From an article I did for Backstage.
Let’s get honest. While it’s easy to look at others and get a sense of their natural type, doing the same for own your self can be daunting. Where do you even start?
Time to break this down. Put “range” aside for a minute and think about what look you are selling. It’s called your type and it defines you in this business. Remember: it’s not what you are, it’s what you play. You can be the smartest person in the world, and still go out for the “dumb jock.” You might not even play any sports! It’s not what your grandmother thinks of you, it’s what the “business” thinks of you. Just because you may have played wonderful parts as a character twice your age during high school and college, that does not mean you will be playing them in the “real world.” When I was 23 and right out of college (having done lots of Shakespeare), my first audition was for a 16-year-old on a soap opera. Reality check.
We are all born a certain way, with a certain “look” and unless we want to commit to drastic plastic surgery, then we will be cast as specific roles in our acting careers. It’s up to actors to be smart enough to identify that look, harness it, and use it to our advantage. Are you the young leading man who could play the new love interest on “Melrose Place” or are you the creepy old villain on “Homeland?” Does your face say “Gossip Girl,” or does it say “Walking Dead?” Are you the smart, clean cut and sophisticated young lawyer, or the early thirties slacker type? Don’t let this assessment put you off. Later in your career you can start branching out from your type, once you start booking lots of work.
Here are some easy steps to nailing down your type:
1. Take a good hard look in the mirror. Pay attention to your face, your weight, your ethnicity, and your personality. Do you have a receding hairline? Do you have a thick accent? Listen to your voice. Do you sound smart and articulate when you talk, or do you sound uneducated? Be. Honest. If you don’t look anything like Angelina Jolie, then that is the wrong type for you. Are you the funny chubby best friend? Tough guy? Young politician? Ingenue? Cool mom? Sassy friend? Dumb jock? Girl next door? Smug Sophisticate? Cute quirky hipster? Are you a hybrid between two of them?
2. Write down three actors who are stealing jobs from you. I mean, watch TV, go see movies, and find out which actors are playing parts that you were meant to play. Age, ethnicity, everything. That’s where your journey begins. What is unique about them, and why are they being cast in these roles? Yes, it’s about talent. But they have also cornered their market on that type. What else have they done? Have they always played this type? Some headshot photographers will talk to you about this before they shoot with you so that they can help you present yourself the right way.
3. Write down three shows you could see yourself on. Series regular, guest star, costar…whatever. There are about 30 shows filming in New York right now. Watch them, learn from them, observe what kind of actors they are casting. Take notes. Look up the casting director and the actors. If you are right for that show, and are trained, and they cast your type over and over, then by all means sign up for a casting director workshop to meet them in person. If you are over 50 and play “extraterrestrial” roles all the time, probably don’t sign up for a soap opera casting workshop. Again, it’s all about being smart and knowing yourself.
4. Finally, ask your close friends, an acting coach, or anyone who will be honest with you. Your good friends will be honest with you. Coaches will be honest. In my classes, type identification is an important discussion. Each person sits in the front of the class, while everyone else shouts out their different opinions on that actor’s type. It’s very eye-opening, very honest, and is an essential tool to presenting yourself the right way in this business. After all, it’s exactly what casting directors are thinking from the moment you walk into the room. It should be reflected in your headshots, your audition monologues, your demo reel, your attitude, your personality, the way you carry yourself, and ultimately strongly impacts your marketability.
Remember, always be authentic, and don’t try to be something you’re not. Just own who you are, and that will separate you from the pack.