NEILSON’S COLUMN (September 17, 2015): Talent isn’t the only attribute you need to be an actor

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“So, what do you do for a living?” For most people this is a simple question, for an actor it can be a nightmare.

Let me explain. Suppose you’re one of those rare beasts, an actor who is actually working, you reply that you are currently in whatever show it is – Les Mis, Hamlet, whatever.

However, if you are one of the 98 percent of actors currently between jobs, it’s more difficult.

Most actors in this position either mention their highest profile work – “I was in The Bill” – or a brief resume of their most recent work – “Well, I was in Daisy Pulls it Off in the West End and I’ve just done a film with Benedict Cumberbatch”.

Then can come what actors regard as the strangest question possible: “Are you famous?”

We usually answer: “No, I’m afraid not,” but what we’re really thinking is, “If I was famous you wouldn’t need to ask that, you’d probably recognise me.”

Then there is the ‘helpful’ advice: “You should get into Eastenders or something.”

If only it were as easy as calling up the producer and saying: “Hi, I’d like to be in Eastenders, is that ok? I start Monday? Thanks, see you then”.

Actors who become famous or who are very successful have to have certain skills and I don’t mean talent. I know lots of talented actors who don’t work much and will never be famous.

For that to happen, you need other traits. You need tenacity, the ability to badger producers and directors into seeing you and giving you the job. You need to be single minded and available at all times. Putting your career first, above everything else, also helps, I often find that family life and performing don’t mix well; should you go on tour for a year and not see your loved ones except occasionally at weekends? Sacrifices need to be made.

If you start a family it can be the kiss of death for your career. It’s difficult hopping on a train to London for a casting while hanging on to a hungry noisy baby who needs a nappy change. Our business isn’t set up to cope with babies, casting studios don’t have crèches.

I haven’t even mentioned luck, having a good agent or a famous relative in the business! An actor needs many attributes to become famous, talent is merely one of them.

Follow Michael Neilson on Twitter @michael_neilson.

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