It’s something we all went through and not something we all like to talk about. High school for many is a time best forgotten and hidden in the recesses of our memory bank. A select few might remember them as the glory days and while that may not have been you, even if you read the title and thought, I was a drama nerd, there’s nothing wrong with my acting, stop and think again. The problem isn’t you per se, but rather the conditioning that we were all bought up with: That the path of least resistance is to dampen our individuality and try to fit in.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m don't blame you. High school is a cruel place, one that is built on a pressure to conform. Stray too far from the mainstream and you risk social suicide. For some, that didn’t matter, they did their own thing and didn’t care what people thought, but for many of us, including myself, even if part of us was off beat, we were constantly at war with ourselves to blanket the polar ends of our personality. To stifle our impulses to do the things that were seen as weird or be interested in things that would make us nerds or crazy and outcast from our peers. Our personalities were formed out of fear and fear told us the safest way to fit in was to teach ourselves to be beige: like what everybody else likes, do what everybody else does and just fit in, but that doesn't work for us now.
Of course beige is fine in the real world, if you’re and accountant or banker, lawyer or doctor. You might have your little quirks, but if you’ve got no individuality, you’re probably serving the system better than if you did. But that’s where being an actor is different. While other jobs serve the system, actors are here to serve humanity. To show us where we came from, who we are and what we have the potential to be. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve experienced a moment watching a film where a character has reached into the very core of your authentic self and showed it you, just for a moment… and in that moment, as you recognised yourself in someone else, no matter what was going on around you, or where you were in the world, you knew that you weren’t alone. That’s when beige becomes a big problem.
Nobody wants to recognise the beige parts of themselves on screen. They want to see the outliers, the people who have gone to the poles of their personality, that are still inherently universal in everyone, but have been stifled by years and years of trying to fit in. (Sorry folks, the social norms don’t end after high school.) Everyone denies the weird parts of themselves, the ugly parts, the flawed parts in favour of something more palatable. That's why you see these 'flawless' Instagram models posting weird "be you" inspo photos where it's like: be 'you' as long as 'you' wears Lulu Lemon yoga pants, a Nike singlet and looks perfect after a 12km run. This article is here to tell you to go the other way. Treat social norms like the enemy and embrace the fact that your power lies in your uniqueness, in your vulnerability and your individuality. Because everyone else is hiding it, so if you have the courage to show it, to stand, metaphorically naked in front of everyone and expose yourself, they'll thank you a million times over, because you’ll have given them the chance to recognise the person that they always wanted to be and always believed they could be, but never believed anybody would let them be, until they saw you do it!
If you’ve been to drama school you’re probably even worse. It’s treason yes, but something needs to be said. Two and half years are spent boiling you down, stripping away apparently “bad” habits in order to form a blank canvas, where you’re supposed to be able to go anywhere from. I suggest you go straight back to where you came from. Because again your uniqueness is the thing that will get you work. Know thyself! We’re a million different people from one moment to another, from one relationship to another. Being yourself isn’t limiting, it’s limitless. The best vessel for your character is you. Even Meryl Streep says: "It’s about finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there."
I have a friend who’s an incredibly talented actress with brilliant comic timing, who I shared this idea with a month ago and her response was golden. This actress is a big fan of heavy metal and she told me a story of getting turned down four or five times by a prominent Sydney casting director. Each time she would do what she thought was expected of her. Put on a full face of makeup, do her hair, put on her Burberry trench, look picturesque, go to the audition and nail the sides. After the fifth time the casting director said something that she would never forget. “Look It’s okay. You’re just always a little beige.” That was like a punch in the mouth. Where had she gone wrong? She knew that she could act but the product she was delivering wasn’t being received the way she wanted it to at all. A workshop came up and another chance presented itself to work in front of the CD. This time she wouldn’t be misled. This time she would unleash her individuality. She wore a loose fitting Led Zeppelin singlet and skinny jeans, her hair was up and practical and she had the air of a woman who owned herself and would tell you to take it or leave it, if push came to shove. Beige no more, now there were fireworks. Two weeks later she was called in for another audition and she booked that very gig.
So why do we do it to ourselves? Don’t let these opportunities pass you by. Stop being who you think everyone wants you to be and have the courage to be yourself. Dive into what makes you weird, swim in your passions, be immersed by your curiosity, explore the depths of what society perceive as your faults and embrace the things that make you different. Make yourself a vivid, blinding colour. Fitting in will get you nowhere in acting. Standing out will. No five line character brief, one page biography or explanation of a character will ever be as interesting as you. The limitless you, with your experiences, memories, relationships, body and brain, you are what we want to see. Marry that with the character and you'll have something unforgettable! So don’t try be cool. Don’t try to be beige. Try to be you.
Film and Theatre Actor Based in Sydney. Creator of Script Gym. Lover of Stories.