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September 12, 2013 / justerik

A Pep Talk

This is something I wrote to a good friend about a year ago. Lately, I realized it was advice I needed to hear as much as say. So here it is.

“Tell me if I’m wasting my time as an actress.”

Here is the long and the short of it. Do you love what you do?

Seriously, that’s it. That’s the way to answer your question. Do you love it? Because if you love what you do, then no, you’re not wasting your time being an actor. If you don’t love it, then it doesn’t matter how much talent you’ve got, it’s a waste of your life. Your life is too important to fill it with things you ought to do, things you don’t love.

If you want to be good at what you do, then love beats talent anyway. That’s science. Science tells us that it takes 10,000 hours of work to master a skill, and an amateur in love with her work will get to 10,000 hours years before some indifferent “genius” does. In fact, as far as I’m concerned love is talent, minus a few other quirks of the genetic lottery. If you love your work then will  you not obsesses over it, revel in it, play with it, delight in innovation, and practice technique out of raw joy instead of compelled obligation?

But the question “Do I love acting, do I love the theatre, do I love the work” is trickier than it sounds. Simple doesn’t mean easy. Some say that loving art means needing to make it, not being able to do anything else. I thought that meant I wasn’t an artist, as I left acting behind for a Professional And Responsible Life in technology, as I fell in love with my wife. That’s bullshit. When I  returned to the stage it was like breathing after a tense moment, where you didn’t even know you were holding your breath. I loved it, I needed it, and I knew that because I walked away then  returned. Took me ten years. Hard path. I think for some it’s easier, but don’t be ashamed of taking the long way to figure it out.

Do what you love. Everything else is crap.

That’s probably not the pep talk you were looking for. But don’t worry, I can do that, too. I think you were one of the finest actors
I’ve worked with. You have fine instincts, excellent comic timing, and a natural ease on stage. I am envious of how refined you are already at your age, and jealous (and I mean that in a real,  deep, longing way that I’m a little embarrassed to admit) of your physical technique and expression, something which I have little of in my acting, and comes unnaturally to me. I think you will continue to grow as long as you continue to work hard, and you will work hard because that’s who you are. You’ll work hard for the things you love.

See? Comes back to love again.

I think as an actor I have been able to draw on a rich life of experiences that I had while I was trying to not be an actor. I saw and did things that the arc of a professional acting life never would
have taken me to, and while I wish I had spent that ten years learning how to act (maybe by now I might know how!) I don’t regret the ease with which I identify and understand with characters. It makes it easier to play real people, rather than impressions, or mimicking the tropes of other actors in the same kinds of roles. So don’t fear following your muse to other arts or wider experiences.

I also think that, when I was younger, I bought into this strange myth of “making it.” The myth takes different forms for different people, but it has a common theme – there is an outer world, where us aspirants must live, and an inner world where the successful operate. If you are good enough, or have the keys to the kingdom you can “break in” and until you do so, you are nothing. I wanted to be a movie star, and knew I could never be one – too poor, too homely, too creatively barren – so I thought that acting was a worthless pursuit.

More bullshit. What matters is the work. Am I proud of it? Did I work hard at it? Do I love it? Will I endeavor to do better next time? That’s it. If I could make my living by acting then I wouldn’t  care if no one ever recognized me, as long as the work was meaningful to me. And no amount of fame and fortune will ever be enough if I don’t care about the work. If this is what you want to do, then define success by getting to do what you want. Then no stratification around Hollywood or Broadway will be able to stop you. The beautiful irony there is that means you’ll be more likely to make it, as your competitors are discouraged by not being instantly made stars, and you quietly work at the thing you love until you are a master and all the dilettantes have
gone home.

My dad would call that a zen thing.

It’s also okay to feel depression, doubt, self-pity and even impotent rage on occasion. That’s acceptable, and expected. It sucks getting set back, it sucks failing to meet your expectations for  your self, and it sucks turning that ever analytical eye on yourself and not liking what you see. Just don’t wallow in it, don’t let it define you, and find a way to return to the love of the thing. And if the love is gone, if you’re too hurt – then walk away. You’ll walk back when you’re ready. Something out in the wider world will spark you, or the call will come back. Don’t force it.

Two final things.

First, feel free to ignore every piece of fucking advice I’ve given you. Only you know the path you’re on, and, hell, lets face it, that might overestimate the number by one. If you see a path in the brush, take it, no matter what you think you are supposed to do or not do. Look at me, I’m not a model for anyone, and while I met some excellent role models. my attempt to emulate them left me divorced and locked in my bedroom listening as my friends attempted to break the door down to rescue me from myself. I couldn’t make it work by following someone else’s road. Walk your own path, trust yourself.

Two, trust others. No doubt you’ve been swarmed with advice and encouragement since you put out some feelers, and I’m glad. No doubt some of the advice is contradictory, and no doubt some of the encouragement seemed hollow or cheap or meaningless. But no matter what, it shows you’ve got people. We’ve got your back. I’ve got your back. Be bold, where boldness is due, because if you fail, there are people who will catch you.

“Tell me if I’m wasting my time as an actress.” God I hope not. Because if you are, what the fuck am I doing?

Good night, sister,

Erik

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