It is well documented that in order to be a professional actor, one must be able to survive being told ‘no’ over and over and over again. Of course, everyone faces professional rejection in one form or another, but there are few professions that dole out so much rejection with so little explanation.
It is well documented that in order to be a professional actor, one must be able to survive being told ‘no’ over and over and over again. Of course, everyone faces professional rejection in one form or another, but there are few professions that dole out so much rejection with so little explanation. That is a wicked combination, a veritable recipe for insanity by reason of show-business. In break-up terms, instead of, ‘It’s not you, it’s me,’ it’s more, ‘It’s definitely, definitely you. Can’t or won’t say why. But it’s you. G’bye now.’
Like most things in the entertainment industry, this rejection/lack of information is usually presented in a pretty package, a kind of language of rejection that usually takes the form of the dreaded… travel metaphor.
It’s going in a different direction. It’s not going your way. And my personal favorite, you’re not going any further (which, of course, implies everyone else is. It’s just you that’s getting left behind).
Intended to be an easy let down. You’re not going any further, is actually a terrifying thing to hear. It sounds quite … final (better to hear from an agent than, say, a doctor, but still). It summons an image of the actor standing dejectedly on a train platform, bags all packed, as the high-speed train of artistic satisfaction, peer approval, material sustenance and success flies quickly past. Without you on board.
For years, I lamented this rhetorical brush off. I wanted information. I wanted a reason. Not good looking enough? Fine (my grandma would disagree, but fine. And maybe I’ll start going to the gym). Didn’t connect to the material? Bullshit. But fine (and maybe I should try to not read the script for the first time in the parking lot before the audition). Just give me something to get pissed-off and self-righteous about before I can eventually kick my ego aside and learn a lesson or two. Any reason, no matter how banal, was welcome.
But as I’ve gotten older and worked (and gotten rejected) more, I’ve learned there is seldom an objective reason you get or don’t get an acting job. It’s art (hopefully). It’s subjective (always). And some person, or more likely some group of people, are making a decision based on a thousand things the actor has no control over. The only thing the actor can control is trying to be the best actor he or she can be in that audition room, in that moment. Period. Which is both freeing and terrifying.
It’s almost always, always, going to come down to some kind of figurative dice-toss amongst a few finalists; and all you can do as an actor is try to be included in as many of those dice-tosses as possible. It’s (yet another) potentially crazy-making combination of self-determination and powerlessness. But focusing on why the die didn’t land on your number is a guaranteed trip to misery and bitterness, and it’s not going to help you get on the next train. There is no why.
So as ridiculous, capricious, and maybe even cruel as the they’re going in a different direction metaphor appears, it has some lessons to impart. You got to the platform but the train didn’t stop. Who cares why? There’s another train coming (eventually). Get your ass to the next platform. And the next. Because, as anyone who has even gotten one good acting job can attest, when the doors open and that fucker sweeps you up and you get to speed away, there is nothing more exhilarating, scarier, or more satisfying. And, for a moment, you can forget about all those other trains, or can at least imagine they’re going in the wrong direction. Sorry, not sorry.