3 things I wish someone had told me before I started acting

by colleen wainwright | the communicatrix

It's too late to save me, I made all of these actual mistakes and paid the price.

Fortunately, I can pass along what I've learned to you. Listen up, and spare yourself a world of hurt.

1. It is better to have no agent at all than a bad one

I was like you once, grasshopper. Really. I worked hard hard hard to land an agent. Because, of course, I had to have an agent to get any work.

Of course, I had only minimal credits and I was in the lumpen middle of the acting demographic: Causasian female playing 28 – 38. Hollywood's Power Elite did not exactly have me on its collective speed dial.

But because of my diligent efforts and great photo, eventually, I landed an agent! I never actually met her, but we talked on the phone. She told me I was a dead ringer for Martha Raye and had a great career ahead of me. She was old Hollywood; she knew these things.

My agent didn't get me any auditions, but I got to have her name on my resume! And people could call her when I got myself auditions!

Which I did, a few times, including a really great one I got through a friend who'd left acting to write on a big show. I could have handled the intake myself, but what the hell, that's what agents are for, right?

Riiiiight. Good agents. Mine, on the other hand, took down information (incorrectly), relayed it to me (incorrectly) and told them all about me, her star client. At length, apparently, and while under the influence of pain medication.

Let's just say that I have never had an assistant greet me like that before or since. Or a worse audition for a part that, under normal circumstances, I would have hit out of the park.

When I called to fire my bad agent, she cried. Life was hard, she wailed. Her corns had been acting up! I just didn't understand!

Oh, I understood all right. And I hope you do, too.

2. It is better to not audition at all than to audition badly

Despite what you may think, you cannot wing it. Ever.

Can. Not. Wing. It.


You must log the hours. This holds true no matter where you are in your career: brand new, yeoman or superstar.

If you are at the beginning of your career, this will likely mean you have to do a ton of work on every shot. As you get better, it may seem like you're walking into auditions and just doing it. But remember, you have lots of the stuff in your bones by then: how to carry yourself, how to work the room, how to find the damned casting office. Plus the experience of having acted a million scenarios.

And you'll still have to prep. I got really good at auditioning for commercials after hundreds and hundreds of auditions. But when I blew in late, rattled from not having allowed myself enough time to get there or park or read the script or whatever? Nuh-uh.

Be prepared or don't be there. Seriously.

3. Trying too hard kills everything

If there is only one thing you take away from all the columns I write, please let this be it: you cannot make yourself be funny. (For “funny,” feel free to substitute “hot,” “imposing,” “creepy,” “demure,” or “sophisticated.”)

Not with a headshot. Definitely not with five headshots. (Who told you you needed that many looks, anyway? Your lousy agent?) Not with jokes, a goofy outfit, silly faces, “bits,” “schtick” or the greatest Judd Apatow lines ever written.

You also cannot make yourself be sad. (For “sad,” please feel free to substitute “joyous,” “angry,” “scared,” or “jealous.”)

Not by screwing up your face and going “boo-hoo-hoo.” Not by thinking sad thoughts of your late, lamented childhood puppy. Not by posing, reposing, or falling in a crumpled heap on the floor. Sometimes you can have someone else make you feel sad (or scared, or angry, etc) by doing something to you, but it only works once (or if the person doing it is Alfred Hitchcock, who was notorious, no pun intended, for using this tactic with his actors).

The cold, hard truths are these: (1) You are who you are; (2) you are where you are right now. No amount of costuming/makeup/wishing can change the former; no amount of willfully ignoring can change the latter.

Learn to accept the truth with grace. Once you are down with the fact that you come off as a middle-aged, Midwestern farmboy, you can play every variation on that type. You can even use it to play against type: the middle-aged, Midwestern farmboy who is…sexy! Evil! Brilliant! Etc!

Similarly, you cannot get to any emotion without getting down with the one you're in right now. There are whole schools of acting devoted to this, so I won't go on about it, but if you don't have an understanding of this very simple, central truth of acting, hie thee to a good acting class immediately.

Wait, good vs. bad acting classes. That's another thing I wish someone had told me.

Oh, well. We'll have to save that for another column…

Questions? Compliments? Suggestions? Complaints? Please email me: colleen AT communicatrix DOT com

Colleen Wainwright is an L.A.-based writer-performer-etc. who started calling herself "the communicatrix"when she hit three hyphens. In addition to her column for LA Casting, she writes a monthly newsletter devoted to uncovering your unique gifts and putting them out to the world.