# 4 – The Devil is in the Details – Part One

If you are going to understand where I am, dear reader, you have to dive into the details. But I mustn’t fuck them up or I will be responsible for your lack of clarity. And I want you to see how much the devil really is in the details.

So I got the termination of contract on a Friday fifteen minutes before closing for the weekend. A smooth move on their part. The lead agent returned my call on Saturday morning and I expressed my shock and disappointment. I am not going to lie. I broke down. It had been a very long year, with the possible break down of my five year relationship; this termination; not living in London and with auditions siphoning away my savings on exorbitant train tickets left me with £400 in my bank. Financial fears are just wonderful, aren’t they?

The lead agent was shocked and upset that I was taking it so badly and I begged that they reconsider. I am not proud of this. They said that they would keep me on for six months more while I found a new agent. Minds were made up. They were done with me no matter what.

Another audition came through in the next few days and I asked that when I was in London that we could have a face to face meeting. I wanted to have a discussion, to ask some questions and I wanted to be in the room when they answered them. The lead agent agreed and we set a time and date.

The meeting day came and after some awkward pleasantries we began to talk. The lead agent sat opposite me in their chair at the end of a communal table around which all the agents sat. I realised quickly that this meeting was not going to be private. I was to ask my questions in front of them all no matter if I preferred a less open space. I had no choice how this was going to go down. The other agents carried on working but their ears must have been tuned to our conversation.

On the right hand side of the lead agent was an empty chair neatly pushed under the table – the agent I had mainly dealt with on the TV advert was not there. This was to prove a telling detail. So, remember this absence. It’s significant.

The meeting began with the usual hard truths that they felt needed reiterating to me even though I knew them already. One being that “No one deserves an acting career no matter how great they are.” This I knew but I also wondered privately that it would be nice if we actually worked in a fair and equitable profession. Deluded I know. You don’t work in this profession for 23 years without seeing a lot of talent and hard work going to waste. And sometimes you also feel the jealous monster claw its way into your heart. For your own talent and hard work. It’s never pretty admitting this flaw.

Then the lead agent did the, “I just couldn’t do anything for you. You need someone a lot more powerful than me.” An agent deprecating narrative to calm my ego, perhaps? Or just part of the usual script when letting people go? I told them that in my opinion (one no wanted or asked for) they were the most successful agent I had based on the number of auditions they got for me. I wasn’t buying that narrative. And they weren’t buying that I was worth keeping on.

Very soon I was to learn a few things that would change my perception of the entire agency. These revelations were to leave me with a great desire to be as far away from that acting agency as possible. As quickly as possible.

# 3 – The Things We Learn…

In the last blog I ended with a cliffhanger (of sorts) detailing that I knew something was up with my being dropped from the agency. I also reiterated that this is a normal process that occurs all the time. Sometimes actors choose it and they let go of their agent and sometimes it happens the opposite way around. But, for me, as I am sure many other actors, something just didn’t feel right.

The reason for that feeling? A week before I received the termination email I had done my first work for the agency, earning them a commission on a TV commercial. The first six months of being in the agency there were no auditions. The next nine months there were many auditions obtained and attended (more on this soon). Famine, then feast – a not unknown trajectory of being an actor.

For the first time I felt like an agency was working for me. In my entire career I have not had many auditions. The work that I have had came out of connections from drama school and were companies who enjoyed my work and hired me again and again. Another ex-agent kept on promising the world but delivering nothing. But here, thanks to my new agency, I was finally going to auditions every six weeks, which, like I said, for me was a record. It felt good. And every time I worked so hard because I was grateful to finally be standing in front of people showing them what I could do. I also needed the money. The last time I worked was a year and two months earlier. I was living off savings and a new job – teaching online.

Admittedly, one TV commercial casting does not make a successful career nor does it justify an agency keeping you on. There are many factors involved. One of them is your ‘sale-ability’. If you cant get an actor in the door to be seen; or the actor’s physical appearance never fits casting briefs; or if the feedback from the audition room is not great – all factors that can lead to being let go.

At the start of my relationship with this agency they crooned over my sale-ability. They crowed over my talent as a few agents had seen my work at a well respected theatre company. And they assured me that they would stand by me and that if ever I needed to chat to them, about anything, that I could do so. But very soon you learn that that is just part of the bullshit chat-up lines agents use with actors. They only mean it if they get something back and when you resist or show that you cannot be moved or swayed then, well, they dump you.

This is a fundamental fact that every actor needs to be aware of. It works both ways but another thing that I have learnt in this industry – everything and I mean EVERYTHING sets an actor up to fail.

And you won’t even know you are doing it.

# 2 – TERMINATION OF CONTRACT!

Photo by Monica Silvestre on Pexels.com

On Friday the 29 September 2019 at exactly 16:45, as I was lying on my bed making a to-do list on my phone, an email pings through from my agent. The notification slides down from the top of the screen and the bold subject line screams into the quiet: TERMINATION OF CONTRACT! My mind registers this quickly and then freezes. It must look like calm, but my stomach is flipping over and over – falling into a chasm whose end I cannot see. The notification slides up and away. My hand is suspended over the note-taking app. The words blur as I fall. But I do not move. I hold my breath. 

Suspension passes quickly. My fingers scramble into action pulling and twisting at the reeds on the side of the cliff to help break my fall. I need information: information to confirm or dispel what I have just seen. Press, click, swipe press, wait, loading, focus, breathe, wait, breathe waaaait, load. I suck in my breath as words from the ether, from mythical neverland London, form in front of my eyes hundreds of miles away, making sentences that should contain sense but, for a second, do not. 

‘Hello —–,’ 

TERMINATION OF CONTRACT, is all I can think. The first line travels from the screen through my sluggishly petrified brain firing synapses into a growing explosion of pain in my solar plexus: “I am so sorry to have to tell you…” then don’t just don’t…”that I believe it is time for you to move on and get a fresh perspective on your career from elsewhere…” And then I know what I don’t want to know. I am being let go. Again. And the pain fires and misfires, tumbles and flips by like the other words in the email. They become pointless syphers indicating everything and nothing. Blah blah your talent I hold in the greatest of esteem…blah blah…two months legal obligation…blah blah…please do feel free to call. 

The only freedom I have, in this falling rib-cage, is despair. It comes quickly and harshly, dragging violent fingers at my throat. Despair is no air passing over my still tongue. I have to force myself to unclasp this knot and breathe. But I still cannot move. I wait and watch as the tenuous hope inside me dies just that little bit more. 

It’s been dying for years. The only thing that has changed is that I am in my forties and losing hope. Hope’s been siphoned off by years of experiences in the UK. Six months ago, it was a rejection from an audition that I absolutely smashed; today it’s words on a computer screen; last year it was another agent that promised me the world and delivered exactly zero.  

I have to now sit, bereft of the one thing I have wanted most: an acting career. 

For fifteen minutes, until 5pm exactly, I barely move. A ball of weight growing in my chest, unsettling me. It finally shakes me from inertia, so I get up and slowly make my way downstairs. 

My partner sits in the armchair watching an episode of The Office. I ask them if they will switch it off, I need to speak. They pause the programme, just as Steve Carrol looks sheepishly over his shoulder directly into camera, directly into the living room where I am standing with my phone in my hand and a vice grip of pain in my chest. 

My partner looks at me and stays very still knowing something is wrong. I finally manage to speak and say the words that will make it more real by sharing, “My agent has dropped me.” 

They say nothing but calmly switch off the TV, stand and come towards me, their arms open. I fall into my partner’s hug. I at last begin to breakdown. Because saying those words makes them real. It’s been shared. And here I am again, in my partner’s arms, crying because of another harsh rejection; another brutal ending; another cull of hope. 

Day after day this is how an actor’s life happens. And day after day it’s a rollercoaster ride – an overused metaphor, I know. You strap yourself in and the moment that the carriage jerks away from the station you relinquish control to the ride. The ride has all the power. And if you don’t like the heights of that endless rise you certainly are not going to like that fall you are staring into. And it’s just fucking tough and there is fuck all you can do about it. 

So here I am, strapped in and falling.  

I speak, scream, cry and blaze with rage and they listen. My partner says nothing because they have been on the ride with me for five years. Five long years they have been by my side. They are as strapped in as me. The problem is…it isn’t their ride. I see the tiredness in my partner’s eyes. And it scares me. 

I look into an insecure future, again. As do all those closest to me. I see all I have sacrificed and all I have worked towards disappearing and today, being dropped by my agent, I am exhausted. Today, I have nothing to give to the struggle of being an actor. Do you understand what I mean?

Exhaustion. Bone weary.

This happens all the time to actors that it has become commonplace. My overly dramatic reaction came towards the end of a difficult personal year for me. And once my emotional reaction wore off I began to see that something was very very wrong with this termination. It made no sense and I was determined to find out why.

# 1 – Why?

I like to start with why.

Why am I writing a blog called The Failed Actor’s Blog? It’s simple. Last year I came to face certain truths that have been lurking in the background of my life for many, many years. It’s a simple truth. And the truth goes something like this: No matter what I did, no matter how experienced I was, no matter how hard I worked to be the best actor that I could be (with all it’s implied limitations) no matter what I have sacrificed (and the sacrifices have been legion) my career was failing.

I have to take some blame for that and I am sure that we will discuss this in future blogs. There are many ways that I have failed myself. I could have been more confident in selling myself, I could have worked harder at developing accent work that would have made my CV more attractive. All these and more we will explore.

But what is often not explored is how so many actors are failed, not by themselves only, but by an industry that is determined to keep actors silent, acquiescent. An industry, whose brutal, competitive nature creates an environment that leads to mental health issues and burgeoning egos. Where careers are launched and lauded and yet the 1% that work constantly do not represent the world we live in nor is it guaranteed that they have any talent, whatsoever.

Again and again I ask myself why? Why is the industry this way? And can it be any better? I don’t know. But I am going to use this blog to explore all of this. I am not perfect. Due to reviews I’ve received and how I have developed my craft I know I am a good actor but I was striving more to be a ‘working’ actor. I never ever cared about fame and fortune (not that that wouldn’t have been nice) but I did want to always be able to pay my rent through my acting career. That hardly ever happened. There have been bursts of that but mostly I have had to do other jobs to just survive. And there is nothing wrong with that.

Until you enter your forties and you realise that this is going to be your life. That you are not going to achieve being a ‘working’ actor and that there are so many obstacles against you that you start to recognise the new truth – it isn’t going to happen for you. And that brings much sadness, some regret and an awful feeling of waste.

I want to explore those obstacles and ask why they are there and what, if anything, can be done about them.