Saturday, 20 September 2014

Dreams vs Bills

A few weeks back I blogged about The Fear. The Fear generally creeps up on you, or sometimes runs at you at quite an alarming rate, and makes itself known when someone asks you:

“Oh, so you’re an actor? What work have you got coming up?”

And you have nothing. Not a job, not an interested agent, not even a ridiculous sounding casting call to attend. The Fear makes you feel physically sick when you realise what little work you've got coming up.

Yesterday, with a real need to stop paying bills with savings, I found myself attending an interview for a call centre job. Now I have nothing against call centre work, in fact it’s been a damn good friend to me during leaner times. And I certainly don’t wish to demean call centre work because despite how mind-numbing it is, in fact because of how mind-numbing it is, it’s some of the most challenging work out there. Constant rejection, miserable conditions and exceedingly low pay…I can’t possibly imagine why actors are drawn to such jobs…

So, yesterday I headed to a dingy little office and was interviewed to check that I was eligible to speak to people on a phone. After far too many questions that began with “Give me an example,” I was told that I needed to be aware that I was “up against some very strong competition” for the various vacancies they had available.  I then watched the interviewer hover their pen over the 5/5 mark they’d given for one of my responses, change it to a 4, change it to a 5 again and then frantically scribbled out the 5. 

For God’s sake. I once spent an hour on the phone helping Paul McCartney’s PA put an order through for Christmas labels.  I deserve better than this.

I was then reminded again that competition was exceedingly high and I realised I was basically being told that I wasn’t suitable to pick up a phone and harass people. This is news that should leave me frikkin’ delighted. If only my landlord saw it the same way.

I left being told that they’d let me know in a week whether I was deemed worthy to willingly put on a headset and call people at quite impressively inappropriate times (yes, I once managed to call for someone on the morning of their very own funeral.) So that’s some exciting news to look forward to this week.

I’m not sure whether this little tale says more about the current job market or my career prospects. Actors have always been near the bottom of the food chain but now people are being forced into taking second, third and even fourth jobs, we’re being pushed so far down that we’re now amongst the ants and plankton. And the problem with actors is that we need a job that allows us to juggle paying bills with chasing the kind of dreams that many would consider nightmares. It’s really no surprise that many end up having to abandon all their hard work just to keep their head above water. As romantic as hopes are, real life does sometimes have an incredible knack of getting in the way. And often the 'resting' jobs we get are so poorly paid that the amount of hours we need to do to stay solvent means acting is lucky if briefly passes us in the hallway once a week. 

Basically, what we’re seeing here is the rapidly increasing chance of me becoming a chugger. Place your bets now on how long it takes…  

Sunday, 14 September 2014


Recently Telegraph Women did a piece on the phrases that are only ever used to describe women. Words like ‘feisty’, ‘bitchy’, and, my personal worst, ‘sassy.’ Now, because everything in my head eventually ends up at what flavour crisps to have today or casting calls, I thought I’d take a look at how women are often described in the world of acting. The list in the Telegraph piece are all too regular when it comes to describing female characters but, of course, the world of acting can’t help but go that bit further…

I always hoped I’d see this awful phrase just once but, sadly not. This soul-bustingly terrible term comes up all too often and, most of the time, it’s used to describe women. Not only is it hugely derogatory towards women for reasons that should be hugely obvious (if not, this blog probably isn’t for you) but it’s also impressively insulting towards men too. The idea that men can only watch something that contains beautiful women is about as ridiculous as getting an actor to get your tax affairs in order.

Many drama schools claim to get their gorgeous little actor fledglings ready for the realities for the acting industry. If that was true then the men would be sent off to learn a new, interesting character everyday while the women would spend 3 years being taught how to remain still while a prosthetic wound uncomfortably dries on their face and a pathologist pokes their boobs. One year I'd like to keep count of the amount of times a dead naked woman is wheeled out on a slab in films or on TV but I fear I'd run out of numbers around mid-March. 

Find a casting call containing a woman and it generally won’t be long before the subject of nudity is brought up. If you haven’t got a woman getting her bits out in your film then, quite simply, you don’t have a film. FACT.

This is an interesting one. And it's totally fine to explain how your characters look but if you find yourself looking for a sexy woman and an 'interesting' or 'confident' man then you need to take a serious look at what you're making. Describing a woman purely on her looks does not a female character make. 

Or prostitute. Or stripper. Or lapdancer.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with these professions or including them in your work. However, if you do have these roles in your film or on your stage then please write them to be more than just a pair of tits.

Just don’t. Same goes for slapper. Thanks.

Much like nudity, boobs are often what are included in a script in place of a well-written female character. And who can blame ‘em because, really, what’s a women apart from a cracking pair of baps? Yep, that’s right. EVERYTHING.

This, along with ‘surprisingly beautiful geek’ and ‘actually pretty with no make-up’, comes up a lot. Let’s get this straight; being smart and beautiful doesn’t automatically make a woman some kind of witch. You don’t need to mention it. If you've written a smart and beautiful female character then congratulations, you've just written yourself a woman. 

So there we go. There's just a few that make my forehead meet my desk, wall and floor. Please, let's save the hard surfaces of the world and stop using these terms ALL THE BLOODY TIME. 

A woman is not just a pair of boobs or naked set dressing for your film. We're capable of heading up a storyline while keeping our clothes on. I promise. 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


Headshots. It’s no surprise that their name also resembles what actors often long for when approaching getting them done.

Having a lovely photograph of you sounds great. And it is. It’s brilliant for Facebook photos, online dating profiles and giving a framed copy to your mum so her living room starts to look like it’s in a soap opera. But getting headshots done can be more of a ballache than landing, legs akimbo, on a pummel horse.

First off, you have to choose your photographer. And there are hundreds of them out there. HUNDREDS. So, the first step is hours of trawling through headshot photographers’ websites until you get to a point where you’re not sure where the constant steely stares down the camera end and your paranoia that someone’s watching you begins.

The first trap when choosing a photographer is going for someone who has taken a photo of someone you quite fancy looking like. However amazing a photographer is, they’re sadly never going to make me look like Gemma Arterton. And the same goes for the amount of famous people they’ve snapped. Just because they’ve taken headshots of Olivia Colman, Benedict Cumberbatch and Sheridan Smith, that unfortunately doesn’t mean that all the BBC roles will soon be yours. It should, but it doesn't. 

I personally chose the photographer I eventually went with because his photos looked different. For hours I’d seen the same head tilt, identical cascades of beautifully styled hair and endless dreamy yet intense stares. And if that’s your look then great. I’m not saying they’re wrong but you have to be realistic about what’s likely to work for you. I’m never going to be glamorous and, as lovely as my hair is, it looks beautiful for all of 3 minutes and then becomes full of crisp crumbs and twigs. Yes, you want your headshot to get people’s attention but you don’t also want to find yourself being charged with fraud.

So, you’ve chosen your photographer and you’ve picked a date. I had a month between contacting my photographer and the shoot. This was just enough time to panic about the state of my skin, the layer of cake obscuring my cheekbones and my unruly eyebrows. For the first couple of days, I was so good. Like a reverse Jesus, I turned wine into water and my beloved McCoys were sent away on a sabbatical. Then, of course, I went up to Edinburgh for a week and wonderful plans were replaced with late nights, beer and deep-fried good intentions. So what should’ve been a month of healthy living turned into a few hastily snatched days of OK sleep and hoping for a miracle while desperately fixating on the BBC Weather App.

The day of the photos arrived and I skipped off happy that my face hadn’t errupted and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I met my photographer, we had a lovely chat over a cup of tea for a good hour and then it was time for photos. I was beautifully relaxed and, weirdly, quite looking forward to the session. But then, a phenomenon that all actors experience happened and everything tensed up as soon as the camera appears. Smiles suddenly become forced, eyes forget what to do and breathing stops completely. It’s a weird sensation and one you have very little control over, like suddenly realising how drunk you are after a glorious afternoon of pints in the sunshine.

But the session was brilliant. I quickly relaxed and the part of my job that I previously hated was suddenly becoming fun. We live in a world where you can now look at photos as the session goes along so you can soon become aware of the weird movement that your right eyebrow does or just how different you look when your hair is pulled back. You also very quickly see how important it is to have a photographer that keeps you present and alert because, as soon as that focus goes, you become dead behind the eyes and look more like you’re queuing for the dole rather than trying to steal Tom Hardy’s career.

And then it’s all over and you have the wait for the contact sheet. Lots of tiny little photos for you to agonise over and marvel at the many ridiculous faces you weren’t even aware you could create. Hours will then be spent choosing between photos, many of which are almost identical. Do your eyes look brighter in that one or that one where your smile is ever so slightly raised? Does your smile look more real in that one or the one where your hair looks a bit better? And then, of course, you make your decision, ask someone else for their opinion, they choose entirely different ones and then you’re back at square one. The battle of choosing betweent the ones where you look your best and the ones that actually look like you goes on long into the night.

Finally you make your decision and you let your photographer know so they can add tiny little lies to your photos. A wisp of hair taken out here, a rogue spot taken out there. Ideally they won’t take out the lines and imperfections that you’ve learnt to live with, those little things that make you YOU, and it won’t be long before you have a gorgeous set of new photos that you can put up on Facebook, add to your dating profile and give to your mum so she can pretend she’s in EastEnders.

(For anyone wondering, I had my most recent photos done with the excellent Jon Holloway. Personally I think his photos are astounding and for the first time ever, I had a genuinely difficult decision to make when choosing my main photos as I was pleased with so many of them. If you’re really not a fan of having photos taken and want something a little different, I hightly recommend him.)

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The Fear

The Fear.

As an actor, you have to learn to live with The Fear. In fact, you have to be so comfortable with The Fear that you can let it live in your house, not let it wake you up every single night and be totally understanding that it seems to have eaten all your food, spent all your money and makes you regret choosing Drama instead of Maths.

Yes, The Fear is the seemingly unending absence of work in your life. It’s the realisation that if you had a pound for every time that you worried that you’d never work again then you’d never need to work again. 

The Fear is currently trying to move into my house.

It’s amazing what you can do to try and put off The Fear and hope it lodges with someone else instead. I recently lost my resting job and The Fear booked its ticket here but I’m not ready for it just yet. First, I went up to Edinburgh for a week. I was doing one ten minute Casting Call Woe set while up there so, y’know, totally still working. Now, I’m back and next week I'm getting new head shots done and have one day's acting work booked in. That's the only acting work I currently have booked in for the rest of my life and that's quite a terrifying prospect. When I get up at 10:30am, I can feel The Fear hovering at the end of the street, waiting for its moment.

For the first time in quite some time, I’m totally unemployed. No acting work, no resting work. My savings account is now like the work colleague who finds themself on the same train home as you, desperately trying to avoid contact so it can be left alone to enjoy its book.  You know they don’t want to speak but you’ve made so much eye contact that, despite yourself, you’re clambering over people’s bags to go and bother it.

The fear is a dangerous thing. It makes you doubt yourself and forces you to look at your empty diary until you start putting in the birthdays of long-forgotten school mates just to have something instead of endless blank pages. The fear will happily force you into a call centre and will tell you that a break from acting is fine. TOTALLY FINE. It’ll drag you from the thing you love and do all it can to stop you looking back. Just keep looking forward and focus on how nice it is to be able to afford to buy your friends a drink for once.

I know The Fear means I should just tie myself to the temporary jobs' section on Reed and focus on how I can make a mean Excel spreadsheet and scan a document within an inch of its life. But I’m not. Instead I’m pinning my hopes on my upcoming new headshots fooling everyone into thinking I’m Benedict Cumberbatch and I'm tirelessly trawling through casting websites trying to find work. Actual work. And for those of you who follow my Casting Call Woe Tumblr, you’ll know how difficult that is. Pinning hopes on casting sites is about as safe as getting up on a rickety chair in the opening scene of Casualty. It means that every morning you get up, full of hope, and by lunchtime those hopes have been dashed due to you not being beautiful enough/white enough/naked enough/male enough. But you keep going because, well, that's what being an actor is. 

So, if you see The Fear while you're out and about, let it know that I'm making its bed up and getting in its favourite brand of tea, but I'm not ready for it just yet. Not quite yet. 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

No pay but...

It’s been a bleak few months for actors and their earnings. Casting website, CastingCallPro, recently surveyed its members and of the 1,700 that responded, a whopping 46% said they earned less than £1,000 a year from acting work. Equity ran a similar survey and found that around half of their members were earning less than £5,000 a year from professional work. As an actor who very much falls within that category and is extremely reliant on ‘resting’ work, it makes for grim reading.

I could write a whole blog on the problem but sometimes that’s not what we need. So, in an attempt to help cheer us penniless thesps up a bit, here’s a look at some of the ridiculous payment terms I’ve seen in genuine casting calls, most of which come from sites that require you to be a paying member to apply…

Salary: A lovely time.

I can’t afford to pay anyone. I will, however, buy you a Subway sandwich.

Since it’s low budget, I can’t pay you. I can however bribe you with Instagram worthy food.

Payment: petrol voucher.

We can’t provide any expenses or refreshments but the venue has an awesome menu.

No pay but I will write a blog post about you.

No pay but I’ll put the completed film on VHS cassette for you.

No pay but, for this project, name your sandwich because it’s on me.

No pay but you will receive compliments.

Unpaid but you’ll get to take home a small bag of coffee.

Unpaid but you will get a raffle ticket.

You will be paid in love, glory and possibly a pizza of your choice.

Payment: kiss on the cheek.

And a genuinely wonderful one…

Payment: bottle of gin, travel card, £20.  

All taken from my Tumblr,