by Paul Russell
Major Mistake Actors Make on Their Résumé
You can’t act…
…possibly according to your resume, and to many of your actor acquaintances. You’ll never be a good enough actor to play a lawyer, nurse, doctor, cop, politician, any profession beyond that of an actor.
An epidemic of your peers foolishly believe that if an actor doesn’t possess a degree for a particular, non-acting profession or own a police uniform, nurse’s scrubs, or lab coat, they won’t be considered by casting for an audition and/or job to play a principal role reflecting the occupation of study and/or dress.
You may scoff. Trade casting chairs with me. Discover in the following exchange (based on a true conversation) where this poison festers—delusional, novice actors I and my casting colleagues encounter:
“Why do you have on your acting résumé your graphic design degree?”
“Because,” the actor defensively began, “it’ll snag me a role playing a graphic designer.”
“I guess Mandy Patinkin playing artist Georges Seurat was miscasting. Mandy went to Julliard for acting, not painting.” Before the jawing actor responds I continue, “So you profess a director will consider your unrelated degree over acting as the trump card, and not cast a superior actor without the graphic’s degree.”
The actor’s cheeks bloomed red. “No, it’ll help me get a better shot at the role.”
“If I follow your failed logic, then I should be auditioning graphic designers, not actors. You believe that what you can fiddle with fonts and squiggles is more important than story-telling.”
The actor then tossed back, “It’s gotten me work. I did a gig with Travel Trunk Players.”
“That’s non-union, touring, children’s theater.” I then review the actor’s résumé for the credit; ‘ensemble.’ “I’m sure you’d want to elevate your career beyond non-union kid plays that doesn’t have cash for a staff. Those debt-ridden producers often hire actors to do double duty. Let me guess; you painted the set between rehearsals.”
“And designed the playbill.”
“Three jobs worked for the paltry price of one. Your parents must be proud.”
If you, as an actor, have more faith in costumes, and non-performing arts degrees to get you work as an actor than your story-telling skills to believably portray a role, I recommend thus: excise your acting credits (i.e. speaking principals) from your résumé. You believe acting doesn’t matter.
When an actor becomes obstinate about hugging onto irrelevant information on their résumé, I further propose, “If you earned a mathematics degree then applied for an accountant position or tax preparer at H&R Block, would you provide your potential civilian employer your acting credits? If so, and I was Human Resources, I’d be suspicious of your honesty. Do you act your accounting proficiency to cover embezzlement schemes? Are digits a side-line? What career do you truly want? You’re confusing your message for desired employment.”
That same confusion of message occurs when an acting resume contains a non-arts related degree. When an actor lists on their acting résumé, non-acting degrees and/or costumes, the offense brings up more questions than answers—How serious is this actor as an actor? How late in life did this actor change careers, and why: Unhappy with life? Has a lack of conviction? Or is acting their fantasy? Why is the actor providing irrelevant information to the craft of acting? And how insecure are they in their craft that the actor must muddle their acting resume with non- acting degrees?
If an actor remains deaf to reason, I ask the actor review actors from Kevin Kline to Harrison Ford. Two, of thousands of thespians who portrayed American presidents. Actors who didn’t possess a political science degree on their résumés. Before Robin Williams played Theodore Roosevelt he burst onto American television in the ’70s as Mork from Ork. Where was his B.S. in Earth and Space Exploration making him suitable to play a visiting alien? I wonder what Anthony Hopkins—who played Hannibal Lector—has listed on his résumé under special skills?
I’ve cast many actors as lawyers, medical professionals, law enforcement personnel, politicians, scientists, and writers in principal roles; never did a director demand the actors auditioning hold a degree in the field in which the character worked.
Exceptions? Yes. If a project has in its casting breakdown that the role requires the actor have a history within a civilian profession or skill, and you own that history or skill make the casting personnel aware of your specialty. Projects that hire relying more on non-acting skills for profession skills are commercials, screen extras, and industrials.
Keep your acting resume relevant to acting. And once hired: just act.
My best, Paul
Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher, and former actor has spanned thirty years. He’s worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul’s taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU, and speaks at universities including Elon, Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He is the author of ACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor. For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.