Hollywood is the only place where you can die of encouragement.Pauline Kael
This used to be a small bullet-point way down the list of items I had to cover. But many of my colleagues deemed it important enough to warrant its own section. The next few words are intended to save you from one of the biggest traps that actors tend to fall into. Neither the newer nor more experienced actor is immune to this one.
Lose the craving for praise.
All actors, regardless of background or training, have this omnipresent desire buried deep within themselves. Further to this, I firmly believe that anybody who says otherwise is telling a big fat whopper. I’m convinced that this little craving is – quite inconveniently- buried next door to where that little inner critic likes to lurk. You know, the one that likes to pipe up now and again about you being ‘a fraud’ (see Self Doubt). Drama school with all its marking systems and teaching hierarchies, tends to amplify the craving for praise, and the research shows that our new grads are particularly vulnerable to it.
Never forget that praise costs nothing and therefore can mean everything AND nothing. It’s the simplest and easiest way to turn an actor down. It is a much-used ‘social lubricant’ that lessons the friction of an industry that deals with an inhuman amount of rejection. Likethey say in LA: You’ll never have a bad meeting! But eventually, after auditioning and auditioning and auditioning, false praise will prove itself empty. We’re human. We’re not bulletproof. So it’s going to bite us eventually. But like everything else in this biz, so much of our learning is in the doing. Find a mentor (see Your Creative Growth) and some close friends that you respect and only listen to their praise when and if they give it. Everything else should be taken with a grain of salt… or a tablespoon, as the case may be. There is nothing wrong with honest self-appraisal either. As one of my interviewees said:
Seeking congratulations is immature, but self-congratulating is mature.
If you deserve it, don’t use the packet sauce that you’re being offered.
Give yourself the REAL thing!
In the 7th edition of his book ‘Acting Professionally’ (you know it’s good if it’s the 7th edition), Robert Cohen points out that professional actors don’t audition for things so they can be ‘liked’. They audition for things so they can get damn well hired! Acting is a business, so what difference does it make if ‘they like you’ but never actually hire you? And at the end of the day, do you actually know 100% that ‘they’ genuinely like you? Many actors have wasted whole lifetimes subsisting purely on empty praise.
Don’t be the actor who gets to the end of a 30 year career and says “Gee, I never got any gigs. But, man, they sure as heck liked my work.”