Olivia Colman is an actor. Idris Elba is an actor. Benedict Cumberbatch is most definitely an actor, if not the most actor of all the actors. These people all undoubtedly return home at Christmas and say ‘Actor’ when asked what they do by long-unseen neighbours at their parents’ Christmas party.
Not I. When asked what I do, I say ‘Well I’m a freelance writer and, I guess, sometimes I do a bit of acting. I act sometimes. I might be an actor. I’m not sure’.
“Well I live in the open as a freelance writer but occasionally I spend a clandestine afternoon attending an audition. Even more occasionally I actually film stuff. These interludes are brief and blurry, like a dream or that night out (all the nights out) where I drank too much sambuca and lost all memory of the incident where I asked Charlie from Busted if I could borrow a pen so he could sign my face”.
“Don’t you mean McBusted?”
“No, Charlie was never actually in McBusted.”
My current anxiety arose from an overheard conversation amongst actors who were labelling other actors as ‘not proper actors’ for reasons known only to themselves. “Oh god,” I found myself thinking. “Am I a proper actor?”
From then on I began wondering, what is a proper actor? At what point can you look at your life and say with any confidence ‘I am an actor almost as much as Benedict Cumberbatch is an actor’.
I tried to break it down into life events or achievements. Can you say you’re an actor when you begin your training at drama school? Or do you only get to say you’re an actor once you’ve completed your training? Since I didn’t train, neither of these applied to me anyway.
Does it come after you do your first job, then? Or your first paid job? What if that’s the only job you ever do? Are you still an actor then?
Perhaps you can only truly call yourself a proper actor when you’ve won an award. Sadly, although I thought my portrayal of Laughing Girl on Ferris Wheel Made of Sofas in DFS’ Winter Sale advert ‘14 was exemplary, this (unjustly) doesn’t apply to me either.
Thus began a downward spiral of Imposter Syndrome. I had to fight the urge to scream “I SHOULDN’T BE HERE” into the nervous silence of casting waiting rooms. Every audition began with a disclaimer; ‘Sorry if I’m shit it’s because I’m worried there’s a chance I might not actually be an actor’. If I ever did book a job I felt it necessary to inform the entire cast and crew that I wasn’t really an actor, I was just pretending to be one. Acting, you might say. Upon meeting other actors the first thing I would say was “Hi, I’m Carli, I didn’t train, I’m sorry.”
I wondered if you could only call yourself an actor when you were able to sustain yourself on acting profits alone (yes, apparently that’s a thing). But then I knew, and had read hilarious blogs by, people who were working other jobs whom I would still call actors, and excellent ones at that.
In the end I decided that ‘proper actors’ are a myth. Or at the very least a mythical epithet attainable only by those who attended LAMDA. I think that, if you are pursuing a career in acting or you just bloody enjoy acting then you can damn well call yourself an actor. Instead of worrying whether I can call myself a proper actor, I now prefer the term ‘person who is trying to be an actor and sometimes succeeding’. That’s all there is. There is no such thing as a proper actor. Except Benedict Cumberbatch.
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