Professional Actor/ATC Marketing Coordinator, Ulises Acosta, recounts the six rules he followed to fight off self-doubt while filming an episode of Empire on FOX.
Most of us actors aspire to make it on the set of that show we really like, or on stage for that musical that plucks at our heartstrings. It’s why we spend hours in class honing our craft, why we attend audition after audition, and why we sometimes have multiple day jobs just to support our passion for this art form. Yet, despite how long an actor may train and work as a professional, self-doubt is still a factor that is difficult to manage.
Exactly one month ago I filmed an episode for Empire on FOX, and I found myself doubting everything. I arrived on set, was warmly welcomed by the cast and crew, and instantly felt as though the casting department had made a terrible mistake in hiring me. Self-doubt had started to creep in. Thankfully I was able to move past it, but with that in mind I decided to write out 6 quick and simple rules to fight off self-doubt, that any actor can follow with ease (novice to seasoned veteran).
…(For purposes of this post, we’ll consider “on set” to mean the same as “on stage”)…
1.) Get a good nights rest before.
Most of us actors live busy lives with school, work, family, and other responsibilities/obligations. If it’s the night before your first day on set, don’t fall into the “one more hour and then I’ll go to sleep” trap. You don’t want to show up to set with no energy, bags under your eyes, a body that is physical tired, and a mind that’s still sleep hazy. Do yourself a favor and get that rest! You’ll be much more confident in yourself if you’re charged and energized.
2.) Be on time.
Wanna leave a bad impression and really kick off the self-doubt parade? Show up late and hold up the production. This step is the trickiest one to manage because sometimes travel is out of your control. However, if you take that into account, it presents no problem. Make sure you leave your house with enough time predicting for traffic, and any potential accidents or other hold-ups that may hinder your call time arrival. And remember: early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable! I like to arrive at least 30 minutes before I was told to be on set. That way I get a chance to cool down before having to jump right into work.
3.) Channel your audition/callback.
You got the part because what you did in the audition room worked. What they saw in you, is what they wanted for the character. That means once you’re on set, you don’t have to do much except channel what you did in your audition/callback. Be open and ready for changes and notes, but know that you don’t have to come in and try to prove your character to anyone because everyone in the room, already believes you’re that character.
4.) Familiarize yourself with the material.
Run through the lines! In most cases you will have gotten your script beforehand and will have had time to rehearse your lines. If that’s not the case, don’t panic. Things change all the time in the industry, and the writers may alter scenes the morning of just before you arrived on set. Read and reread the new lines, trust that the production team will be flexible with you, and see step 3.
5.) Breathe & stay focused.
One of the hardest things to do on set is remain focused. There’s always something going on, and you’re always getting moved from one room to another, being told to “hurry up and wait”. If you’re doing a big scene, there will surely be lots of extras and the place can get very chatty and very loud quickly. It’s fun and encouraged to get to know the people on set with you, but know when to limit yourself. Breathe, find your center, and focus back into your character. The last thing you want to do is waste production time trying to get back into character because you lost it while you were talking to the extras about your weekend plans. Not good.
6.) Ask questions & thank everyone.
Never be afraid to ask questions. As soon as you step foot on set, you instantly become part of the creative team building a piece together. If something about that piece doesn’t make sense to you, it is well within your right to ask a question. There is never a such thing as a stupid question and you can never ask too many. In the same vein as that, saying “Thank You!” is also just as important. Everyone remembers a great actor, but everyone loves a nice person. You don’t have to be best friends with everyone by the end of the day, but being cordial with everyone is key. In this industry talent only gets you so far; the rest of it is based on how agreeable you are to people, and whether or not production crews find you both professional and enjoyable to work with.
Doubt is something that can never fully be exterminated, unfortunately we humans are our own worst critics. With practice and reflection, however, it is something that can be managed. Remember these steps next time you’re on set, or even before your head to an audition, they apply in that sense too. Above all, when you start to doubt yourself too much, remember that this is just acting, we’re not doing brain surgery. You got it!
By Professional Actor/ATC Marketing Coordinator, Ulises Acosta