At the start of my career, things moved quickly for me. I went from the chorus to playing musical theatre leads to featured parts in soaps and sitcoms in just a few years. I was very lucky and it was great while it lasted.
Then it all went quiet. I was able to live off my savings for a bit, but although my agent and I have worked really hard, that big comeback part just hasn’t materialised.
For the past few years, I have lived a very quiet life, or at least have tried to. I am very occasionally recognised in the street or contacted online by fans of the series I did, and although I know they mean well, it is embarrassing when they tell me they loved my character and ask what I’m doing now. I usually mumble something about “projects coming up”.
At long last, an offer has genuinely come up: a musical I have played the lead in several times before. For this new production, my part would be a supporting role. The money is a fair offer, and I could put it to good use, but my pride is making it hard to say yes.
I think you should hold on to your pride, but let go of your ego.
I’m using ‘pride’ here in the sense of ‘taking pride in your work’. This is the kind of pride that pushes us to rehearse a tricky scene one more time, try an extra take on the self-tape we already feel is ‘good enough’ or stretch ourselves to give just as great a performance at a Thursday matinee to a half-full house as we would on a packed Saturday night.
Ego, on the other hand, is usually thought of in terms of being self-centred, but can often be just as much about what other people think, and, taken to extremes, leave us more concerned with maintaining the appearance of success rather than getting down to the work that will actually get us to where we need to be.
You are not the only ‘actor with a former profile’ to end up in this situation, but you do have a choice as to what type of actor you want to be as a result of it
You are not the only ‘actor with a former profile’ to end up in this situation, but you do have a choice as to what type of actor you want to be as a result of it. You can either be the one who sits by the phone waiting for the perfect part to come in, or the actor who takes the part currently on offer and makes the best of it.
Just as with ‘lucky breaks’, miraculous career turnarounds do happen, but they do so in real life with far less frequency than in the third acts of Hollywood biopics. The genuine and long-term comeback stories I have seen happen at first hand tend to have come about not via any fairy godmothers but because somebody put their ego on hold, knuckled down and started considering roles that they might have rejected a few years previously.
I’m not saying you, or any actor, should take any old part out of desperation, but this job sounds like one worth considering.
Try to see it for its potential and remember that you are not starting again from scratch. You will be bringing to it all the career experience you have gained in the past. Ego might tell you either to use that experience to try to upstage the current lead or to take the money and ‘phone in’ your performance because you are no longer the actor in the spotlight.
Instead, I encourage you to take pride in your work, and yourself. Do the best job you can. Your real fans will be delighted to see you back. Anyone who thinks less of you was never a fan in the first place.
This may or may not be your comeback role, but it is the first step in your comeback and I wish you every success.
Contact careers adviser John Byrne at firstname.lastname@example.org or @dearjohnbyrne
John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne