March 10, 2015
“The road to success is always under construction.” – Lily Tomlin
If you don’t mind Lily, I’d like to say, “The road of an actor’s life is always under construction.”
Since leaving East 15 ten years ago and staring my journey as professional actor I’m amazed at how the industry has changed, how my artistic approach to performance has evolved, and how my personal goal posts have shifted. At the core of it all I’m still the driven visionary I was at 22, and like most people my age, (a youthful 34), I’ve learned the art of acceptance for who I am and the things I can’t change, which I believe makes me a better version of myself.
One of the main questions I still struggle with is whether or not to stay in the business. I fantasise from time to time about leaving the entertainment world, just get up and walk away, like a strong character in a movie that finds the resolve and confidence to take a different path. But then I get a call from a casting director and I think, oh that part sounds great, sure I’ll pop in for an audition and quickly the fantasy of a new life is replaced that by feeling of “this could be the one.” A cruel joke from the universe, indeed, that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to resolve.
In the second of our three part series, Finding Acting, we hear from Jennie Fox about her journey of being a professional actresses, the acceptance of her place in the business over the past ten years, and how acting chose her and not that she chose acting.
Forward by Allen Lidkey
FINDING ACTING: Part 2 – Acting Chose Me | By Jennie Fox
Happy anniversary to me, happy anniversary to me, it’s been 10 years since leaving drama school, happy anniversary to me!
And I’m still acting! Apparently that means something. Yes it does. I’m either mental or my love affair with the industry just hasn’t been that rough yet, so I’ve kept going back for more. Someone recently told me that if you are still calling yourself an actor after 4 years, you are always going to be an actor. I’m glad of this fact. Most of the time. I must say that I do actually feel happier about being an actor now than I ever have before… happy may not be the best word… maybe I’m more at peace. I guess it’s an ‘acceptance’ that I just love it so much that it will always be there, but now, I’ve passed the new-lover’s honeymoon phase and my passion and fear to make it work has calmed into a steady, grounded, in it for the long-haul married-couple kind of love. I’m not going anywhere, for richer for poorer. Mostly poorer, no doubt. No no no little negative voice! Must think positive! Acting will make me my fortune one day! I learnt that from a song in ‘Pinocchio’ when I was small after all!:
Hi-Diddle-Dee-Dee. An actor’s life for me! With clothes that come from the finest shop, And lots of peanuts and soda pop. Hi-Diddle-Dee-Doo. You sleep ’til after two! It’s great to be a celebrity, an actor’s life for me!
I still have a strange confidence that better jobs are yet to come. I remember hearing at drama school about the ‘realistic statistics’ of our earning opportunities and my youthful ego thinking ‘but no, I’m going to be one of the lucky few to make it big!’. I never wanted to be famous, but I have always wanted to be recognized as good at what I do, by more people than just my mum, and paid properly to do it.
However with age and experience I’ve suddenly got to a lovely place where there is no longer the rush, race, panic, desperation, and need for my lust-drug, and I’m happy to let other things in my life have a starring role sometimes.
Like earning money! – which I’m entitled to do – to live, to eat, to maybe one day pay a mortgage like my non-acting friends, or if I can find the right man, have kids. Also fulfilling my mind by learning new skills and becoming an interesting, well-rounded person as well as a ‘striving actor’ or ‘aspiring actor’ as some people will insist on calling it. God I have never been able to prevent an eye-twitch creeping in when people have introduced me as such! I stopped ‘aspiring’ and ‘became’ an actor when I finished my training at East 15 and have been a working actor for 10years. No other profession calls their trained professionals ‘aspiring’ – ‘Hey this is Mandy, she’s an aspiring cleaner’, ‘Okay so Mr Smith, I’m aspiring to make you feel better, so I’m going to take your blood pressure now, honestly, my qualifications are genuine, but I’m only an aspiring GP here alright?’)
I’m afraid to say my reaction to people offering me careers advice “have you thought of being in Eastenders?” has still not improved over time, and I’m still affronted if anyone who loves me suggests I’d maybe be happier giving it up and doing something more profitable when I’m going through a low time. However in the main, the encouragement to keep going and never-ending support of family and friends has to be acknowledged for my still being here.
Without them, I’d have to be so self-confident, completely self-sufficient or stupid. Whenever the wobble has come, I’ve been fortunate that an old employer or connections have always come forward with some unexpected offer, pulling me back and filling me with the reassurance that ‘it chose me’ and the highs are worth the lows.
Social networking has been a blessing for the acting profession. That old adage ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ has certainly been where a lot of my work has come from over the years, and to think, 10 years ago, facebook didn’t even exist! No one was ‘blogging’, CCP was a new kid on the block, some actors used castnet, but we still used PCR to find castings… oh PCR. To invite your friends and industry folk to see your shows you’d have to pick up the phone (a proper mobile if you had one alongside your landline, iPhones did not exist), send group emails round, or you’d maybe post a flyer (in that red box on the corner – not on your newsfeed).
What a difference a decade makes.
When I was at drama school, some of the advice given was NOT to have a personal website as it could make one look egotistical; never to email CDs, agents or theatre companies – always to send a hard copy CV and 10×8 – black and white btw – colour was so ‘American’ and we definitely wanted to stay traditionally and professionally English. I spent hours choosing whether to have a border or not on my headshot, and which quality of paper for my CV and font style would set me apart. I think I even went for a pearlesque/pinky/gold sheen for one of my CV options at one point – groovy. No one wrote back.
We may laugh now, but all of this was the best advice money could buy and in fact was correct for the time. Oh how things have changed! Whilst some industry folk do still want to receive hard copy information, thank goodness gone are the days where I’d be trying to make labels for my showreel DVD to send to out – especially now posting and packaging costs have soared. However now I have the challenges and expense of trying to keep my online profile in check. Everything is immediate and links must be working and simple. The online-self-tape-auditions is another area to master! Although I did manage to pick up an advert from one I did on my iPhone! We are expected as unemployed actors to have iPhones or the technology and skills to do this now!
Have I changed with the times?
Well I’m keeping up, just. It’s a constant process to keep up with modern ways of technology, and I hope that those leaving drama school now have an easier time of it hopefully with lessons on the computer-era side to being a filmmaker, editor, web-administrator, self-promoter on twitter etc etc that comes under the hat of being a self-employed actor. It’s a bit hit and miss teaching yourself. I may not look so different from 10 years ago when I left drama school (although I’m constantly wondering if people are just being kind when they say that – at least I do update my headshots regularly and am not one of those mid-30s actresses I recall from when I left drama school who would turn up at an audition alongside me insisting they still looked 18 – there is no point being delusional).
You do have to keep honest and fresh about what your play-range is. When you first leave drama school, you have been broken down, your soul exposed, the real you and all your foibles understood. The trouble is, no one does that to you after 10 years out of drama school and we are forever changing (thank God), through life and experience. It’s great looking young for your age, but I’m actually quite different to the girl who left East 15, and chuffed that I finally am getting castings for ‘young mum’, which I could have been in real life for many years, but only now am being called in for, and I’m ready to leave the teenage roles to the teenagers.
I guess I feel quite secure in who I am and what I know now.
I don’t beat myself up that I’m not applying to jobs every day and working as an actor without breaks. Although I’m not by any far stretch of the imagination at the top of my game, and am always learning and open to learn, at least I feel known about and respected by my peers and past employers, people in certain circles trust and remember me for my previous performances and everyone seems to want to see me do well, and that gives me confidence to keep trying. I feel safe in the knowledge that acting doesn’t have to run, rule or ruin my life anymore. However I’ll be a little thrilled when it does run or rule it again when the time is right. I love helping younger actors coming out of drama school with so much ambition, so many questions and fears and have found myself almost mentoring a few, and it’s made me realise how much I’ve learned and how much I can offer. I still have so much more to offer and I’m really excited about the future.
What will the next 10 years bring?
“I never regret anything. Because every little detail of your life is what made you into who you are in the end.” – Drew Barrymore