How to Successfully Navigate an Acting Career
Actor Troy Baker talked about his past mistakes at the One Voice USA 2023 conference
How nice to be invited to speak at a conference of your peers!
I was thrilled to be a presenter at the One Voice USA 2023 conference in Dallas. Voiceover conferences are warm, intimate affairs – even when hundreds of people are attending. Maybe it’s because everyone is so happy to break free from the confines of small recording spaces where we spend most of our working hours alone. It probably has a lot to do with that. But mostly, it’s because the acting industry is full of caring, kind people who genuinely enjoy meeting and supporting one another through the ups and downs of an artistic career.
My topic was “From Mic to Lens: Expanding from Voice Over to On Camera Work.” In other words, how voice actors can take their skills and apply them to film, TV, and commercial roles on screen. I love sharing what I’ve learned with others and the talk was very well-received, but that’s not what I want to dedicate this blog to.
Instead, I’d like to share the acting advice of our keynote speaker, Troy Baker of “The Last of Us” video game and a voice actor and musician himself. His advice is solid for any group of performers.
Here’s what he had to say.
Be professional! Show respect and consideration for others in everything you do. And treat the entertainment business as a business.
Never be the one they’re waiting on
Troy learned the hard way the value of time and what it means to other people. He was often late to set and was eventually fired for it. It’s a tough way to realize that all of us are cogs in the machine and that one little piece gone awry or missing can gum up the works.
Learn every name on the call sheet
Well, at least a few. And use them. It endears you to the crew, especially the hard-working production assistants (PAs) and shows respect for all they do for you. Just make sure that you get their names right. Troy thought he was doing a bang-up job remembering one gaffer’s name, only to be told near the end of the shoot that he’d misheard it and had been calling the guy by the wrong name for weeks. Note to self: check the call sheet if you’re unsure!
Don’t just memorize your lines, but focus on the pattern of the scene
We’re not human tape recorders. Knowing the words alone does not convey meaning, especially if lines are over-rehearsed and seem stale or disconnected when you say them. We’re always responding to the other people in the scene and to the environment, and there are nuances we need to pick up on that require us to be immersed in that reality.
Troy referenced Mickey Rourke, who told him, “Dialogue is the last thing I worry about. If I’m in character, it should just fall out of my lips.” Mickey didn’t believe in memorization, though, in truth, Troy said that Mickey later admitted: “Cue cards help.”
The key is to ask yourself what’s really important. Know the meaning of the scene and attach dialogue to the truth. When you learn the scene, you’ll learn your lines. The lesson is to be prepared, not over-rehearsed.
Casting can detect fear or desperation better than any bloodhound. .
Stop thinking that you’re “auditioning” when you walk into an audition
Instead, regard it as going to a “meeting,” where you and the casting director (and whoever else is in there) can see if there’s a fit between you and the role. Don’t prove that you’re trying to act when you walk in the room. Casting can detect fear or desperation better than any bloodhound. What they DO want to see is that their character walks in the door, solving their casting problem. If that’s you, congrats! If not … well, do the best you can, make a great impression, and chances are that they’ll remember you for future projects in which you ARE a great fit.
Acting: Don’t be afraid of a “no” on either side – whether they say it or you do
“No” means “not right for this project” or “not right now.” It’s not a summation of your personal worth as a human being … or even of your acting talent. OK, sometimes your talent or training may be in question if you’re just starting out, but it’s not going to doom you forever.
What can slow down your career? Being rude, certainly. Unprepared? Possibly. Falsely claiming a special ability that a role calls for? Yeah, not a good move at all.
Overall, though, casting doesn’t remember that any given actor gave less than a stellar audition. They’re mostly focused on finding GREAT ones, and specifically, those that make their characters real and memorable.
Sometimes the relationship is worth more than the money. Sometimes the other way around.
Occasionally, the opportunity to work with a particular director or to support a special cause is worth more than demanding your usual, standard rate. Do what makes sense for YOU. Don’t undervalue yourself, but occasionally money is not the gold standard.
The reverse holds true, too. If an individual or relationship would be toxic to the good of a project or to your own health and well-being … the job is just not worth it. You’d be happier walking away.
And sometimes you just need the money to pay the bills. Think of it as a job, and then resolve to work professionally with the individual as best you can.
Laura's Quick Tips
Be on time ... for every meeting, every phone call
Take the time to learn the names of your co-workers, even if it's only for a one day booking
Understand the greater story and your role in it
You'll do better if you don't burden yourself with thinking that "everything rides on getting this job"
Sometimes, a closed door redirects you to bigger, better opportunities elsewhere
Money is important, but keep your values front and center
Actors are storytellers. We reflect society back on itself, posit and answer philosophical questions, entertain and educate, and inspire future generations. From the earliest human history, we are all storytellers. Cave art. Traveling minstrels. Tales told around campfires. Books, film, TV, cartoons, video games, internet videos … oh my!
It’s a privilege today to have so many means of expression, and actors are front and center in that regard. Let’s all enjoy it and remember why we chose the entertainment industry for our livelihoods in the first place.