Whether or not you have pets, we all tend to understand the differences in temperament and behavior between cats and dogs. Well, it dawned on me recently that the way these two species approach life can be analogous to the way different types of actors approach their careers. Let’s explore that analogy, and hopefully shed some light on how you should be approaching your career.
For this discussion, we’re addressing the generalized behavior of cats and dogs. Clearly, each breed has nuanced differences, and then of course there’s the environment in which they’re raised. But let’s not get lost in the details just yet.
First, let’s talk about dogs. They are emotional creatures. They express emotional states very distinctly, using their eyes, mouths, ears, tails, posture, and overall body language. And not only do they express a lot of emotion, but also they can become very emotionally attached to their owners. In the TV show Wilfred, this is displayed perfectly in how the dog, Wilfred, gets separation anxiety simply when his owner goes to work for the day. Dogs will eat your charger cables, poop on the rug, and generally run amok if they feel abandoned. They have no concept that their owner will return a few short hours later. Dogs seemingly place so much importance on every moment of their lives! When their owner leaves, it’s the end of the world! When they get back, it’s the greatest moment of their lives!
Cats, on the other hand, are much more independent creatures, with very little outward display of emotion. Sure, they use their ears, tails, and posture just like dogs, but the range of emotions is much smaller. And when their owner leaves, they just stare at them briefly, and then go back to sunning themselves. They don’t seem to care nearly as much about the comings and goings of their humans. In fact, they seem equally content with or without the attention of their owner. Just try forcing a cat to sit on your lap (or do anything else for that matter). Many cats don’t want to be forced into a behavior. They’ll come to you when they’re ready, which paradoxically gives them a high status position in the pet-owner relationship.
My Cats: "Smalls", "Maeby" (like the Arrested Development character), and "Mucky"
Now let's talk about the behavior of actors. We can be just like cats or dogs. The actors who behave like dogs are the ones who obsess over every interaction with an agent or casting director. They obsess over every audition. When they don’t hear back, they experience the same anxiety that dogs do. They think it’s the end of the world! “The Casting Director must hate me! My agent is gonna drop me! My headshots are to blame!” And they metaphorically tear up the house in despair. Then, when good news comes - in the form of a booking or good audition - they are left feeling embarrassed for getting to such a desperate place. And the whole cycle starts over.
The actors who are like cats, conversely, are the ones who don’t place so much importance on each audition. Instead, they trust that the auditions will keep coming. And if a dry spell comes (i.e the owner leaves for an overnight trip), they don’t freak out. Instead, they trust that eventually they’ll book again (i.e. the owner will return). These actors are not so laser-focused on the industry (i.e. the owner), and find fulfillment and contentment in the other aspects of life.
So, if you’re still with me, it should be obvious that the conclusion I’m arriving at is to take a page out of the cat’s life. Do not make an idol out of this industry. If you do, the inevitable rollercoaster of ups and downs will drive you bonkers. So many actors get chewed up and spit out by the vicissitudes of this biz, and if you act like a dog, you’re making yourself susceptible to that same fate. Because this industry will give you plenty of opportunities to drive yourself crazy:
You get a national commercial… and then it never airs.
You book your first major film or TV show… and they cut your scene. Or worse, the recast you, reshot the scene, and never told you.
You test for a pilot and book it… and it doesn’t get picked up.
You finally get that dream agent… and then 6 months after not booking they drop you.
You cut your hair… and suddenly long hair is en vogue.
If you’re a journeyman actor like me, you have enough of these stories to fill a cat’s litter box. But if you let those experiences fill you with anxiety, resentment, or other negative emotions, then you won’t be ready for the next opportunity that comes along.
Stage 32 Director of Content Taylor C. Baker's Dog "Radio" (also from Taylor: "where are all my dog people at?!")
Instead, like a cat, find joy and fulfillment in other aspects of life. What is your equivalent for a patch of sunlight on the floor by the window? Or a piece of yarn? Or an empty box? You must cultivate a LIFE outside of the industry. Not only to keep you sane, but also to keep you growing as a human, which in turn will improve your craft.
So pick up a new hobby.
Take a class on a subject that intrigues you.
Deepen your own spirituality to recalibrate your inner compass.
Go on a road trip.
Do a secret, random act of kindness to a complete stranger.
A cat looks at its owner and says “I’d like your affection, but I don’t NEED your affection.” Likewise, you should approach each audition with the attitude of “I’d like your job, but I don’t NEED your job.” That can only happen, though, if you find purpose in something other than this industry.
If we take this analogy too far, it starts to get muddled, because cats and dogs have a wide spectrum of behavior and personalities. For instance, I didn’t even mention that cats have a reputation of being lazy. And as an actor, you need to avoid the complacency of just expecting that you can succeed with minimal or no effort. Instead, you need to find a balance of taking your craft seriously, just not taking yourself seriously.
If you can find that balance, your chances of creating a sustainable career go up. Because that’s what we’re all after. Not the next job, but the next several decades of jobs. One job does not a career make. You should be in this for the long haul.
So regardless if you own a cat, a dog, or neither, I hope we all can take a fresh look at how we approach our own careers, and maybe identify places that need to be recalibrated. Oh, and if you ARE a pet owner, then I’ll end with the old Bob Barker quote: “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.”
Matthew is a Storyteller based in Atlanta, GA. He is a proud member of SAG-AFTRA, and has over 60 credits on IMDb. He and his wife own Get Taped, which is one of the original audition taping services in Atlanta (founded in 2010). You can follow him on Instagram @matthew.cornwell and Facebook, or just wait for him to nonchalantly pop up on your TV screen.
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