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Are You Cool? The Ups and Downs of Branding Actors

 Identifying exactly what it is about ourselves that makes us interesting and worth paying attention to is one of the hardest challenges that performers face.  There may be certain "looks" we have that work better than others, particular inflections, delicate patterns of movement that we command more forcefully and confidently than others.  It's a good question to consider, for our personal strengths are immensely difficult to discern, and even harder to perfect.  What makes you cool?


Is it your appearance?  Your choice of wardrobe?  Is it the things you say?  Or perhaps the risks you take?  Is it the mystique you have carefully cultivated over a period of several years in an attempt to control the identity you insert into the world around you?  Is it kindness, integrity, or sexy allure?  Or perhaps it's just your raw skill.  Whatever it is, when you walk out of an audition or a performance, what have you contributed to the viewer's life that has people whispering "Boy, that man/woman/strange animal sure was cool"?

Media professionals in Los Angeles want you to convince them that you have something of value and intrigue to add to their projects.  Which you do.  Everyone has some kind of value they can bring to a project.  To some professionals, this is called "Branding."  But branding can start an unhealthy train of thought that ultimately boxes an actor in.  Consider this excerpt from a piece on Backstage.

Casting directors I have spoken to and worked with over the years have always loved interesting multi-faceted actors – actors they can bring in again and again for a variety of roles. They go out of their way to hire actors who don’t just play the “type” of the cop or the nurse or the lawyer, but have the skill and depth to play the whole person. They would never say that they hired an actor because the actor was perfectly branded for the role. They would talk about how the actor expanded the possibilities of the role, gave it dimension. They would thank us for sending them a “real actor” and not just a type. Casting director Gayle Keller, (“Law & Order Criminal Intent” and “Louie”) has this to say to actors: “You don’t need to worry about your type. Just be as prepared, interesting and true to yourself in the role as you can be. The bottom line is that you have to be good.”
— Craig Wallace,

I want to suggest to you that understanding your strengths is a bit of a paradox.  The best practice is to be authentic, be yourself, and be confident.  But roles are malleable things that can often contain hidden gems and avenues to interpretation that fit outside the expected norm, and that play to your specific strengths.  What I want you to try is to practice a mindful form of acceptance toward anything about yourself that you see as a flaw.  To appreciate and love yourself gives you a common connection to the regular people who make up the audience of most projects, and to be the confident performer showing off your identity in an authentic way, you leap into the unknown territory where casting agents and directors can be surprised, delighted, and amazed at the relatable life you can breathe into their role.  Know your strengths, so that your weaknesses can become strengths as well.