Determining your actor moment means answering these three questions: What do you want with your acting career? How do you get it? Is the sacrifice worth the glory? Michael Edwards’ moment was to compete in the Olympics. Even though he encountered numerous roadblocks on his way to Olympic glory, he worked diligently to qualify for the Olympics even though he lacked social support; lacked financing to train properly; and lacked the physical gifts of a traditional Olympic athlete. Despite those difficulties, Michael Edwards became the British ski jumping record holder at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.
You can watch his story unfold in the inspiring movie, “Eddie the Eagle,” which premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. It you’re a Hugh Jackman fan, you might’ve seen it. If you haven’t had the pleasure, let me warn you, ladies and gentlemen. Mr. Jackman does not sing & dance nor fight evil with superhuman powers in this film. What you do witness are lessons on how to accomplish your goals. I discovered that you need three things to make your dreams come true and determine your actor moment.
1) Singular Focus
When I pursued the craft of screenwriting, I thought all I had to do was write one screenplay and eventually, an important person in the industry would read it, give me money, take my hand, and show me the road to glory. It never happened. You see, while I was wishing for someone to notice my potential and do all the work on my behalf, I sat distracted by life and never focused on what I thought was my true calling. Michael Edwards always knew his true calling was the Olympics. He avoided distraction, didn’t listen to the naysayers, and stayed on course. He continued to strive and study and work towards that goal. The passion burned inside of him. An article about Eddie the Eagle in The Guardian stated, “He would travel through Europe, broke, starving and without a roof over his head, desperate to ski wherever he could. He slept in his caravanette when it was -25C, he scraped food out of bins and he stayed in a mental hospital in Finland because that was all he could afford.” I know that’s pretty extreme, but when I hear of actors complaining about driving to Santa Monica; complaining about how theatre sucks in L.A., so that’s why they don’t do it; or how they have to tape an audition, because they’re too busy or unavailable to go into the room live in front of the Casting Director, one has to question whether that actor really wants to accomplish the goal of becoming a series regular; making a living as an actor; or even wanting to improve at their craft. If you don’t love it, why do it, especially if you’re not making any money from it. Eddie couldn’t let it go. When downhill skiing didn’t work out, he switched to ski jumping, because that was another way he could get to the Olympics.
As soon as I decided to pursue screenwriting, I should have started writing every day; should have continued to take classes and join writing groups; should have read as many screenplays I could get my hands on; should have read every book on the subject; and should have pursued every opportunity to submit my work anywhere and everywhere I could get feedback and improve. If I wanted to be a screenwriter, I should’ve surrounded myself with professional screenwriters who I could’ve learned from, interned or worked for in the industry. Lack of focus, fear, and not truly realizing that writing wasn’t my true calling made me waste so many years that I could’ve used pursuing something else. Golden opportunities rarely fall into your lap. Even the extremely rare times of getting lucky are because you’ve put yourself in a prime position of being close to people doing what you want to do and impressing them enough to notice your potential and hard work. Now, let’s dive deeper. A lack of focus means that too many outside interests or people are robbing you of the time needed to pursue your passion. If that’s the case, one must start cutting out what’s not contributing to the goal, or realize sooner rather than later that acting is not it. Fear is a big obstacle and even though it protects you from getting hurt, it hurts you more in the long run, because it denies you of the glory of achieving your dreams. If one is afraid to put their whole heart and soul into seizing their actor moment, then it might not be as vital a life goal as one thinks. Finally, we should probably define life goal. I believe life goals are achievements that help us grow positively in our pursuit of being inspired and inspiring others. That’s why everything you do should be done well. Don’t let yourself down by getting caught up in the life goals of others or living a life of observation. Make a to-do list, fail spectacularly, and grow exponentially. Life goals can and do change, but our pursuit of what inspires us and helps us grow in a positive way should never be ignored. Don’t let life get in the way. Take the proper steps to make your life lead you to glory.
Eddie the Eagle had decided that his moment would be when he finally made the Olympic Team. It wasn’t to win an Olympic medal. From The Guardian interview: “He knew his limitations (“I’d like to say I flew like an eagle, but I was probably closer to the ostrich”) and, sure enough, he finished last – but he hardly disgraced himself. He completed his jumps, displayed humour throughout, and for many became the living embodiment of the Olympic adage, first expressed by the founder of the games, Pierre de Coubertin: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.” When you’re thinking of your life goals as an actor, decide what you’re truly trying to accomplish. Not every actor will be a big movie star. Not every actor will be a series regular. Not every actor will make their sole living as a performer. However, when you decide what you want to achieve, know that it will take sacrifice. I had lunch with a very successful Agent who told me that he knows he’s not always the smartest guy in the room, but he tries to work harder than everyone else. He said he works longer hours now than he did when he was younger. He’s about to turn 72. What have you decided will be your acting moment? How hard are you willing to work for it?
2) Find A Coach
Eddie the Eagle couldn’t have made it to the Olympics without coaching, without someone to teach him the fundamentals of ski jumping. As an actor, there are many techniques to help grasp the emotions of your character. There are also techniques to auditioning that give you the best chance of landing a job. Of course, there are exceptions to any rule and natural talent, but Eddie needed the instruction, and most actors need it, too. If you’re auditioning and not working consistently, not testing consistently, nor getting PINS/callbacks consistently, something is missing, and the right coach who helps turn that around is vital to gaining success quickly. I have a client who booked a couple of co-stars right off the bat when she first started auditioning, but didn’t book another TV job for 10 years. In that time, she was not in class nor working with a coach. Once the decision was made to find the right coach, and this client had to go through a couple before the right one gave her the tweak she needed in her auditioning technique, it set her on the path to consistently booking throughout her still active career. Whenever she hits a lull in booking jobs, she goes back to class to get back on track. To an Agent/Manager, an actor booking jobs is what we look at to gauge progress, earn money and build careers, not auditioning.
London-born actress Cush Jumbo (“The Good Wife”) made the bold statement that Brits are better actors than Americans, and she explains why: ‘The reason I’m doing so well is our training, our work ethic, the fact that we arrive on time, we learn our lines, we are polite, all of that stuff comes from the way we were trained at drama school … the way we approach theatre in this country…. I didn’t go to America, I didn’t run to America, I didn’t even ask for America, I just took a plane there and suddenly everyone was telling me you’re so talented would you like 52 jobs.”
The cream rises to the top, and learning how to do it right is vital to a successful career.
3) Believe In Yourself
Eddie the Eagle never stopped moving forward, and he took on any challenge to have his moment. When others thought he was crazy, he believed he would achieve. When others thought he would actually die in a horrendous ski jumping accident, he didn’t fear. When others thought he was delusional, he begged for help, and he was charming enough to get it. The key is that he made it happen. He didn’t wait for someone to drop it in his lap. He was enthusiastic. He listened to instruction. He constantly worked on his craft. There’s no reason you can’t look in the mirror every day, and say “I want to win an Academy Award.” “I want to be nominated for an Academy Award.” “I want to work opposite an Academy Award winner.” Just take the steps and get there. Just don’t stop getting better. Don’t wait for it to happen. Get involved with the right people. Have a personality that draws others to your dream, and makes them want to help. Work harder and smarter than everyone else. Most importantly, write down your moments. Be clear. Encourage yourself. Help others. It still won’t be easy, and you still might not become a movie star, but at least you’ll know you did everything in your power to get there, and I guarantee you’ll have the wonderful moments in your life that you’ll always remember; create long relationships with amazing people who support you; and can tell your friends and family that you gave it a shot and the journey itself was worth the sacrifice.
One of the great success stories in Hollywood is Jenna Fischer (“The Office”), who wrote a book which she says was inspired by her wishing she had this kind of resource when she began acting. It’s called “The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide.” Check it out, and see if you can find further tools to help you determine your moment.