This Is What It’s Really Like to Be a Working Actor

Written by | Books, Entertainment, Screen, Stage

A Star on Stage

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When Metrosource said I could invite any famous writer I wanted to interview me about my new book, Working Actor, the choice was obvious: I asked myself.

Your Biggest Fan

What an honor to be interviewing you! I’m a huge fan of your work!
Back atcha. You really know your way around a metaphor. And you’re super cute!

Thank you. Your book is really funny, but also smart and very honest about what it takes to be a professional actor. What inspired you to write it?
Anger. Anger is what motivates me to do most things. Last year, I was doing a play in a small theatre in New York. One night, a woman who knew me from the TV show Boston Legal approached me for an autograph. As I was signing her program, she frowned in a concerned sort of way and asked, “What happened to you?” It was as if doing this play was some humiliating step down for me. It made me think a lot about what the definition of success is for creative people, and how important it is for newcomers to understand that, as exciting as the business is, it’s also highly unpredictable. You’ll never be happy or make any money until you genuinely embrace that fact.

It’s a Living

Have you always made a living in show business?
Not at first, but I figured it out. It largely had to do with learning to say “yes” to every opportunity that came my way. Can you sing? “Yes!” Can you ride a horse? “Sure!” Can you write a script? “Absolutely! I was often terrified, but I always told myself I could do it. And I did.

In addition to offering young actors numerous game plans to gain entry, you also give them some guidance about how to maintain their careers once they’ve launched.
Unlike other businesses, we literally ARE the product. You’ve got to keep your actor head in the game, while remembering that your regular human self is just as important. It takes a lot of self-awareness to manage that.

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Under the Covers

The tone of the book is very personal; almost conversational. Was that a choice?
Very much so. I’m not speaking from the mountaintop here; my advice comes directly from the battlefield. When I teach or mentor, I’m very quick to say “There is truth in what I’m going to tell you, but your experience will vary. Everyone’s path is totally unique.”

I noticed that while you address a lot of practical subjects like agents, auditions and which coast is a better fit for your talents, you also write about topics I’ve rarely seen mentioned before like networking, relationships and even jealousy.
There’s a lot to learn. You’ll need a village, and within that village you’ll have friends, business partners, competitors and a few people you sincerely wish would drop dead. One of the most vitriolic diseases you can contract is jealousy. It can lodge in the back of your consciousness and literally derail you for years. Never compare yourself to others. If you’re really an artist, then go find some interesting work to do, and don’t look over your shoulder.

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The Write Stuff

I liked the way your book is structured; especially your use of stories. They’re funny, yet very educational.
Thank you. Humiliation teaches you a lot. The book is basically divided into three sections. (A) is figuring out who you are. (B) is learning how to sell that to the industry. (C) is discovering how to stay happy and interested in your career until you retire. Or die.

What was the original title of the book?
Originally, it was called Overnight Sensation: How to be Moderately Successful in Show Business in Just 35 Short Years. Sadly, that title did not contain a single phrase that would show up in a Google search, so I was encouraged by the publisher to change it. They were right. Working Actor is much better.

David Dean Bottrell with fellow Working Actor Alfred Molina

David Dean Bottrell with fellow working actor Alfred Molina

Who Am I Anyway?

What is your definition of a “working actor”?
The easy answer is “any actor who’s getting paid.” But I happen to believe that any actor who genuinely loves the craft; who’s truly striving to get better and can’t wait to find their next role (paid or unpaid) is a working actor. By this I mean they are artists on a mission to put a little light into the world. Anyone who’s out there working at it, is, in my book, a working actor.

David Dean Bottrell is a veteran actor, whom you may have seen on shows such as Modern Family, Mad Men and Boston Legal. Now he’s also the author of Working Actor: Breaking in, Making a Living and Making a Life in the Fabulous Trenches of Show Business published by Ten Speed Press. Visit WorkingActorTheBook.com to learn more – including what Margo Martindale had to say about it!

Want more from David Dean Bottrell? Check out some of the great personal essays he’s written for Metrosource.

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Last modified: July 10, 2019