I’m a very judge-y person.
I don’t deny it – it’s partly my job; to size up a person I’ve just met, to estimate their potential and guess their past. It’s also just always been something I do.
We all do it – we all judge one another, as we meet people. I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong – in a sense, it’s how we interpret the world. When we see an indicator of a pattern we recognize – we say to ourselves, ‘okay – that fits this pattern I know. Let’s see if there are a couple other indicators – yep, I am indeed talking to a former jock.’ It is wrong, however, to not allow deeper insight change your perspective on a person. Also, on a personal level – it’s much worse, and sad, if you take those initial indicators and twist them into a strong negative opinion such as fear, or hate, based on nothing more than outer appearances.
We also have to be careful not to use someone else’s patterns to form an opinion of a person. I think most of us know ‘Athletes don’t test as well’ doesn’t exactly apply - consider Ryan Fitzpatrick, Craig Breslow, Dikembe Mutombo, or Marion Bartoli, to name a few. ‘You know what they say about preacher’s daughters…’ Well, yeah, I do, but I also know one happily married without a scandalous past, practicing music therapy in Fresno. And fuck any statistics that apply to race, gender, age or any other classification determined by the government – I don’t care what you’ve read in some article. Any pattern you use to judge someone, should not be based on physical appearance.
Wait – I’m a hypocrite. Saying I definitely judge people when I first meet them, but getting all indignant when bringing up the idea of judging someone based on the way they look?
Because someone’s ‘look’ really has nothing to do with the way they actually appear. Skin color and body shape really don’t matter. What I’m judging, when I first meet you – is how you carry yourself. How you express yourself. How you’ve decided to present yourself to the world. That, all that, is what I get, when I meet you.
It’s important to know how you come across, to be able to use that representation as a tool to expand upon or contradict.
Your posture, and the way you move – that tells me your confidence and self esteem. How you view yourself, and how you think the world views you. The way you talk – the pace, the accent, the tendency to back track or explain yourself – that further tells me how you communicate, what kind of people you know and what experiences you’ve had – and also, what you think of me, the person listening to you. Your words give me a sense of your intelligences – social, verbal, logical, and more. Can you hear the cadence in your own voice? It tells me whether you’ve traveled the world, it tells me if you’re a musician or a poet, if you crunch numbers all day, or if you enjoy being a salesperson. And the way you present yourself – your clothing, your hair (your grooming) tells me how you value yourself. And it tells me how you want the world to see you.
Now – I hope for all that, and so much more, just from exchanging an introductory ‘Hello, how are you?’ I don’t pretend to assume everyone else does the same. And I’m not always right about my conclusions - it’s just an initial impression, ready to be changed as I get to know you better.
But a lot of patterns already exist, whether they’re accurate or not. Gamers wear Converse. Cowboys and cowgirls wear boots. Used car salesmen use too much hair gel, and you better have a scarf if you want anyone to believe you like wine. Anyone who has vacationed in the Hamptons has a little pony on their shirt, people who live in Denver wear The North Face, and Manhattanites wear all black, all the time. Canadians nicely say ‘a-boot,’ Australians like to drink, and the Chinese like to stand close to have a conversation. Brazilians know how to party, Argentinians know how to dance, and let’s be honest – the French know they’re better than everyone.
All of these patterns, these social clichés and constructs that permeate our interactions – they really don’t tell you much about a person. But we’re all aware of them, and immediately use them as an easy go-to when meeting a new person.
On some level – I’m sure you know how you come across because of the clothes you put on before you walk out the door. (At least, I hope you wear clothes. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you live in a nudist colony. What’s that like? It must be freeing.) And when you’re showing up for an audition, you can use easy things like clothes to present that image. Glasses and a button-down shirt for a scientist. A suit for a lawyer or police officer. A simple black top and black pants for an assassin. Little things like slicking your hair back or pinning it up in curls for a period piece go a long way to getting into character. I once had a girl show up with a FABULOUS hat and faux fur, for a 1940’s socialite. She’d borrowed it from her grandmother’s closet – it was fantastic.
But recognizing the rest of your look – it’s important to know, so that you have the tools to either use it or contradict it in the audition room. Ask your friends, ask your acting teacher – ask the person who took your headshots. Watch a video of yourself from a while ago, so that the memory isn’t fresh and you can be objective. Take away the fashion, and analyze the impression you make. How old do you seem? Do you have an open face, are you always outgoing and engaging, or perhaps nurturing and comforting? Do you tend not to make eye contact or make very fast facial expressions which make you seem nervous and guarded? Do you tend to smile or wink in a way that can come across a little snivelly? Be honest, my dears – do you have resting bitch face?
Do your shoulders hunch forward in a self-deprecating manner, or are they wide open with an air of confidence? Do you walk quickly with your weight forward, with someplace to be, or are you someone who strolls and enjoys life as it goes by? Do you fold your arms in front of you a lot in a protective manner, do you tend to stand shoulder to shoulder with people instead of face-on?
So many of these quirks and habits add up to why you’re always getting called in as the nice, sweet best friend and you never get called for that meaty, psychopathic villain. Or why you’re always called in for the idiotic aggressive sidekick instead of the quiet hero.
It’s also why, when you’re called in for the quirky co-worker, the parent of two, or the sleazy reporter, and the role seems like a breeze… but you don’t get the job. Someone else does, and it doesn’t make sense - it should have been so easy to get.
But here’s the crux of it - if I don’t believe you in a role that matches your look, why should I ever give you the chance to play something different?
You have to be aware of your look, because you can use your natural qualities and instincts to fit easily into a character, and bring something more to it. Say I’ve brought you in for a role that doesn’t cover the full scope of who you are. Show me why I should investigate past my first impression, and find something more interesting. In a sense, you have an advantage – anyone else who is trying to be this character, has to try to prove they can present this specific image. But you – you’ve got the image down, now give me something more. Make this a real person. Heath Ledger played a gorgeous bad boy in 10 Things I Hate About You and I’ll be damned if he didn’t become my favorite bad boy for years to come. He was far more interesting than was fair. And yes, some of that is the writing – but a lot of it also came from Heath. He made it grounded, and gave that image depth. He leaned in to the image, and made the character so much more.
Whatever ‘look’ you have – being aware of it is key. Then, if you want to fit into a different character – be aware what needs to change. If you are able to get in my audition room for a role different than what might be expected of you, present your version of the character, and show me that inside – you are that quiet hero, or that psychopathic villain. Heath was fucking terrifying in The Dark Knight. No trace of that pretty boy anywhere – it’s my favorite character of his. He made me believe a comic book character with paint on his face was a savagely real possibility in the world we live in today. Everything about him was different than that adorable Shakespearian teenager he played before, from the way he moved, the way he spoke – down to the way he literally stared at the other characters. Those eyes, while he’s clapping in jail…yeesh. I still get shivers. Here’s my point, though - I’m not going to give you this chance, to be something different, unless you’ve shown me you know your strengths, and can bring depth to a role you fit purely on a surface level.
Most often, I see actors who either aren’t aware of the connotations of their look, or they don’t like it. In both situations, they haven’t taken the time to really learn how other people see them. Either because they just haven’t thought about it, or maybe they don’t like it, and they blame the person standing in front of them for making assumptions instead of analyzing why.
I’m sorry they make assumptions. It’s rather shitty. But you decided to be an actor, and part of that is using your body, your face, and your voice as a tool for artistic expression. So man-up and woman-up. Listen to what others are saying and how they react to you. If they make incorrect assumptions about you – learn why.* If the overwhelming majority think you feel ten years older than you are – go with it. There are an increasing number of roles for a wider range of ages – audiences tend to like fascinating characters regardless of age, so stop letting that hold you back, by telling yourself you should be playing a different age group. And explore different looks. I don’t just mean fashion, I mean all of it – body language, speech patterns, all of it – and see if there aren’t a couple other personalities or qualities that fit you. And a negative image is not necessarily a bad thing! I always felt Alan Rickman was a little evil on screen, but I’ll never change channels from one of his films.
You can’t blame a pillow for appearing to be soft. It can be an absolute comfort, but keep in mind – a pillow can smother a person. A burning fire is malevolent – it can consume a community, but it can also cauterize a wound, and keep someone alive.
Figure out how you’re perceived, and use it to your advantage. Learn the image you present, and show us a deeper version than the superficial cliché - it’s one of the best ways for me and an audience to realize you have more to offer. Then decide - is this your wheelhouse? Or can you manipulate the image to show us something different? Both make for fascinating choices - choices I’ll be excited to see.
*I do want to say this – if they (‘they’ being whoever stands in front of you) make an incorrect assumption about you based on anything superficial – the color of your skin, your gender, your age – please remember they are an uneducated, unempathetic turd. I hope you have a big enough heart to treat them with kindness, in an effort to break their incorrectly ingratiated stereotypes into tiny little pieces.