Build a reputation as someone who's easy to work with
What's one of the highest compliments an actor can receive?
Something about your talent? Past performances? Stars you know on a personal basis?
That's all well and good, but I'd like to offer up something else. Something that can see you hired time and time again.
Be easy to work with.
It may not sound like much, but it truly is a valued quality to those who book you.
Casting and production look for good, reliable pros they can count on to elevate the material, deliver on-point performances, and pivot under changes of direction. But not every actor is willing or able to do that.
It takes a team mindset. Looking at things from the client's perspective. Delivering what the director is asking for. And putting your own ego aside, including specific ideas of how your role should be played, when you're asked to adjust your performance.
Guess what? Casting and production note all this, especially when considering who to bring back for future projects.
So what makes an actor easy to work with?
You're part of a creative team. Align your vision with theirs.
Flexible and accommodating
First and foremost, people who are easy to work with realize that it's not all about them. It's about the project and working as a team to make it successful.
Start off on the right foot by demonstrating consideration and respect for all those involved:
As they say, "early is on time and on time is late." Be sure to arrive early for call times and other appointments. 10-15 minutes ahead of schedule should do it. And when it comes to messaged requests, be sure to respond quickly and briefly. Even if it's to dash off a quick note to say that you'll respond more fully in a short while.
to what's being said. Open-mindedness is not just a matter of hearing; it's interpreting, considering, and (as the situation warrants) internalizing. Listen and implement suggestions. Listen and address any raised concerns. But don't just listen to those in charge. Pay attention to those working in all aspects of the production to understand what they need from you the actor. They'll see as a thoughtful team player. And, of course, listen to your scene partners as you are all performing. No going on auto-pilot here, just because you know your lines and blocking cold. The ability to respond authentically in the moment is the essence of good acting.
your performance, if requested. Learn to say "yes" to direction. Offer alternative ideas, if the director is open to different interpretations. Don't be wed to only one way of doing things.
small mistakes, misjudgments, or misunderstandings. These things happen. Give other people the benefit of the doubt. Most are trying to do the right thing. After all, you're on the same team while you're working on this production.
Pleasant and fun
This goes back to the old adage:
"People do business with those they know, like, and trust."
People are people, whether they're collaborating on a business or a creative project. So be the kind of person that others enjoy being around.
Show a can-do, optimistic perspective, especially when problems arise. Most setbacks are temporary and readily resolved. A grumpy, disdainful, or generally negative outlook is not going to improve anything and will only sow greater discord. Reputations are built or destroyed by behavior. Remember, people are watching.
with people. Be interested in them, their background stories and accomplishments, and their pastimes. Most people love to talk about themselves, especially when someone takes the time to get to know them. They'll think better of you for it. No need to be intrusive, of course. And truly private people will let you know if they prefer a more distant, formal work relationship.
Be ethical and do what is right, regardless of circumstances. Say what you mean and mean what you say. You're part of a team and other members need to be able to count on you.
the work of others, as well as those who've hired you in the first place! Sincere compliments go a long way. Don't forget the crew and particularly those who help you look and sound good: hair and makeup, the camera crew, etc. Of course, the ones who keep you where you're supposed to be, like the 2nd assistant director (AD) and the often overlooked, uncredited production assistants!
Any time you can go above and beyond, do so. Show production that you're looking at the project from their perspective.
Bringing the "value add" to the project
These are all the little extras that you bring to set. The things that may pleasantly surprise another member of the production team.
on set requests. Make someone's job easier and show that you're the thoughtful, experienced pro, all at the same time. If you know you'll be reporting to the hair and makeup (HMU) department upon arrival, have a clean face and hair when you show up. If you have allergies or particular sensitivities, tell HMU in advance and offer to bring some products from home, if none will be available on set.
Do you have a particular skill set that can complete your character, perhaps one that wasn't originally requested? It may not be needed, but occasionally it helps move the overall story forward and becomes a defining aspect of your character. Alternatively, if a problem comes up on set that you can help with, offer assistance if appropriate. Union (SAG-AFTRA) sets have strict rules on who does what, but non-union crews may welcome your experienced help. Ask before pitching in.
As actors, we're supposed to be good at communicating. Evidently, not every actor got the memo. Production is regularly frustrated with actors who fail to respond to calls, emails, and texts. Who don't let them know of conflicts or other concerns. And who sometimes fail to show up. You can stand out by demonstrating that you are not a talent they need to be concerned about. You and others like you are viewed as pros. Everyone else? Well, they're not just called back.
Any time you can go above and beyond, do so. An excellent performance will satisfy the hard-to-please director or producer. But an actor who ...
goes the extra mile and is exceptionally well-prepared
who knows that their job is to further the storyline regardless of the size of their role
and who aims to make their scene partners look good in the process, too
... well, that's the professional who understands the big picture of this creative process. And that's the person production wants on their team, time and again.
Laura's Quick Tips
Be an asset to production with proper preparation and a positive attitude
Go beyond your own interests and consider the needs of the project
Respect and support the other cast and crew members
Have you noticed that certain actors seem to work with certain directors over multiple projects? Some well-known frequent director/actor collaborations include Mel Brooks/Gene Wilder, Wes Anderson/Bill Murray and Owen Wilson, Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks, and Tim Burton/Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. They have strong working relationships, born from shared vision and mutual understanding.
On a regional and local level, I've seen casting directors call in their favorites over and over again. They are the known, reliable, and easy to work with "go to" actors whom the casting directors love to present to their clients. And when production needs to bang out a quick commercial or add a last minute character to an on-going TV series, oftentimes they'll already have someone in mind. An actor who'd previously proved themselves, both in talent and in attitude.
Be that person. Consistently. Over time, you will be noticed. And called in as a go-to resource.