It can be wild adjusting to life as an actor in NYC, but the more you stick with it the more you’ll figure out the path to your own kind of success. Still—we all have that universal impulse. The one that longs to go back in time and tell the younger version of ourselves all the lessons we know now.
Time travel doesn’t exist yet…but today I’m going to share my hard-won knowledge with the hope that a new generation of actors can side-step my mistakes and misconceptions. So without further ado, here are the top four things I wish I had known when I moved to NYC as an actor.
1. Casting: You never know…and you’re never going to find out.
Auditioning is rough, but you can’t work as an actor without going through it. It can be easy to get demoralized in the process, but you’ve got to find a way to keep at it. I wish I had known when I was getting started that it doesn’t help to wonder what went down in the audition room. Because the truth is you’re never going to know why you didn’t get a part. And you’re never going to find out.
You may think that if you can figure out the secret formula to auditioning, you’ll always succeed. But there is no formula and it’s not a good use of your time.
There was once — just once — when I learned why I hadn’t been cast in a piece. Right before the pandemic I auditioned to play iconic gospel singer Sam Cooke in a movie. I knew I was a little young, but I auditioned and I absolutely destroyed it. I got a callback, I auditioned again for Sam Cooke’s estate, but I didn’t get it. I didn’t hear anything back.
At another audition, I had a conversation with the reader outside the room — he had also been at the movie audition. He told me that the director had actually picked me and fought for me, but that the estate felt that I didn’t look enough like Sam Cook, and so I was rejected.
I had told myself all this other stuff about why I didn’t get the role, but ultimately it was something totally outside of my control. It was a crazy coincidence that I ever found out why, but I learned that you’re never going to know the thought processes and conversations happening behind closed doors. Go in and do your best. Control the things you can: the quality of your work and your professionalism. Then move on if it doesn’t work out.
2. Even after you get an agent, be your own agent.
Getting an agent is a huge step forward for your career, but it’s not an excuse to stop hustling. Even after you get an agent you have to be your own agent. You always have to be working for yourself. Sure, it’s harder before you get an agent, but let that hard work build good habits that you keep up even after you’ve got someone advocating for you.
Start by having a conversation with your agency about what they do or don’t want you to do on your own. Every agency and agent is different. There are some things that certain agents will want to do for you, while other agents might assume that you are taking care of it. You want to clearly define what is your job and what is theirs so that as a team you can make the most progress.
Regardless of who makes the appointments and does the legwork for your auditions, it’s always a good idea to be working on your skills. Taking classes is a great way to stay sharp.
3. Don’t type yourself out
As a person who has been cast three times in a traditionally white role that had never been cast with a black actor before, I know you can’t ever type yourself out. You never know what casting directors are looking for or what possibilities a great performance from you can open them up to. If it’s a role you want and you know you can do: always go for it.
Casting directors do still type people out, and that sucks. But don’t ever be the person making the call before you try. If you don’t say yes to yourself, how is anybody else going to say yes to you?
4. Be yourself.
It’s cliche for a reason. Be yourself and don’t try to change yourself to fit into a type for a role. Go in, and be you always. If you walk into that audition room and show your best you, you’ll often get the role. Even if you don’t, the casting team will be able to see who you are and put you where you’re supposed to be.
While we all dream of being award-winning chameleons like Meryl Streep, the truth is, not even she is a chameleon. She brings her intelligence, her gravitas, and her attention to every role in a unique way. You, too, have an innate sense of self that you can’t escape from. But use that as a strength rather than trying to morph into something unrecognizable. The truest performances come from you bringing your own perspective to your character.
Embrace the opportunities that come your way.
It’s not always easy getting your career off the ground in a new city. So if you’re looking for a flexible and sustainable income source while you get those auditions lined up in NYC, check out Worthwhile Event Services today.
Roderick Lawrence is an actor, filmmaker, and Blacktivist whose long resume includes Simba in The Lion King, Ramses in The Prince of Egypt, Guy in ONCE, and an appearance on Comedy Central’s Broad City. He also created, produced, and starred in the multi-award-winning short film Silent Partner, which premiered in August at the Oscar-qualifying RSF Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival (www.silentpartner-film.com).