I saw a fascinating documentary the other night. It was about Hollywood “character actors.” You know, the faces are so familiar but you don’t know their names. There were about a dozen who were interviewed and I recognized all of them but as the title implied, “There’s that guy who was on that show.”
They all had similar love/hate relationships with their craft. They loved acting and couldn’t possibly think of doing anything else. Yet they would go for months, sometimes a year just waiting for a job. Their prospects are also dwindling. Where once a TV series would tape 26 episodes, now they do 6. With the popularity of cheap “reality” shows, the chance for drama programs has become almost extinct. Where once they might have made $40K doing a continuing role in a series, now they might make $5k for the same job – and the attitude of the casting directors is: “If you don’t take it, there are hundreds more who will.”
They all had done various jobs to put food on the table for their families, and yet they would never take a “permanent” job for fear that an audition call might come and they wouldn’t be able to make it. They hated “guest appearances” on established TV shows. They were ignored by the regulars on the program, yet they had to go out and do a scene with strangers where they might have to be a maniacal serial killer. And they only had one chance to be good.
They all had aspired to be actors from early age, and many had advanced degrees in acting from various universities. The thought being: “If I can’t get work, at least I can make a living teaching acting.”
They live modestly. When they have the money they spend it. When they don’t there are a lot of macaroni and cheese dinners.
What struck me about it was the similarity to someone who is a writer. When an agent calls and says your book has been picked up by a publisher it is the greatest feeling in the world. But the periods of rejection after rejection can be very depressing. We, like character actors, know we will never be another Michael Crichton, but we are content to do the best we can when we have the opportunity.
Like actors, we don’t make enough out of our work to live on, but honestly is there anything we would rather devote our time and our talent to? If you don’t answer that with a “No!” then maybe you should look elsewhere for fulfillment.