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Acting Career FAQ - What's Your Type?

Mar 26, 2008
Most actors hate the idea of 'typing.'

But observable reality is that those actors who define (type) themselves early on, progress up the ladder at a much faster rate. Whether it's the 'domestic goddess' of a Roseanne, or the 'conflicted hero' of a Matt Damon - typing yourself properly can cut years off the 'struggle.'

Here's an email I got - that prompted this discussion:

"Dear Bob,

"I was reading the section of Headshot Secrets Revealed called Unique Character Presentation - and I have a whole bunch of questions. You wrote that we should choose the UCP (type) that fit us the best, and 'align our marketing efforts with our natural tendencies.'

"How does this fit in with versatility? If we market ourselves on our natural tendencies, aren't we just staying in our safety zone and basically portraying ourselves?

"The reason I'm asking is because I recently asked my acting teacher, 'on a scale of 1 to 10 ... 10 being an Oscar or Tony award-winning performance - what's my skill level?' (I want to be at a level 7 - but preferably an 8, or higher.)

"She said I was at less than a 5 ... but only because I don't have the versatility I need. She said that I had my safety zone down pat - but I needed to stretch a lot more.

"And how does an actor like Chris Cooper fit into UCP typing? He's done just about every type of role imaginable - huge versatility. I admire Cooper's acting and consider him one of my role models. I'd like to achieve the quality and versatility he brings to every role he plays.

"So, Unique Character Presentation versus versatility? I feel I'm missing an important piece of knowledge that links the two together, harmoniously.

"Thanks for your time."

Signed, Curious

Dear Curious,

I don't (or rarely) discuss acting as a craft. What I focus on - in the stuff I write - is aimed at getting you WORKING ... FOR MONEY.

Chris Cooper is versatile, yes ... but believe me, it's much easier to be a 'versatile' actor when you've got 10 to 15 years of paying work behind you. Look up Cooper's credits on IMDb and see how far back they go. And that's just his film and TV work - he also has more than a decade, prior to that, working in local theatre.

Yes he's versatile ... but that's not what got him to the level he enjoys today. What got him there was his marketing, his willingness to play to type (note how often he has played cowboys, sheriffs, and military men), and staying focused on being employed (for money) as an actor.

My point about UCP is that it's simply a way of framing the natural 'typing' that happens on the other side of the casting table - whether you like it or not. And to frame it in a way that helps you become more successful, sooner.

Because the fact is that becoming versatile for no pay is - in the end - very frustrating and debilitating, and rarely a successful plan.

There are many actors who moan, "I'm really a good actor, I can play anything ... but I can't get a break." 99 times out of a 100 the problem is that those actors are focusing on their talent (their acting ability) rather than the BUSINESS of becoming a professional actor.

If you think you'll have the opportunity to play either Juliet or Lady Macbeth (in a professional circumstance) based solely on your acting ability, I can assure you that you will spend a lot of time practicing that 'theory' - and not much time making money. In other words, that's an idea that is guaranteed to hand you a full ration of disappointment.

Bottom line? It's the making of the money that allows actors to progress - in the context of the professional arena.

What you and your acting teacher are trying to do is quantify that which cannot be quantified. Believe me, if I put you in front of Steven Spielberg tomorrow, to audition for his next movie ... you will not be thinking about your 'safety zone.'

You will be hoping to get picked.

And I'm pretty sure that you won't care a fig if the character Steven wanted you to play is someone just like yourself.

Please don't attach your acting skills to your results. That is just a blatant denial of reality.

Who is a better actor, Nicholson or Pacino? No serious person would even try to answer that question without knowing the role, the story, the purpose of the character, and whole lot of other stuff. And, in the end, when either star is cast ... the script is rewritten for him.

Your Unique Character (who you REALLY are) matters a lot.

'Oscar winning roles,' 'good acting on a scale of 1 to 10,' 'what's the best method,' 'who's the better actor?' ... frankly, these are topics for party conversation and, in my not so humble opinion, a waste of time when it comes to business.

On the other hand, if what is truly important to you is the approbation of your teacher, other actors, or being able to play 'anything' ... you might be on the right track. In the final analysis this discussion all comes down to what your real goal is.

My formulation of the Unique Character Presentation doesn't harmonize with your current goal of versatility - because versatility is not what gets actors in the door, cast in a role, or affords them the opportunity to really 'climb the ladder.' Skilled professional actors almost always learn the job ... on the job.

Becoming a brilliant actor - and THEN succeeding in the business, is a pipe dream. It happens about as often as parents point to Paris Hilton as a role model.

So, focus on defining your Unique Character as part of your marketing efforts and start booking more work. Then, one day, somewhere down the line, someone will cast you against type and you'll have the opportunity to show your versatility.

The best part of this kind of plan is that you can go ahead and be a successful, paid, professional, actor in the meantime.
About the Author
Bob Fraser is an actor, writer and director who has also been the producer/show-runner on many successful television series - and, for the past 5 years, has become one of the world's foremost acting advisors. Learn more at: http://www.youmustact.com
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