"So what do you do?"

Contrary to popular belief, I'm somewhat introverted (an INFJ for all you Myers Briggs inclined folk).  Most of the things that I do in social settings are somewhat learned responses in order to subvert actual socializing, so as to conserve energy in engaging multiple people at once in an efficient manner.  Some of this is probably because when I do have relationships with people, I invest fully into them, and I don't want to do that upfront if I think that it is unlikely that we will connect on a deeper level.

So when I meet new people, I hate getting hit with the occupation question.  Sometimes I ponder making something up so I don't have to explain as much, because saying, "I am an actor" is a loaded statement.  A successful young actor had told me that even after being somewhat established, he still feels pretentious sometimes saying that statement.  Even writing this blog entry about being an actor feels pretentious.  What qualifications do I need to say "I'm an actor" or blog about an experience of being an actor?  Training?  IMDb credits?  SAG membership?  Supporting oneself solely through acting?  Doing classical Shakespeare?  A play on Broadway?

The next question they invariably ask is, "Oh do you have any other job?" which for the more aggressive interviewers is code for "Well, clearly you must not be very good at acting since I've never heard of you and have probably no source of income you dilettantish shit, so what tables in West Hollywood/Santa Monica do you scrub?"  Upon hearing my well prepared 30 second answer condensing the last 8 years of my life, they wonder, "So why did you decide to become an actor?"

Most of my life, I've worked towards specific and tangible goals.  Study this hard, get this grade, and you'll achieve a desired result that's somewhat predictable.  This mindset doesn't work with acting at all because measuring progress is a haphazard process that sometimes doesn't make any sense at all.  Jon Hamm is a prime example of someone who is an excellent actor represented by a top flight agency, but because of his older looking appearance, couldn't find work because he didn't look "youthful" enough.  He got his breakout role when he was 36.  Michael Emerson also got his breakout role when he was 42 after years of theater and off-Broadway plays.  But for every success story like that, how many other actors, equally fantastic in ability, have been passed over and quit because they didn't have the same resolve to wait for that breakout role to come along?

I am the one who smokes a lot of cigarettes.

I am the one who smokes a lot of cigarettes.

What's frustrating to me is the whole catch-22ness of the business.  If you lack credits, you can't get auditions, if you can't get auditions...well you know.  The whole actor evaluation process is somewhat inefficient.  Unlike other performance artists, actors can only showcase their talent when they have material to showcase it with.  The musician, writer and painter all have a tangible product : a song, a book or a portrait, respectively.  But what does an actor have to show his work in an easily consumable form?  A showcase showing brief moments on stage in the hopes of catching an agents eye?  A one minute reel created by directors/writers with their own artistic vision?  A two minute monologue interview?

It started to come together for me when I realized that the entertainment industry at its heart is a business that comes from generating ideas and intellectual property.  Because of that, it is subject to the whims of public opinion and interests, rather than cold hard needs.  Jobs that fulfill needs, like healthcare, finance, etc. are easy to improve on (provided you have the talent and the motivation), because weaknesses and inefficiencies are easier to define and adjust.  But there is no proper framework in improving your acting career.  All you can do is try to find a platform in which you can perfect your craft and shape how you're perceived from a marketing standpoint.

Perfecting the craft was almost the sole thing emphasized at the studio I trained at.  Sure there were audition classes and on camera classes that may have helped a bit, but there was a bit of that "anything that isn't theater isn't REAL acting" type of stigma towards LA.  Acting purists tend to believe you can play anything and do any part, which clouded my focus in creating an effective marketing plan for myself as an actor.  

"You always double down on 11."

"You always double down on 11."

But so far from my experience in LA, I've learned that casting directors don't have time to sit down with you and see how you do every role.  They only have time to look at your headshot, make some snap judgment, and see you in some sort of role they picture you in.  What I've found is that I need to create a Venn diagram of sorts, where one circle is "parts I'd be good at and want to play", and the other circle is "parts I would be cast for", and hone in on the overlapping section.

As an Asian American male actor, that section is pretty small.  So one goal I've set for myself is to actually write material for myself and actually do it.  While I've done something like that so far, this needs to be more of a priority now, because parts for Asian American dudes aren't just falling out of the sky.  I'm becoming more aware now that I need to take more control and not wait for things to happen.  This story about how Swingers was made has been really inspiring, and really what I need to be doing myself, actors creating roles for themselves by filming their own movie.  

So why did I decide to become an actor?

Unfortunately, the answer to that can't be condensed into a simple sound bite.  I think for me personally it came from a longing to be heard after a life of having been summarily ignored.  As someone who's routinely been kicked to the curb emotionally, I felt like my mind has been a valuable repository of experiences and observations that have come together to conclude certain truths about life that ultimately others could benefit from hearing about.  Combined with my love of storytelling and performing, it just felt right for me to pursue a career in make-believe. 

I realize that some of that probably sounds somewhat narcissistic.  But I also believe that in order to be successful as an artist, you need to have a healthy dose of narcissism.  That's not to say that everyone who's a great artist is a jerk who's full of themselves (though many can be).  But what I mean is that artists must have a belief that they have an intrinsic and unique nature that they need to share with the rest of the world.  This is because inevitably, they will come across people who doubt that they do in fact, have anything different to offer, and they must have the strength/insanity to believe that the doubters are wrong.

One thing I've learned is that there is a truth to "faking it til you make it" in Hollywood.  If you carry yourself as if you aren't worth it, why would a casting director believe that you're worth it?  Unfortunately, I'm a terrible self promoter.  Part of this is because I don't believe that I have done anything of note so far, so I don't believe I have anything of value to offer.  But going forward, I have to ignore that and remember my own creed and believe in what I have to offer, that I'm money and I don't even know it.  So let's make some movies, baby.