Monday 31 August 2009

Actors & Their Egos

The actors I love working with are the ones who turn up, maybe ask a question or two -- and then I don't see them for a while. When we're ready to shoot, there they are. "Action!" is called out and then the actor becomes the character.

That is all an actor is. Just like a man sweeping the streets is someone who sweeps the streets, and just like a Police officer is someone who arrests people and does his best to prevent crime. To put it even more succinctly; an actor is someone who plays a character whilst a camera is rolling. The problem is, some actors are not content with being a character on screen, they also want to be one off of it. They begin to play the role of an actor.

In Hollywood, of course-- actors have privileges. When Tom Hanks or Johnny Depp are on board, their names and their performances guarantee a large chunk of income for the studios, so the actors are treated amazingly. They're driven around, given giant trailers, given anything they want. They want a call girl? They want drugs? They want a monkey that can juggle? You got it. These actors are so important to the productions and to the people financing them, that anything will be done to keep them happy. An extra $5000 for a better hotel room is no problem when the actor is bringing them an extra $50million in box-office revenue.

The problem is that sometimes actors who are starting out are influenced by this, they think that this is how an actor should behave, to expect privilege. I have worked on absolutely zero budget films with first time filmmakers.. and it's 3am, in a freezing cold field. The Director and Producer have not eaten in three days, the camera man's feet are so cold it could well be trench foot, but the actors are wrapped up in warm blankets, drinking hot soup. Meanwhile, little Abdul, the 17 year old runner, hasn't eaten, slept or been allowed a toilet break in four days.

Sometimes, you see it the minute an actor walks on set. They'll turn to the nearest person and say "You think I could get a coffee? Two sugars." And sure enough, they'll get what they want. No-one is quite strong enough to say, "Sure, the kitchen is upstairs."

Don't get me wrong, there is a hierarchy on film sets, and it's there for a reason. When you're in the middle of a scene, it would be inappropriate and time-consuming for an actor to make their own coffee. But when the entire cast and crew are on a break and the actor is standing right next to the coffee they have no right to expect anyone but them to be making the coffee. Someone needs to tell them, "make your own coffee, it doesn't interfere with you saying words in front of a camera one hour from now."

The industry is flooded with young, upcoming actors. If you put an advert out for actors, you are bound to have thousands of messages flooding your inbox. The majority of the time, they all sound the same. It's not their fault, it's just that they're all in the same boat. They're young, talented, eager for roles, and look very attractive. Finding someone who truly loves films and the acting process is tough, they don't always jump off the page. But then, neither do the actors you want to avoid. Sometimes you can see their ego just from their emails, but sometimes, you won't see it until they audition. An actor with a large ego will ask a lot of questions, and some of these questions will be an attempt to catch you out, to make you look like you don't know what you're doing. Ego-driven actors can be very insecure deep underneath everything, and if they make you feel belittled; they feel better about themselves.

I should add the point that we're all insecure. Actors, Directors, Road Sweepers. We all have our issues. The problem is, the ego-driven "I deserve special treatment" actors use their insecurity to make everyone else feel bad.

One of the biggest problems is that a well-trained and clever egotistical actor will be able to hide this trait throughout the audition process. They'll be happy to take the role, even on a zero-budget short where nobody is getting paid. Here, they are able to feel vastly superior to everyone, because they feel like they've done you a favour. This is especially true if back in 1997 they did a Colgate commercial and got $5000 and a big-trailer. You are below me and I am doing you a favor, thinks the actor.

Can someone get me a tea?
I need an hour to make some calls.
I'm coming in late tomorrow.
How about shooting it from another angle?
Back on the set of some obscure film from 1998 they always made sure we had.....

The thing to realize, and I am talking mainly here about the low-budget-we-are-all-in-it-together-arena is; WE ARE ALL IN IT TOGETHER. None of us are getting paid much, none of us are sleeping, none of us want to be carrying equipment through the mud on a rainy night at 4am, but we are doing it, together. As a group. The actor is part of that group.

Even if the actor is Tom Hanks himself. Tom would have known, upon signing up, that this is a film being made for $500. Therefore, Tom isn't going to get his trailer. Tom isn't going to get to go and make calls for three hours as there is such a tight schedule.

The egoic actors are one of the sad parts of the industry. It's not always just actors; you can have any role on a set and you can be angry that you're not getting paid more, bitter that the food isn't as amazing as that big-budget shoot you did last year, disappointed with how your career is turning out. But it gives you no right to think you're better than anyone else on the set.

If you are in a big-budget film, by all means, enjoy your privileges. You'll be surprised to find that many of the actors are very modest and humble about the wonderful things they are given, which is exactly how all actors should be right the way down to a first-time student film. Actors, like everyone else on the set, are normal human beings. The whole team are on set for the same reason, the common goal of making a great film. Remember that's why you're there, and think about you wanted to be treated and treat others.

Acting is not about privilege. It's about doing things in front of a camera. That's all.

Care to share?


  1. As an actor myself, I can say that being an actor IS a privilege. So I don't agree with you on that. It is a privilege to be able to take on the life of another human being and have the chance to represent it in all of it's full blown humanity on the screen or on a stage. It is a privilege to be able to give life to another human being's story. It's an honor to be part of a film or a stage production that is collaborating to make this happen.

    However I agree, an entitled, egocentric actor is a detriment to a production whether it be a film or a theatre production. Theatre and film are collaborative processes. The best actors know how to collaborate with their fellow actors, directors, film crew etc...They know it's not about THEM, it's about TELLING THE STORY. That's what makes a good actor. A good actor knows when it's time to energetically step back in a scene so that their co-star can have the spotlight at the appropriate moment, or to step back so the cinematographer can do their job, or the director, whichever it may be.

    So yes, it is a privilege to be an actor, a privilege to be part of a wonderful collaboration of mind that will tell a story that will affect people watching it. To me, that is the job of an actor. And I am one, so I should know ;-) And I always feel privileged and humbled to be a part of a work of art!

    1. They clearly didn't mean it's not a privilege, they meant it's not about you being privileged.

  2. Wow, you are harsh! I don't know what kind of actors you met so far but they sound nothing like the ones I know. And I am at acting school...

    I don't think actors should feel better then anyone else and have special privileges and big egos. But I actually don't know any that are like that. I have a BA in Film Production, so I know what its like to make short films on a very limited budget but I have only ever worked with really great people who were there for the project and not to be treated in any special way.

    As for myself, an aspiring actress, I absolutely love movies and telling stories, that's why I got into the field. And I know plenty of actors that are the same. But if you expect an actor to just turn up on the set and quickly turn into the character and give a great performance, I can see why they might have a problem. Because it is not easy, so maybe you should get a bit more involved with the actors you work with and they will probably become much easier to work with. And all of you will have a better time!

  3. Vanessa - Please don't misunderstand, I have been fortunate enough to work with many, many, many WONDERFUL actors. My point was just that there are a minority who have woefully large egos, they're the type of people who you know are an actor the minute they walk into the room, because they are playing it as a role.

    "But if you expect an actor to just turn up on the set and quickly turn into the character and give a great performance, I can see why they might have a problem. Because it is not easy, so maybe you should get a bit more involved with the actors you work with and they will probably become much easier to work with."

    Again, I am very involved with actors and have great working relationships with them, I love actors, there's no need to personalize this. I don't expect an actor to just show up and get on with it, I meant that I don't like the type of actors who make it a big circus which revolves around them.

    I am talking about a minority of actors, and I find it much worse here in London than I do in New York, it's a different mentality.

    Lisa - you make great points also!

  4. Alright, now it makes a lot more sense...I am sure there are some actors with that kind of ego. It just sounded like you meant that most of the actors you have worked with were like that...

    I don't think anyone on a film set should have a big ego. It is not like they are saving the world or anything, plus it is not helping the film. So I absolutely agree with you. It just sounded like you were generalizing...

  5. I agree with everything that has been said though as a 15 year old filmmaker I've found my only real problem is people refusing to work with me due to my age. I was once making a film with a friend playing the lead role and a lovely actress who applied through the internet playing her mother, the day before the shoot my friend rang to say her parents had arranged babysitting and she couldn't make it. I spoke to my friends dad (who works for the bbc) and when I tried to explain how everything was arranged, the actress coming over, the cameraman etc he said 'Well they are obviously not going to turn up are they?' - in the end they did, but I felt completly belittled by that!

    Generally working as an acrtess in London though I have hardly met an actor with a massive ego although I did recieve this as a genuine application to my last film -

    "Dear Scarlett,
    the resume was wrote by myself abbie.


    i have been to amature dramatic school for 2 years
    but other than that no experiance
    but i think i am excellent"

    So I can see where you are coming from!

  6. As an actor myself, I can completely sympathise with the Kid's views on this. As an actor it is infuriating when another actor is on set (or rehearsing for a stage production - they operate on the same rules) and they think that the reason the film is being made is them. They think that they are the most important element. The simple fact is, they aren't. Especially on a film set. An actor does his actual job for such a minimal time on a film set - from the time a director says 'action' to the time they say 'cut'. Then it is up to an actor to be prepared to be ready the next time (however they do that is for them to work out for themselves; it shouldn't involve making other people do things to allow you to be prepared).

    I think a lot of these 'ego-driven' actors are uncomfortable with the fact they are only actually important for a few minutes; they see everybody else in the team involved in everything, runners running, directors and dops sorting out a shot angle, make-up people doing their thing, sound engineers working out a way to stop the birds singing, and the actor feels uninvolved, and they have nothing to do. Or rather, they can't prove to people they're doing anything; so, they make their prescence felt. For me, this is the wrong option - simply get out of the way, and let everyone else do their jobs. Us actors are merely the final (and an EQUALLY important part - no more no less) piece of the jigsaw.

  7. I love the line about actors needing to take one the role of being actors. That completely sums up some confusing behaviour I've recently seen in a community theatre production.

  8. Actors are the last ones to understand what an ego truly is. Rather than define the ego by definition, it is better to define it by deduction. Put it this way. People who don't need or want their ego fed steer clear of fame or the pursuit of it. They are the opposite of attention whores. It's likely they have an awareness of what it is like to be admired or envied for all the wrong reasons. And they may even carry alot of humility. Actors are not and cannot be this type of person. The role of acting is inherently based on getting admired. And that is a feeding of the ego, believe it or not. The viewing audience perceive actors are something positive based on the "deception" that is passed onto the viewer. So you could say that actors aren't really humble people. They just play one on television. Any person with real ethics and a sense of responsibility to society would walk away from such a lifestyle and spend their time doing something that isn't so selfish.

  9. So i'm not the only one who thinks the same way.