The Power of ‘NO’ aka “To thine own self be true…”
Okay, let’s be honest, as Actors, we have very little control over our fate. Our futures rests in the tightly clasped hands sitting on the other side of the table. We may walk into the room; wow the Producers and Director, leave them weeping tears of pure joy and we still might not book the role. It’s out of our control. We may be too tall, too bald, not on the Network’s radar, too this or too that. Our resume may blow everyone else’s away and yet; we still might not book. Sad, but true. We operate in a different reality from the rest of the world. If you applied for a job as a Bank Manager and had the resume to back it up, getting hired would not come down to how blonde your hair is or if you were too over exposed from that Car Commercial you shot last year.
So what kind of control do we have? Besides, being ready at a moment’s notice to “Dance for Grandma” – In my humble opinion, we have the power of NO. Yep, it’s only two letters long, but that tiny word packs a punch.
Alright, cards on the table time; full disclosure. I’m not rich or famous. I’m mostly recognized these days as being “that guy, from that thing” – I’m in the trenches. Could that all change tomorrow for the better? Damn straight! That’s what keeps me going. It’s what keeps us all going. Hell, my dear, late friend Kathy Joosten didn’t even start acting until she was 42 – she left this earth with two Emmy Awards under her arms. And she did it on her terms. So again, how do we build a career on our terms, when so much is left to the whims of strangers?
We say NO. I’ll put it to you this way – we all have our lines in the sand that we set out to never cross. Things that makes us feel like we’re compromising or going against everything we believe in. Or maybe we just don’t trust the Director who is promising us fame and fortune if we only… this one time… did this or that onscreen… Maybe for you that means doing a nude scene, or using drugs or a gun onscreen. There are a million different scenarios and one simple way to avoid them all. Say No. It’s a personal choice, based on our belief system. By the way, I’ve done all of the above onscreen – yep somebody actually paid to see this middle-aged ass in a g-string. I digress. It’s often out of the basic need to survive and pay rent that we bend, yield – rub out that aforementioned line. We take a deep breath, do it and get paid. But at what cost? Sure, we covered the bills, but now we’ve got a skeleton in our closet.
Remember you always have the power to say NO. Your agent or manager may initially disagree with your decision, but if they ultimately don’t support you, it may be time to look for a new agent… I say NO to one thing on a consistent basis. I will never be involved in a project that makes fun of individuals with a disability. The word ‘retard’ makes my flesh crawl and ears bleed. I wish Hollywood would stop marginalizing this segment of our society. It’s about respect. FACT: The Disability Community is the largest minority in the world. And yet we still find reason to belittle, shame and devalue these individuals. Okay, I’m not so naïve to think that by me simply saying ‘No’ this is going to change things. Don Quixote had an easier time fighting Windmills. But it does give me the control to shape the kind of career I will never have to apologize for – Build the kind of career you want. On your terms.
WARNING: This isn’t a license to go crazy. Don’t become a Diva and say No to everything just to test your power. Be specific and only use it when it truly means something.
Also be warned; at first, casting may think you saying NO is some sort of ploy for more money or better billing; but in time, they’ll recognize it’s about you building the kind of career that many might envy.
An actor’s life is not always the one of celebrity and opulence. It’s often one of disillusionment, rejection and insecurity – that on a dime could change for the better tomorrow. I say, in the meantime, take back the control you do have and be brave. You may be poor… but you’ll also be brave.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else, is the greatest accomplishment.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Actor/Writer Cullen Douglas is perhaps most recognized for his recurring roles on Agents of SHIELD, Scandal and Criminal Minds. As a Writer, he was the first recipient of the Humanitas Prize’s New Voices Initiative. He next co-stars alongside James Remar, Lea Thompson and Allison Paige in the film, The Dog Lover, in theatres nationwide on July 8th. You can follow Cullen on Twitter @cullendoug