You just launched your life-long dream as a working actor – auditioning for roles while continuing workshops with casting directors. Or you graduated from drama school, and, damn, the pandemic started! Maybe your hope for the pandemic to end sooner encouraged you to at least take online acting classes, but now moving to Los Angeles for more job opportunities is complicated with vaccine requirements, border closures, or getting stranded somewhere on the way. Even if you are in Los Angeles or New York, will you ever realize the stardom you have always seen in Hollywood?
The fear, judgment, harassment, or intimidation of not being an overnight celebrity may block you from taking charge of your acting. Yes, there is a dominant representation and consumption of film stars in the tabloids. But do not let the impression of film stardom get in the way of the articulations of your acting. There are other routes to become rich and famous. The pursuit of fame can block the craft of acting.
As a celebrity studies scholar, former journalist, and actor, let me demystify:
Fame is a media process. Without the media representation, the persona branding of a celebrity does not exist. Of course, there are merit-based celebrities in tabloid illustrations. So, ultimately, merit counts. A film star is also a working actor that needs to take charge of acting merit despite media. All working actors, including film stars, know that they are essentially lifelong learners, taking control of the craft of acting outside their comfort zones, and turning adversities into opportunities -- otherwise, the hard work will not pay off.
Life is short, and the time to act is right now!
So “act” – but, first, act on crafting your life and playing out your passions to take control of your acting career wherever you are.
If I can, you can!
I did not pursue acting for fame. As an expert on celebrity culture and film stars, it made sense that my opinions would be more credible and grounded with practicing knowledge as an actor. More importantly, I just wanted to use my talent in performance art to tell human stories and express – not just impress.
However, my inner critic fed on what my relatives and friends believed: I neither have a typical "tall and blonde" model appearance nor perceived necessary youth to start an acting career. Except for my parents, a few colleagues, and a couple of relatives, most family members, e.g., my dad’s eldest brother and mom’s youngest sister, would dismiss, silence or sarcastically reject watching my performances by switching to famous media personalities while I would share my media interviews. At that point, I should have been satisfied with my academic success of teaching, researching, and interviewing other celebrities instead of actually learning how to act.
I could have also focussed on being more affluent and famous using some institutional status; otherwise, my hard work so far might appear to be a failure to those expecting me to attain overnight Hollywood or Bollywood stardom. That expectation, I believe, comes from a class-based patriarchy, trying to impose fear and control in perpetuating a constructed glamour. Even if you realize glamorous success, it is not sustainably or emotionally uplifting if it is not you and may become a stagnant plateau for someone else’s version of success – that's fans' or journalists' fantasy of commodifying fame in media, supported by advertisement brands.
But that's not how “acting” works.
What I do know is that representation matters and visibility is key to telling human stories. In doing so, we are successful in being more confident and resourceful. So, while still enmeshed in academia, I started documentary filmmaking, short films, experimental videos, and modeling, and I developed my IMDB credits as an independent filmmaker and actor. I would have regrets if I did not try further, leaving my comfort zone in performing – what did I have to lose? I only had to gain experience and convey pressing stories.
Nevertheless, I further trained myself in screenwriting while I was stranded for five months during my visit to Mumbai at the unprecedented start of Covid-19 lockdown. After getting a rescue flight to my home in Toronto, I joined an intensive online program at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (AADA) in Los Angeles. I always remember that AADA acting faculty members Adam Chambers, Debra De Liso, and Joe Garcia reassured how my life experience contributed to my acting. More importantly, in Garcia’s words, I was "enough" – not to think any less. I recall his lasting words in acting: "Please don’t stop now. Continue to explore and study. Acting is a never-ending pursuit and journey and life experience is the map."
So, what life skills do we need in taking back control of acting?
Have you heard of Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way? It applies well to actors. After all, acting is an art, and art reflects life. I have had a successful educational career in the USA, Canada, Australia, and India, but I wanted to travel and learn more about cultures that I can finally reflect on in my scriptwriting, independent filmmaking, and acting.
For logistical and intuitive reasons, I choose Portugal as my current base to shoot my own films in warm, outdoor locations, layered with history and geographical variety for visual storytelling anytime. But more importantly, I feel inspired through learning new cultures and lifestyles, which feeds the soul. So, I took calculated risks and flew from Toronto to Lisbon twice during Covid.
Wherever we are, we can create our own opportunities to observe human characters, write scripts, and play various characters that need to be heard and seen. As long as you are acting or auditioning for a role, you are a ‘working actor.’
If you need to move or fly to Los Angeles, New York, London, or Mumbai (just to name a few well-known filming locations), go for it – I go from time to time while including other places for my filmmaking. But don’t wait – start designing your life and developing your acting where you choose to be in the present.
If you are interested in cinematic storytelling, be open to the possibility of learning different aspects of filmmaking and create casting opportunities for yourself and other fellow actors. I am producing video shorts while planning a feature film screenplay as well as a novel. We use whatever we have in creating our scene work.
That way, your acting career is not delayed, waiting for that dream role -- or what you perceive as a dream role -- that may or may not ever materialize. In fact, fellow artists and agents will want to work with you when you take charge of your acting career. Just be careful in choosing the right colleague or community. My professional skills taught me how to weed out acting coaches who are calling in the name of feedback but manipulating to turn actors into clients out of economic distress during Covid-19. Be careful of falling into the trap of any follow-up sales phone call or publicists making unfounded claims. Instead, do your own research, save time, and acquire skills at your own pace. For that matter, choose your colleagues and companions in a genuinely empathetic way and do not allow yourself to become distracted. Time is money!
In this creative path in honing your craft as an actor, use your self-tape skills to archive and showcase your acting process (e.g., practicing monologues, rehearsal of scenes, testing equipment, trying costumes or reflecting on behind-the-scenes of a shoot). Do not wait for tabloid media to construct your story in a way that is used for sales of gossip. Create an evidence-based account and a following that is authentic for “you.” When you are not shooting or merely on a break, create still and moving images (e.g., headshots, modeling, fitness, diet, and traveling) on your creative path. Your fellow actors will value their learning lessons and become a part of your authentic journey. Your professional community, including casting agents and journalists, will also learn who “you” are as an artist. I use Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube to document my lessons and notes.
In designing an artistic life and creating opportunities that allow your art, you may or may not have the necessary social support from the past life. Family or friends who are supportive now may change later. But a community based on shared values can be more sustainable.
Build your actors’ community e.g., theatre group. Also, give a voice to fellow actors on Stage 32 and on social media, using relevant hashtags e.g., #actorsinspiration, #actorslife, #workingactor, and so many more related to your skills! For example, I share professional tools and community resources on the Centre for Media and Celebrity Studies Twitter. I particularly recommend Jenna Dolittle weekly listserv with career resources in acting – her listserv is an outstanding resource for actors.
It is not only okay to have a side hustle or two, but doing so can actually help you in the long run as an actor. There are a couple of reasons: It is essential to have financial stability, which I have achieved in taking charge of my acting. What is my secret? Despite family support and government funding, I published and taught as a lecturer, teaching assistant, research assistant, workshop facilitator. Additionally, I worked an administrative job at a reception desk in a telecommunications company for a short time while teaching in Australia.
For one, I started saving funds in a high-interest bank account in Australia and in India. Moreover, I invested my savings into Canadian real estate, which I rented out and then sold for double the purchase price. I plan to re-invest the profits into another property that is more profitable rather than just relying on a savings account in a bank. More importantly, I lead a minimalist life that allows me to focus on researching, acting, screenwriting, filmmaking, and media interviewing. The lifestyle is fueled by family savings, income, and interests. The economic intelligence in mastering financial stability is critical to taking charge of acting – for that matter, for pursuing any artistic path. Realistically, we know how life and career expenses can wipe out savings quickly. Still, I didn’t want to invest the time of my life in a “9 to 5 job” just for the pension, so I stabilized my finances. I built my platform with part-time/seasonal jobs, savings, and interest early on.
Multi-tasking, which I referred to earlier, helps master the art of the day job and take charge of acting. If you are multi-tasking throughout your creative process, prioritize each day in the way you would prioritize your life choices. For example, I start my day with a raw plant-based diet, high-impact fitness, and voice training before rehearsing scripts or shooting scenes. If you are someone like me who hates being stuck in routines, take breaks and be flexible with interchanging times and spaces of tasks. Either way, fit your practice into your existing schedule of acting classes, workshops, auditions, or a day job.
Still from "Pink Code"
As a celebrity studies scholar and actor, I learned the value of reading or listening to biographies and learning the craft from film stars, especially in trade magazines on acting.
But do not depend on journalists and publicists to tell your stories. If you really want to reach out to the media to share your story, talent, skills, and values, you can do so at any point in your acting career. If you hire a publicist at some point, you still need to learn media and public relations and make sure that the publicist has a credible track record – that’s the knowledge celebrities acquire in persona branding. I have observed working actors, including film stars, making their profiles stand out with values: e.g., feminist, vegan, traveler, creative soul…and the list goes on! They use online media to gain creative agency regardless of journalists taking on their stories. Like A-list film stars, you can also take control of your acting profile using media -- e.g., camera, printing press, or microphone, to tell human stories. In any case, taking charge of your talent is the most important aspect for your future success. The challenges on the way make it a lifetime reward. As Peter Sarsgaard said, “If all the circumstances of acting are made too easy, then there’s no grain of sand to make the pearl.”
So, keep shining - I want to see your sparkle!
Bio: Dr Samita Nandy is an actor from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts (Los Angeles) and author of three books: Fame in Hollywood North, Becoming Media Critics, and Ethical Glamour and Fashion: Styling Persona Brands. She holds a Doctorate in celebrity culture from the Department of Media & Information at Curtin University, Australia and is a certified broadcast journalist from Canada. With awards and grants valued at $140,000, her research particularly specializes in fame, history of stardom, and celebrity activism. As the Director of Centre for Media and Celebrity Studies (CMCS), Dr Nandy has been publicized for making celebrity studies and ethics available in the media, including The Telegraph (UK), Global News, VICE, Flare, Chatelaine, SUN, Yahoo! Entertainment and more.
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