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Building my Image as an Actor

Posted by on March 23, 2016

There’s a lot to discuss when it comes to actor image, but I’m going to start with an aspect that I’ve been debating about sharing publicly because I know weight loss can be a sensitive issue for some people. I also feel a bit guilty about my motivations, because I genuinely believe someone’s weight is not a reflection on someone’s beauty, or what kind of person they are.

But when you’re pursuing acting, and you see so many roles available to audition for “thin to average” women, it makes you realise you’re really limiting yourself in what you can apply for.

I didn’t want to be the person who tried to lose weight to have better opportunities like that, but deep down I think I was more scared that I wasn’t capable of it. I thought I’d already cut out the things I really shouldn’t be eating, I was already walking a lot, and I was still gaining weight. Admittedly I also ate out a decent amount, and portion sizes in the US are atrocious.

Since I made the decision about 7-8 weeks ago (I can’t believe it’s been that long already) to just eat smaller portions of things, so I was estimating a rough low calorie intake, I’ve lost about 17 pounds, and I’m now back down to about what I was when I was sick and not eating much when I first moved to Oakland.

There’s a part of me that wonders if I should stop submitting myself to acting roles until I’ve actually reached my goal. You have to list your weight on an actor’s resume, and I’ve been updating mine roughly once a week. I’m already down 2 pounds on what I last updated it as. I’m pretty confident I’ll actually reach my goals now that it’s been this long, and what I eat, the portion sizes, is pretty much habitual now.

Of course, weight is not the only aspect of an actor’s image under my control. Recently, I’ve been reading Self-Management for Actors by Bonnie Gillespie, a book that was recommended to me by Bay Area actor Scott Ragle, who I was referred to by Meisner acting teacher Rachael Adler. Though I’m only a few chapters into the book so far, I’m learning about just how important it is to build your “brand,” or in other words, figuring out how you can help casting directors hire you by playing into the type of person you are. Figuring out what types of roles you can get based on your personality, and what you look like.

My look when I went for the role of a sarcastic, edgy woman

My look when I went for the role of a sarcastic, edgy woman

This is a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot. In part because I do not have naturally coloured hair. I realise that an ever-fading brightly-coloured turquoise and purple dye job is not the most castable image to have, but it is representative of me, because it’s the hair I feel comfortable with. I tried to go back to my natural brown for a couple of years or so in late 2011-2013, but I didn’t feel like myself. I have been debating the necessity of trying that again, though, for casting purposes. Perhaps I will, sometime after I’ve shot the short film I was cast in when I auditioned with my unnatural hair. Because, though I feel myself best with such hair, I don’t think my personality actually matches whatever the stereotype would be for a person with such hair, unless I only want to play manic pixie dream girls (which I know I could play, given how many men in my past have pretty much delegated that as my relationship to them). I got really lucky with the short film I was cast in, since it’s much closer to my personality and lived experience, and I’m granted a lot of artistic freedom with the character.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about what age range I can play. When I’ve been to workshops with people who didn’t know me, I have been consistently told I looked much younger than my actual age, with people telling me I could probably play as young as eighteen. It’s a difficult area for me to figure out and I’m sure my hair plays a role in that youthful look, because I have certainly seen bright hair colours more regularly on college kids at UC Berkeley than I do anywhere else, except perhaps while travelling on BART, but most of those people are probably still in their twenties. Because of this, though, I feel a push to not be public about my actual age, because I wonder if it would risk my ability to be cast in roles of that younger age group. I don’t feel the same as I did when I was in university more years ago than I’d like to admit. But as my improv coach Marcus Sams said when I discussed this with him, that just means I can bring more depth to such a character than someone who actually is that age.

Another consideration I need to make is what genres I could do well in, based on my look, personality, and experience. I feel like I’m more consistently given comedy scripts to read because of my improv background, though it may also be my look. I think my emotional range with my acting ability would allow me to bring a lot of depth to other genres, though I do fancy myself being part of romantic comedies. When discussing this with one of my younger male improv troupemates, I had to acknowledge that if I am cast in such a role, it may mean being a romantic partner in scenes with a man who is younger than me, which amuses me so much considering it’s usually men in Hollywood who get away with being with much younger women in films. But then I learned Olivia Newton John is older than John Travolta, and that worked out fine in Grease. Perhaps it is time I just embrace my youthful look. I already don’t submit to roles for mothers, even though I am one, because I know my image does not fit with what anyone would consider casting as a mother. I probably wouldn’t be cast as one even if I had my natural brown hair.

Volunteering at the Bay Area Film Mixer, March 15, 2016. Photo by Colin Hussey.

Volunteering at the Bay Area Film Mixer, March 15, 2016. Photo by Colin Hussey.

But I don’t think physical appearance is all there is to building your image as an actor. The most important aspect of this, which I have built up over the past year or so, is reliability and commitment. Showing up with consistency is, I think, one of the best things you can do as an actor, when time is money. That, and passion and dedication to getting better. It’s these traits that I believe my improv coach Marcus Sams saw, and why I was invited to have a position in the Bay Area Film Mixer team. They’re expanding their events by adding a workshop series, the first of which will be on the 16th of April, and led by my brilliant acting teacher, Jeffrey Weissman (tickets available here). I’ll be the main person letting people into the workshops, and I’m really excited to be a part of it all.

I’m also going to be writing blog posts for the Bay Area Film Mixer, so in the future, you may get to hear about some of my experiences with what has helped me, lessons I’ve learned, and who to get training from over there more than here.

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Dominica has a strong interest in exploring diversity in media, seeing people subverting corporate control of creativity through crowdfunding and indie publishing, and spending as much time as she can travelling the world and discovering culture. This is what she most regularly blogs about. In her spare time, Dominica is primarily focused on long-form improv theatre, and writing and publishing speculative fiction. You can find links to some of her free and published stories and screenplays on her writing page, or check out her pirate time-travel novel Adrift. Though born and raised in Australia to American parents, Dominica lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, between 2008-2014, until she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. She also has a background in web programming, filmmaking, and stand-up comedy. For more information, check out her about page, or any of the specific pages about her various creative pursuits in the links at the top of the page.

2 Responses to Building my Image as an Actor

  1. Kaye

    Good blog Dom! Though I agree totally with you about a person not being judged by their weight, I did think you looked especially good when we skyped last week – maybe the weight loss? Also, it’s healthier of course – and yes, the US portions are ridiculously big.

    • Dominica Malcolm

      Thanks Kaye. Yeah, I’d say that’s probably what you noticed. Because it’s not just the size, but the effect it’s had on my confidence and ability to see myself as capable.

      I still eat out sometimes, but when I do, I specifically choose things that’ll be smaller, find someone to share it with, or bring some of it home.

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