t happen to you. That you will be the one to make it. It’s a crucial delusion.

And when I look at what I gambled to achieve my dream: living close to family and friends; moving to a foreign country; financial worries for yourself and others because you chose to study at a British drama school hoping that that would help normalise your transition to a foreign country; missing your sister’s wedding because the show would not give you time off because there were no understudies – are just some examples that make what you don’t achieve by 45 years old all that harder to bare. And difficult to swallow. I think in the last post of ‘loving lockdown’ I was trying to say that I have started to realise what I should have been doing all along: finding my own voice and developing ways to express what I want to say. If a young actor, fresh from drama school, were to ask me any advice it would be this: FIND WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY AND LEARN HOW TO SAY IT AND DON’T LET YOURSELF STAND IN YOUR OWN WAY.

Photo by Andrew Wilus on

I allowed that process to happen in my own life and career at time: standing in my own way. And if I am going to be critical of my industry and wonder about ways it can reform then I have to also accept that I have failed myself too, to some degree, and look for ways to reform myself. Here are some of the ways I have failed myself:

  1. I believed the work would matter for career progression. And I realised very late that it doesn’t. I thought, if I do good work here that casting directors will be bound to see me and like my work and so will send me for castings and my career would progress that way. It doesn’t and I held onto this belief way longer than I should have. How people progress in the industry is based on random unknowables, especially for actors. You could be too fat or too thin; too foreign or too bald; too man, too woman; too white, too black. The work only matters at the end but before you even get to do the work, to practice your art or craft the total effect of yourself matters more. And it will determine whether or not you even get an audition.
  2. I could have developed more skills. I see this now and see that to some extent my skills were limited. I am excellent at Received Pronunciation even though I was born somewhere else. I worked hard at that but to someone not born here the plethora of accents is overwhelming, changing from city to city. I picked two to master and really only mastered one. I could have done more. Oh there’s that wonderful guilt that actors feel: always you could be doing something more. That’s the guilt that I have been free of this last year. It is a huge mental strain that has evaporated. A low grade panic that someone who has mastered many accents or skills, like a musical instrument, will have more work. But there has been a seismic shift in our industry especially around accents. I have noticed that when accents are called for audition notices tend to say NATIVE accent actors only. And well, my parents saw no need for me to learn the piano when I was a kid and so I am teaching myself now but am nowhere near using it as a skill. That takes time. They both do.
  3. I never developed the confidence to sell myself. There are some actors I know that are able to sell themselves to a degree slightly off of obnoxiousness. I have considered this a lot. And it relates to why I wanted the work to matter. I can be damned awkward in a group of people. Tongue-tied sweaty palmed silence is what I achieve in auditions and rehearsals. I hide it well with a huge smile and an affable nature that people can interact with but my introversion always wins and I run away and hide in the toilets or a quiet corner to eat my lunch. Selling yourself isn’t easy. And for me the product, the acting, is more important to me, not ME, The Person. And everyone comes with their own history right? I wasn’t exactly instilled with confidence as a child by my experiences with my father and that has translated into adult life. But I know I am not unique here. So many people just assume that all actors are extroverts. We are not. I find it awkward selling myself. The excruciating chit chats with casting directors and producers, the awful awkwardness over a glass of lukewarm champagne and a cold canapé on opening night of a show when all I want to do is say: Listen see me for castings and think of me when you are producing a show, ok? And leave it be.
  4. I wrote letters, I invited agents and casting directors to almost all of my shows. But again I wonder, could I have done more? And the answer is…I don’t know. I never know. I wonder if readers of this blog will relate? Can actors ever know why they fail? There is so much silence in the industry it’s like working in a vacuum. And the answers to all the letters and mailings and CV’s handed out was pretty much close to zero that it felt a pointless waste of time. But still you wonder…
  5. I kept quiet when I should have spoken. I ensured that certain conditions endured because I did not speak up against them and so I suppose every blog that I have written to date is my way of finally speaking up and slightly berating myself for my lack of action. Maybe this relates to confidence or maybe to self preservation as an actor. You learn very quickly that if you become a ‘problem actor’ you will be released from contract and replaced by that actor desperate to work who will keep quiet. I have however felt this as a failing of oneself.

I love this profession but it’s not an easy one to be a part of. So much is unknowable and that creates even more pressure to be perfect, to always gets things right. I have been lucky. The few places that have given me work have done so again and again and I have eked out a career that way. But I am determined to stop using the ways I have failed myself, in the future.

This is the promise: I believe I have something of worth to say. So, I will do everything in my power to work towards that. And I will keep these failings in mind and when one wants to stop me doing something I am going to engage in, and act, it’s opposite.

Believing isn’t enough. Doing is.

2 thoughts on “Failing Yourself”

  1. This is good stuff. I have never been able to grind away at applications, networking, hunting down opportunities or connections, etc; it seems daunting and I always wait for things to come to me. So it was infinitely relatable to hear you ask “Could I have done more?” We’re not machines.

    Liked by 1 person

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