There is no doubt that acting is a talent, and one that can be innate. But like any true calling, all hard graft requires constant honing. Declaring yourself as an actor is not enough…
Some people are natural-born actors. Some are natural-born entertainers. Some are fortunate to develop amazing voices through puberty, others retain a youthful flexibility well into their later years. It is true that anyone can be an actor. However, not every ‘actor’ is talented.
We admire performers who hold us in their shared imaginary worlds. We adore the actor who can make us feel and experience encounters we, ourselves – the audience, would never believe we could be part of. Acting is more than talent, it is a skill. It worries me a little how many people believe that they are an actor just because they say they are. That level of self-appreciation often comes with a wealth of problems – not least a laziness that being ‘good’ at something often brings.
The reality of acting, just like any fine-tuned skill, is that it requires constant attention, dedication and very real hard work. Of course, it is entirely possible that someone is innately superb at the craft of the actor. However, the level of actual talent can vary enormously from one actor to another, and talent alone will not lead to longevity in this career. It is vital for all actors to keep developing that talent.
What Does Talent Really Mean?
Talent is an ability to do something extremely well, and often seemingly with no particular effort. I have worked with many talented professionals (actors, designers, directors, musicians and more) in theatre and in theatre training. Talent seems to ooze out of some of these people and I am in awe at their creativity and skill. It is important to reflect on the varying levels of talent each of these people I have had the fortune of working with possesses. For one thing: not all talent is equal. Some are very self-conscious of their abilities and others completely unaware.
Working with training actors, I am constantly aware of the ‘talent’ training actors believe they possess. Sadly, some believe they are extraordinarily talented when, in fact, there is little outwardly presented talent. This is where a confusion between desire and talent comes into play. Desiring something so obsessively can lead to working hard and fulfilling a prophecy: talent is nurtured and grown.
Desire, however, can be blinding. Certainty of one’s own talent and desire to be an actor can lead to an imbalance of ability and likely success. How many of us have gawped at the horrific line-ups of self-declared (or worse still, parentally declared) talent on those atrocious audition/talent programmes that masquerade as artistic television programming? The delusions of grandeur displayed are almost unbelievable. Some of those people truly believe they have something amazing to share with the world, and then are ripped apart by the talent tigers who (allegedly) know what they are talking about. Talent can be questionable for sure!
In theatre and acting, desire can be dreadfully misplaced. Usually this comes from a desire to be famous, or for the attractive glittery portrayal of the life of an actor that is reflected in big names. Sometimes the desire is more than this – this comes from a need to express and portray, or a need to be fulfilled. There is a profound love of acting that may need to be satisfied. Perhaps. It is all very personal and very individual. Does this desire mean the ones who desire it are talented? Well, no, not really. It means they have desire. Some MAY have talent, that is true, but many will not.
Does Desire and No Talent Mean You Can’t Be Successful?
Absolutely not. Providing you desire the opportunity to act and it is not about the fame and prestige that you might perceive goes hand-in-hand with acting, you stand a chance even with little talent. Minimal talent, but a great thirst/hunger/desire for acting and an understanding of the level of graft required to achieve that desire goes a long way to making you a viable casting opponent.
Love of acting can indeed surpass talent. Just look at the big named stars that flood the theatre programmes near you – how many of those are truly talented and are the epitome of perfect acting? In my opinion, they all still have a lot to learn, but luckily for them they have mastered the art of getting known (whether by looks, charisma, ego, networking, or anything else) and they have been given chances for achievement and success.
Talent On Its Own Means Very Little
There is a significant problem with talent, and that is it can encourage laziness or lack of drive. Talent does not instantly mean you can achieve the roles you might go looking for. My own experience working with talented individuals has shown me that sometimes the desire just does not burn brightly enough. There are so many hugely talented (and capable) actors out there who just simply cannot give themselves over the extremity of hard work required to be a successful actor. They refuse to dedicate themselves, to focus on building their skills and polish their ability. They will not appear at rehearsal on time (if at all), they will often not learn lines by deadline (and yes, even if line-learning is a talent they possess, this is extremely tiresome for a director and co-actors who are working hard to meet deadlines), or they may not believe they should have to work hard at networking and self-promotion. This is diva mentality. It is extremely rude, entirely selfish and is, above all, self-destructive. A talented individual who refuses to commit to their talent and work hard will fail.
Actors Should See Themselves As Athletes, But Not…
And every athlete who is serious about their sport trains. They train hard and build their stamina, their strength, their ability and their muscularity. They drive themselves towards goals. They can lose their ability very quickly. They are aware of themselves in a way I wish all actors would be.
Acting skills are, of course, very different to those of a triathlete. Actors focus on imagination, characterisation, physicality and voice of their role, textual analysis and becoming ever-aware of their surroundings and interactions. Their “muscle memory” is in observation and recall. Once the skills have been learned, these cannot be unlearned. They will remain. If there is talent involved these skills may even be extraordinary, but they will never go away. That is a major difference to the athlete whose skills can depreciate extremely quickly. However, an actor must keep themselves active in a different way – they may not lose muscle mass or flexibility like an athlete, but if they remove themselves from the circuit and forget to train their network, they can find themselves stalling behind a start line. Being a good runner means bugger all if you have no means to propel yourself once the gun goes off.
Being Prepared – Talent Supported
So, if you have the desire to act and a modicum of talent (innate or learned), you must keep active to keep in the race. Here I set out some recommendations for keeping you going:
- Stay Active – get involved in an acting class or two, keep on top of your skills. If you don’t want to learn anything new, that’s fine, but be active in a small community theatre, a play-reading group or by working with young theatre wannabes. It all helps to keep your own desire fire burning…
- Read Scripts – seriously, read them. They are life blood to your craft. The number of actors I train who have never entered a bookshop to purchase a script is astounding. How can you be prepared for the types of roles that might interest you if you have not been reading anything script based? Set yourself a goal. Read at least one play per week, more if you can. Build up your knowledge of playwrights and material available to you. Read at least one Shakespeare a month – get over that hurdle of believing its not for you. That is just laziness.
- Go to Open Castings – even if the roles are not what you are looking for, it forces you to put your preparation to use. You will need to keep fresh and on top of your monologues. You will have to keep tapping in to meeting a director’s demands, improvisational skills and more will be used and expected. What’s more, you will never know if there are greater opportunities as a result of this. It could lead to something extraordinary enough to meet your extraordinary talent!
- Read – okay so I mentioned reading before, but this is about more than reading plays. Read everything you can. A newspaper article can give you insights to character. A history book can give you amazing perspectives on society at a different time. Fiction and non-fiction alike can provide you with a vast array of knowledge and information from which you can build a role, or consider the world of a character in a different light. Research and pleasure at the same time. And sometimes in advance of needing the information. A great preparation skill if ever there was! From poetry to prose, from biography to novel, you need to devour words and worlds as much as possible.
Acting does not require you to bound around a race track on a nightly basis, and your talent will not wane if you do not keep on top of your skills. But, you will get left behind quickly if you cannot jumpstart your desire and meet your own ambition. You need to nourish your desire and nurture it to fine health. Talent on its own is not enough. You need to actively keep yourself moving forward in this industry, and these small tips will go a long way to keeping that fire alive. For every knock-back you get, and there will be many, make sure you are fighting fit to work another day.
To be a great actor takes more than talent, and desire to act in itself is not enough. Find the balance and GROW!
Also published on Medium.