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Careers Clinic: How do I beat the crowd to get cast?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I’ll never forget my best friend telling me how lucky I was when we started drama school together. What she meant was that while she has, by her own admission, a very characterful and slightly unusual appearance, I fall much more into the ‘central casting’ type of ‘young, posh blonde’.

I’ll admit to being naturally blonde, although the comprehensive we both came from was the exact opposite of posh.

Two years after graduation, I am feeling a lot less lucky. My mate has had several good roles and is about to start a really big one. I’m honestly delighted for her, but my own career hasn’t taken off quite so quickly. I get my fair share of castings but usually for things that a lot of similar actors are up for, so I don’t get as many roles as I would like.

I went to an agent ‘meet and greet’ recently where I was told the reason is simply that I’m in the most competitive casting bracket. That’s both helpful and unhelpful: short of extreme plastic surgery I’m not sure what I can do to make things any better?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE Knowing your casting type is obviously a very important starting point for any actor. But knowing your casting type and then spending your time wishing it was a different type is likely to be a less successful strategy.

Unless you are already an established name, the best chance you’ll have in the short term of playing against type will be to make your own work, something that every actor could usefully learn from doing at some point in their career.

As long as you want to work within the more general casting system, it makes sense to go beyond knowing your casting type. Become an expert on that casting type, and look for every opportunity to leverage it in your favour.

With that in mind, my first question would be “Do you know your casting type right now?” given that casting can change through an actor’s career.

Unless you have done so very recently, doing a quick casting survey among colleagues, teachers and (honest) friends would be a good first step. If the results confirm that you are still in the same broad casting bracket you thought you were, the next step is to drill down into that bracket.

For a lot of actors, casting type can be perceived as purely appearance and (playing) age-related, but many other elements such as personality, traits and specialist skills can also be factored in, and in different combinations can suggest a slightly wider range of castings and markets.

If one of those elements particularly stands out, is it something you could develop? Or could you get extra training in it to move it from one of your selling points to a stand-out one?

It certainly makes sense to study the market for your casting type in a lot of detail. Who else in that casting type is getting work and where are they getting it?

Certainly, some factors such as having a top-flight agent or an established reputation are less easy to duplicate if you don’t possess them already, but that won’t be true of all the actors you discover.

Are there other, more subtle, skills in play, or a different kind of presentation that working actors of your type are successfully using to stand out? Does it suggest anything extra you could be doing?

Above all, don’t buy into the myth that you can’t succeed in a crowded casting bracket. You are still a unique individual and the best way to help the industry to discover that is to keep working on discovering it for yourself.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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