by Bob Fraser
I am often asked what I think is the most important characteristic of a successful actor. Usually I answer with one word. “Nice.”
You’ve heard the evidence of this, if you’ve spent any time in the industry (or on the East Coast, the business.) “He’s such a charming guy.” “She’s just delightful.” A “joy to work with.” You hear this sort of thing about actors who are working regularly. Oh, talent is important — but being a nice, charming person is the secret to working regularly. No matter how you behave, you will get a reputation in our “small town.”
There is the flip side (often expressed by out of work actors): “I’ve heard that he’s a snake” — or other equally unprovable and generally negative comments that you will hear about actors who have jobs — usually said by people who don’t have those jobs. This sort of rumor-mongering just proves the point. Actors who are working are usually the subject of wannabe conversations and the first thing that is attacked is their personal reputation.
Watch all the actors who have jobs and see how they behave. I guarantee you that a significant majority of working actors are nice as pie. Sure, there are those surly, unkempt and dismissive types — but it has been my observation (after more than 40 years working in the industry AND the business) that those folks fade quicker than a cheap t-shirt.
Nope, the ones who build solid, long lasting careers are nice people about 94.2% of the time.
Why is this so?
Well, let’s look at the typical working situation for the professional actor:
In the theatre there are the several weeks you have to rehearse many hours a day in a hot, stuffy, rehearsal room with a bunch of people you’ve just met – in order to get the actors “playing as a team” (some call it ensemble which is just a fancy way of saying working together as a team — with the same goal in mind). Then, in success, you will be seeing and working with this group 8 times a week at a high level of concentration and hard work. Once the show is up and running you will also be dealing with costume people, scenery crew, lighting guys, box office folks, etc., etc.
For film and television actors it comes down to seeing and working with the same 125 – 150 people 5 days a week, 10 – 14 hours a day for months at a time. On film and television sets, a lot of money is being spent every minute of every day. If you think that this adds to the stress of the workplace, give yourself a gold star. With that many co-workers, under the same stressful working conditions, who do you think fares the best?
That’s right, nice people.
Think about any work situation you’ve been in yourself. Did the complainers, rumor mongers and generally nasty people add to your day? Did the non-working “dead wood” make things more pleasant? The guy who comes in late, leaving you to do his work – is he your pal? The gal who takes hour and a half lunch breaks and never has your 267A forms ready on time – is she invited to your barbecue?
The theatre and the sound stage are places of business. If you want to do well in a business setting, being nice is a good place to start.
What do I mean by nice? Well, helpful is good. Concern for others is a definite part of it. Polite. Encouraging. A good listener. Willing to lend a hand. Amusing. Caring. The easy way to accomplish this is just behave like Cary Grant or Audrey Hepburn.
Can you imagine Cary or Audrey complaining about the food, the second AD, or gossiping about other actors? Of course not. It would be shocking if they swore like sailors, didn’t bother with personal hygiene, or said nasty things about their co-stars behind their backs. If you believe they actually did these things secretly — well, you’re just wrong.
Believe me, charm is gold in show business. The main component of charm is being a nice person. Nice is currency in our business. Check out the behavior of stars when they are interviewed. Listen to what the interviewer says about the star. “Charming” is a word you will hear often.
This is no accident. The stars become stars by practicing this crucial component of their business “personality.” I’ve known a few Oscar winners, several Emmy winners and a half dozen Tony, Golden Globe and other award recipients. The common thread among all of them was their “niceness.” In fact, though they were all talented actors, I think the thing that put them over the top in these awards contests were that they were popular among their peers.
Most people who have that sort of popularity are charming, delightful, nice people. I’ve seen it since high school — and you probably have too.
What this all comes down to is one simple lesson for the rest of us — try being nice, as well as talented – and you will probably book more work, make more friends, and have a real shot at the dream.
You remember the dream, don’t you? The one you started having when you were 13 or 14 or 15? The dream of success, recognition, and being well-liked by your peers.
The good news is that this critical component is something you can work on without anyone’s help. Just keep in mind that you have total control over only one person’s behavior — your own. You can choose to practice being charming, nice and “a joy to work with.”
Get it? You can choose to make yourself into Cary or Audrey right now – and you can make it happen without spending a cent on classes, workshops, showcases or coaches.
Isn’t that nice?
Bob Fraser is an actor, writer, director, producer and author of You Must Act! “The Bible of Acting Success”
© Copyright 2004 All Rights Reserved Bob Fraser Prod.