A few years ago I was asked to write a short essay for one of the most popular trade papers, about advice I’d give to a young person just starting out in show business. The following is a first and very rough draft of what I came up with.
I am a working actor. It’s what I do, and it’s what I’ve been for close to four decades. And a day doesn’t go by that I don’t ask the question: Oh my gosh, how in the heck did that happen?
I’m not wallowing in false modesty here. Hard work, passion, commitment, persistence and low rent have all played vital parts in making up my career, and I think I’ve always acknowledged those fact (even if there were a couple long periods marked by some pretty self-destructive habits and a crippling sense of entitlement). But most days, even now, I’m reminded of something said by the great Ruth Gordon: “To get it right, be born with luck. Or make it. A little money helps, but what really gets it right is to never face the facts.”
That’s probably pretty clear to people who’ve been around the block a few times, but for those of you who haven’t yet taken that walk, let me paraphrase:
“It takes luck to get ahead. If you’re not lucky – get lucky.”
So my question, “how in the heck did that happen?” is even more applicable here. How does one make luck happen – especially in this crazy, contradictory, wonderful, I-wouldn’t-trade-it-for-anything business?
My big answer is: I don’t know. What I do know (and it took a long time to learn this) is that I’m grateful for all of it. Not just the good things, the green years of promise, but the fallow times of failure as well; the successes and the hard knocks, the occasional triumphs (artistic and personal) as well as the abject humiliations (artistic and personal). Being able to put things in perspective and balance is naturally something that comes with time, and I’m not sure I would’ve done anything different if someone had told me this when I was starting out — but I’m going to say it anyway:
Get a life.
Now I know we’ve all heard this often said as a dismissive punchline. It’s so easy to minimize because it’s so simple that it’s simple-minded. But it’s real and it’s true.
“Luck” comes from the life you create. Get one.
I’m not saying make your personal life weigh more against your commitment to craft and career. Nine out of ten people reading this, even if they tried, would never be able to give up their passion for excellence, their dedication, their devout belief in persistence and hard work. Trust me – these things will never go away. All of that is a part of the DNA of a person who accepts being an actor as a vocation they’re called to more than as “just” a career. All of this — like well-honed technique – will take care of you. Yes, keep studying, working, auditioning, trudging forward. It’s not in your nature to give up. But —
Get a life. Cultivate friendships instead of opportunities; take vacations – if you can’t afford one, take regular weekends; paint your apartment; learn to cook; go to church, temple, mosque, meditate alone or with others — examine yourself regularly; take care of your body, not for the sake of your career but for the sake of how you feel. Most important – mend or heal things that are broken.
Your career, and the business, will take care of itself. For most of you, you’ll know what to do when an opportunity or disappointment arises. Make sure the same thing applies to your life.
Another thing I ask every morning: how can I be a better person today than I was yesterday? Once upon a time it was “how can I be a better actor…?”. These days that’s a question I only now allow myself to ask or answer. It may have taken awhile to learn, but if there’s one sure thing I found out, it’s that the answer to the first made the answer to the second so much easier.
Get a life. To read the final version of these thoughts, visit – https://www.backstage.com/magazine/article/working-actors-life-might-missing-3155/
(c) Thomas Sesma 2020 – all rights reserved