There are a lot of things that are difficult about being an actor. Unsteady work, unsteady pay check, too much traveling and being your own life coach/agent/receptionist/therapist/accountant/PR firm to name but a few. But I think one of the most difficult aspects of an actor’s life is acting itself. Sure, we’re artists and we love it – actually we thrive off it, we live to perform – but the honest to goodness truth is that acting is hard work.
It takes an incredible amount of natural talent for someone to stand in front of a camera or on stage and perform well, but the ability to truly convey emotions honestly needs to be honed. Like any other form of art it can be mastered with careful study, thorough dedication, skill and motivation. This enormous respect for my craft and for the arts in general is also probably why I sat paralyzed with horror the first time I ever turned on a television in Greece.
For those of you who have never actually been to Greece I can’t even begin to convey to you the state of their television programming. With the very rare exception almost all Greek television series (at least from what I gathered both watching and actually working on set over four years) have a very specific, homogenous recipe. First we begin with a very melancholy main character who is sitting somewhere by themselves lamenting about one thing or the other (usually a break-up or someone from the opposite sex who did something mean, stupid or downright wrong). Soon afterwards a twist of fate brings this person to a very large dinner gathering where by some remarkable coincidence they will bump into the aforementioned object of their desire/pain/melancholy. From that point, copious quantities of food, alcohol, and tobacco are consumed and you’re now ready for the yelling that is bound to ensue. At least one if not two women will cry or faint and at least one man will bang his fist on a table or break something. The crowning jewel however, is towards the end when someone always (and I do mean always) starts chasing someone else around the dinner table. The End.
If it sounds like I’m exaggerating, I can promise you I’m not. So the next time you’re sailing through the Greek Islands do us both the favor of turning on your TV for a moment just so that we can both feel good about the fact that I’m right.
Now, I’ve asked myself many times how it’s possible that the very birthplace of theater and drama could produce such terrible acting? Even more disturbing still, how so many people could enjoy it? The bigger picture is however that every country, particularly those who truly have a film industry, have a kind of signature style. Bollywood movies look like one big Michael Jackson video, English films have too much rain and a lot of dark humor, Greece has fainting, hysterical women and brooding, hysterical men, and America has its blockbuster larger-than-life yet understated style that has made its movies the blueprint for cinema.
That’s not to say that in every Greek film someone will faint, or that in every Bollywood film someone will put on their dancing shoes – just most of them. What this means for an actor is simple. Know your market and know what’s expected of you.
In one of my first meetings with a big Hollywood agent a couple of years ago he had asked to see my demo tape which I gladly gave him. When I showed up for our second interview he looked less than impressed. My introductory clip on my demo was from a comedic television series I did in Greece and I put it at the beginning thinking that perhaps it would be intriguing. It was 45 seconds long. The agent didn’t even get that far.
“You might want to put something other than a clip of a lot of people yelling at one another in your introduction.”
Needless to say, I didn’t land the agent. I also never used that demo tape again.
I realized during that time that I had learned a valuable lesson between working in both countries. It was almost like being a chameleon – when I went to set in Greece I got to yell and scream and run around kitchens, and when I worked in North America I was subtle and nuanced. Truthfully, Greek television is ridiculous and I was never entirely comfortable working in that environment. It can be very funny but you have to be familiar with the culture to appreciate it, otherwise it looks exactly like what that agent had said – a lot of people running around yelling at each other. In Hollywood, unless it was a specific project that type of acting would never fly.
So we all need to know what we’re getting into once we buy that plane ticket and pack our bags for la la land. And this isn’t a profession where you can fake it to make it – you either can do it or you can’t. As I said much earlier, acting is hard work and American cinema can be really tricky. One small gesture, one facial movement if done well can speak volumes and those are the kinds of choices that will help you to get noticed in the casting room in Hollywood. Subtlety is the key here and they abhor nothing quite as much as ‘kitch’; unless of course you’re Paris Hilton.
My old demo tape is still tucked away safely in an old box in the corner, along with a couple of other pieces of “evidence” I hope will never see the light of day again. It is still a good reminder for me of what I feel is one of the most fundamental aspects of being a successful artist – being adaptable to your surroundings – and I do occassionally pull it out and watch it for laughs. Kind of like a karaoke machine or really bad party favor. Because at the end of the day you just never know when one may have to run around a kitchen table in a black satin bathrobe and fuzzy green slippers?