Hey guys, my name is Hannah Barefoot and this is a brand new column, WORKING ACTOR 101. We’re going to run the gamut on what it means to be a working actor, everything from moving to LA from a smaller market, to auditioning for a 2-line co-star role, to how to handle yourself when you’re Number 1 on the call sheet on a feature film.
I’m so excited to dig into this with you because, even if you went to school for acting, filmmaking, or what have you, chances are, you weren’t completely prepared for navigating this business when you started in earnest. Adding to that the emotional minefield that happens to come with the territory and our chosen profession can quickly break your heart and spirit. I hope you get something out of this column, and please, feel free to tweet me with your own thoughts and experiences. No actor has the same journey, and I hope I’ll receive from you as much as I give out.
So, what does that phrase mean, exactly, “working actor”?
I recognize the weirdness of that phrase as soon as I write it. It’s kind of loaded. In no other profession does someone preface their job title by saying, ‘working’ or ‘unemployed’, or maybe, ‘currently driving Lyft’ (which I’ve absolutely done, and proudly). You don’t shake hands with someone who introduces themselves as a ‘working pharmacist’. But for those of us in this very tenuous, and let’s face it, downright incomprehensible field of acting, you absolutely say it out loud when you’re a working actor. And you continue to claim it when the job ends and you’re not receiving a call sheet with your name on it in the next 12 hours because our job is so much more than going to a set for an actual booking.
How do you qualify the term “working actor”?
I know friends who’ve reserved calling themselves that until they earn their sole living as an actor. I respect that; however, that living can go away in a heartbeat, so then are you an “un-working actor” as soon as that happens? That’s depressing.
For awhile I took a lot of pride in the fact that I receive SAG-AFTRA health insurance, and I thought, ‘Well, now that my union has deemed me worthy of healthcare, I’m surely a working actor.’ I’m stupidly grateful for that insurance, but the truth is, that could go away next year as well. There are no guarantees in this business, and you can be at the top of the imdb star-meter one day and at the bottom the next (jury’s still out on if that thing actually means anything … thoughts?). Here’s what I think.
If you’re running your dream of being an actor like a business and if you take on the mindset that you already are a working actor that people can’t wait to hire, then you are a working actor.
I think it certainly helps your case when you go home to Thanksgiving and you’ve got a few actual gigs on your resume, but the truth is, those can be anything. Your extended family at the dinner table doesn’t need to know that they might be unpaid. When I first started out, most of my work was free and non-union. I took so much pride in knowing that I had booked a job, that someone chose me out of a line-up, and that I was driving my car to a set where my sole purpose was to act. At the time, I would have paid them.
Now, I’m in a different position. But I credit where I’m at largely to the moment when I decided to take my dreams seriously and to treat it like a career, not a hobby. As soon as I did that, I became a working actor. And the paychecks, union status, and health insurance gratefully followed. Change your mindset and behavior, and you’ll change your results.
I’m not a movie star. I’m not a household name yet. But I know without a doubt that I’m an actor, and a damn good one. And even in those slow seasons when I had to drive Lyft and hostess at a restaurant to cover me until I landed my next acting job, I was still a working actor in the meantime. Mindset and behavior, mindset and behavior.
I can’t wait to start this column with you. And please! Share your thoughts with me and the group. I’m not the only working actor in this town (I’m great at obvious statements) and I want to learn from you too. Until next time.
Cheers + LA Sunshine,