What's Your Superpower?
Here are some of the things that have been said to me in my life, both in my acting career and just as a human being, in various situations:
"You're too smart."
"You use big words."
"You could lose ten pounds."
"Your jawline is too square."
"I like brunettes better."
"Blonde hair is not trendy."
"Your hair is too thick."
"Your hair is too long."
"You almost didn't get cast because of your problem." (meaning my breasts)
"Your dimples are too prominent."
"You're a nerd."
"You're too old."
"You're too young."
"Women aren't funny."
>pig noises< (yes, that really happened in an acting class...)
Each time one of these traits - the traits that defined me - was pointed out in a derogatory way, I felt a deep sense of shame. There must have been something wrong with me. I hid or covered them up at various times in my life. I pretended to be dumb. I yo-yo dieted. I fiddled with my hair, trying to find a style that would please other people. I pretended to be cool. I lied about my age. Sometimes I even stopped smiling so the dimples wouldn't show.
And then something miraculous happened.
I reframed what others had previously denigrated as faults into the very things that make me special - in other words - my Superpowers.
I am blonde, am not thin, am smart, I love my dimples and my square jawline. I have a wicked sense of humor. I'm sometimes profane. I am a nerd. And I have no control over when my parents had sex so I am as old as I am. Rather than being ashamed, I lean into all of them.
Why the shift? Getting older helped. Age has a way of racking focus on what's important in life and idiot's opinions didn't make the cut.
Being inspired by other actors helped too. What do you think these people might have heard - at least about their physical appearance - at the beginning of their careers: Peter Dinklage? Lena Dunham? Octavia Spencer? Tina Fey? Chrissy Metz? Forest Whitaker? Gwendoline Christie? Barbra Streisand? None of them fit the typical mold of TV or movie star, which is exactly what made them special.
Changing times and tastes have helped as well. When I first started my career, there's no doubt the definition of beauty - and therefore casting opportunities - was very narrow, especially for women. To be considered for a leading lady role, you couldn't be too short or too tall, but just tall enough. You had to be rail thin, preferably with bright white teeth and a boob job. And there were few acting opportunities for different ethnicities - they were mainly shuffled into small, supporting roles.
Now more than ever before there is a mandate for diversity in Hollywood. Of course, there will always be demand for beautiful people but there's also room for every size, shape, age and ethnicity. Actors with disabilities are being considered for roles more than ever before. So if you are imperfect, this could be your time to capitalize on it.
I have this conversation with my students a lot. That thing that you were born with, the thing that sets you apart, that you may be carrying shame about, may be your Superpower. You may at one time have perceived it as negative, but it could be your gift. This may be a physical trait: a gap between your teeth, unusual height, bright red hair. Maybe you have a scar in a prominent place - I'm thinking of Joaquin Phoenix's lip, the Swedish actress Sofia Helin who's face is scarred from an accident in her early twenties, Michael K. Williams with a hypotenuse-like scar running diagonally across his face.
It could be your essence: Your shyness. Your sense of humor. Your spirituality. Your intelligence. Your vulnerability. Your nerdiness. Your asshole-ness.
It could be your roots: Southern, Midwestern, Cajun or other regional roots. Your ethnicity. Your blend of national backgrounds.
It could be your interests: Your super fan obsessions. Your master chef abilities. Your love of books. Your stamp collection. Crossword puzzles.
It could be your job or schooling: Your law enforcement or military background. Your chemistry degree. Your entrepreneurship.
It could also be: Whatever you think makes you weird.
Do this today: make a list of all of your traits, starting with physical - your eye color, height, etc. Make note of your physical traits that people have commented on, now and in the past, including the ones you thought were not so flattering especially if they're still relevant, i.e. "You're so tall!" "You have resting bitch face!" That's very important.
Make a list of personality traits that you're aware of and traits that other people have commented on, including the ones you thought were not so flattering, i.e. I have a good sense of humor, I talk too much, I'm loud, I have a 140 IQ, I'm very expressive, etc. Make sure you include some of your darker traits - I get hangry, I'm impatient, I'm jealous, etc.
Make a list of those weird things and interests that you might not openly share, i.e. I love movies about robots, I sing in the shower, I make up songs about my cat, I secretly eat Peanut M&M's at 2am, I'm a crossword puzzle nerd, etc.
Make a list of things about you that you're proud of that are non-acting related, like raising kids, getting your scuba certification, your past professions, your fluency in other languages. This can also include your roots, your unusual skills (I make the best Mai Tai, etc.) or anything else you think makes you unique.
Now take the most prominent one from each list and write your Superpower statement. This can be one or more sentences: "I am a green-eyed proud mom from the Midwest with a great sense of humor who sometimes talks too much and has a collection of potato chips that look like faces. I also am an asshole when I lose at poker."
What does all of this do? First and foremost, it's about becoming aware of who you are and owning it - the good and the so-called bad. This is invaluable for an actor - it becomes your brand, the parts of you that you lean into, some of which are obvious (green eyes) some are a secret (potato chips) and some that we don't expect (that asshole at poker thing.) That's a character I want to see.
Can this list change? Of course. You can go back and change it now or whenever you want. You can lean into one today (Midwest mom) and another tomorrow (talking too much.) You can go back to your main list and depending on your life at that time, add and subtract. Think of the list as your arsenal of what types of different qualities and essences you can bring to an audition on any given day.
Actors so often feel powerless and we feel that our lives, both professional and personal, are being controlled by other people - casting directors, agents, producers, family. Reframe that now. You do have power - you have your Superpowers. You've always had them.
Now's the time to use them.
Copyright 2020 Andi Matheny - Andi M. Inc.