You may expect me to say something like, every actor should know their lines, how to audition effectively, how to network, and so on. However, I won't be discussing those elements of the industry today.
The most important thing every actor should know is who they are.
I believe the most important lesson an actor must attain is the solid understanding of their true identity. Every person, no matter their profession, should have a firm grasp of who they are and where their identity comes from. When it comes to an artist who portrays or becomes an entirely different person on camera, they should have this knowing of their true self built within them.
It may sound like the most obvious, simple advice. Then why do so many geniuses of this craft ultimately lose themselves to destructive influences? We hear too often of actors who took delving into the life of another character too far and thus struggle to return to who they really are. It becomes even more complex when you have such success as an actor that you live your life in the public eye and people are painting images of you that are false. We must learn now to always remain true to ourselves.
I'm sure anyone who has studied acting has heard the phrase, 'acting is being.' With the multitude of systems of the craft which has been introduced over recent centuries, it has revolutionized the way actors become characters. There are many schools of thought as to how one becomes the character, but not as much material on how one returns to being themselves.
It can be a dangerous feat to literally become another person on screen. When production is complete, how do you return to your true self, especially if you don't have a clear understanding of who you are in the first place?
Often times people get into acting because they enjoy the escape. They get to become someone else for a while, say and do things they may not normally do in their real life. Some acting schools of thought teach actors to use memories from their own life as inspiration, or substitution, in order reach a certain emotional place in character. If the actor has not dealt with those personal memories properly, the line can become blurred between an expressive art form and an unhealthy release of repressed emotions. However, please know that I am not stating there is only one right technique when it comes to acting. It is what ever works for the individual actor and the role.
Your life story and the character's story.
I believe the greatest tools an actor has is their imagination and observations. You can create a character's entire life story with the written words and your imagination, which motivates your actions and reactions on screen. The character's life story is not your own, unless you are playing yourself, but that's not really acting. If the character you are playing is a drug addict, is it really necessary for you to start using drugs in order to play that role?
Know your limits, your boundaries, the lines your not willing to cross and the things you are or are not willing to compromise.
Even if you are just starting out, now is the best time to determine the things you are and are not willing to do on camera regardless of the money offered, because of your own personal morals, beliefs, etc. I've heard beginner actors say there's no role they wont take, or nothing they won't do. When I inquire, they usually confess; 'for the right amount of money.' If an artist truly knows who they are, that would not be their motive. I do believe it is vital to challenge yourself to play characters far outside your own personality. Even more reason to know yourself and know your motives.
Knowing your motives.
Why do you want to be an actor? This is such an important question to ask yourself and be completely honest. Is it for the spotlight, the awards, financial gain, even approval or acceptance? I personally believe none of these answers are good motives for pursuing this career. But, you have to know the answer for yourself. Once you do, it will be prevalent in the way you conduct yourself as an artist and a professional. It should be a part of who you are.
As actors it is very easy to be our worst critic. We should never tear ourselves down. You may have been able to give a better performance in a scene which you and an entire audience are now watching. But, you have to let that go and be prepared for the next job. The best way to improve is to learn from your failures.
Stay humble. Yes, even when your acting alongside an Oscar-winning star, you don't want your friends and family becoming overwhelmed with your boastful posts. I want to be the same person whether I am eating dinner with my mom at the kitchen table or siting beside Jennifer Lawrence at the Oscars. Thankfully, I've been blessed with the ability to laugh at myself that she has. Haha.
Don't compare yourself to others. I can assure you, you are going to face a lot of rejection as an actor. However, don't allow yourself take on every role you didn't get as a personal rejection of who you are.
When you take a big leap, whether in a scene or in your career, do it fearlessly. Have confidence in knowing this is what you were created to do.
-From an aspiring actor who has discovered the freedom and peace that comes with truly knowing who you are, especially when pursuing a career in this industry.