When I grow up, I want to be an actor. It might sound strange to say that because I’m certainly not a kid. I’m old and getting older, but my dreams remain the same. When I was very young, I watched television and the movies. I was drawn, just like many of you must have been, to those leading ladies and front men who made their films and shows a little bit better. I saw in them something great, and to this day, I want to follow in their footsteps to be an actor.
As we get older, the naivety of being young falls away. Just like getting hit in the face with some reality the first time we have to pay a bill as an adult, we learn that those dreams we hope for are more than just glitz and glamour. The kid in me wanted to be an actor because it looked fun. I wanted to be able to explore different characters and get lost in scripts. What I know now is what many of you must have figured out about whatever field you’ve dreamed of joining. It’s not all fun and games. Just like being a lawyer doesn’t look much like Boston Legal and making it to the Major Leagues requires one to ride a bus for a few years in the minors, becoming an actor is about gritting it through the hard time.
Becoming an actor is about sacrificing comfort until you make it. There are a few Justin Timberlakes and Dakota Fannings who will make it right out of the gate. They’ll use some major appearance as a kid to jumpstart a career that never has difficulty. For the rest of us though—for the mere mortals—it requires auditions and many people saying no. It requires acting classes and minor parts in plays that few people will see. Often, it requires second and third jobs, just to pay the bills while you wait for the big break that you’re working toward. One of the hard things about acting is that you can’t really do it in the small cities of Iowa and Alabama. You have to be in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, or somewhere that theater and film are important. These cities are expensive, causing wannabe actors to have to sacrifice much of their time in jobs they don’t like just so they can have another shot at an audition next month.
Becoming an actor is about settling for roles early in your career that don’t really suit you. After all, Matt Damon might be able to pick and choose, but when you’re first trying to make it, you have to be willing to do almost anything in order to get your foot in the door. Some would-be actors take more embarrassing roles than others, but most have had to bend their standards at least a little bit in order to grab a piece of opportunity. This, it seems, is the way of the world, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
We all here know about hard work and making sacrifices. We know about becoming great, finding our passion, and doing something that will give our lives meaning. This is what acting is to me. If I don’t make it, then I will at least know that I put everything I had into trying to carve out a place on the stage and on the big screen. I’ll know that I pushed myself and sacrificed as much as I could to have the special career that I dreamed about when I was just a kid. I’m still dreaming today.
- Steele, Robert S. “Power motivation, activation, and inspirational speeches.” Journal of Personality 45.1 (1977): 53-64.
- Ward, Douglas Turner, and Gus Edwards. Advice to a Young Black Actor (and Others): Conversations with Douglas Turner Ward. Heinemann Drama, 2004.