Tracy Letts on Turning Down Acting Work: “It’s not worth doing work that I’m not proud of”

Actor Tracy Letts

“I’m in a weird and enviable position in that, because of my playwriting, I don’t have to do anything as an actor I don’t want to do.” – Tracy Letts

Writer/actor Tracy Letts has done an increasing number of acting roles in recent years — he appeared in five films and the TV series Divorce in 2016 alone. However, the Pulitzer Prize-winner is careful to point out that he isn’t just accepting more roles because he’s getting more offers. In fact, as he tells Interview magazine, when it comes to accepting a role it has less to do with the number of offers — it has to do with what he actually feels passionate about doing.

Letts reveals that despite his increased appearance on movie screens that he only acts in projects that he truly wants to do. He explains, “I don’t often get sent scripts as offers. It’s been a while since I auditioned for anything. I’m in a weird and enviable position in that, because of my playwriting, I don’t have to do anything as an actor I don’t want to do. And there’s not that much that I want to do; it’s not like I look around at all the movies and TV shows and say, ‘Oh, I wish I was in that.’ I usually feel like, ‘I’m glad I’m not in that thing.’ Because even if it’s good, it looks like hard work. [laughs] My friend, Anna Shapiro, the artistic director of my theater [the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago], says, ‘You define yourself as an artist by the jobs you turn down.’ I think that might not just be true as an artist, but for people. There’s probably something to that. I’ve never regretted turning down a job, even when it’s turned out to be a great job and the person’s won awards.”

To be fair, Letts explains that turning down roles doesn’t reflect his financial situation — it has more to do with his desire to do the work. He explains, “It pre-supposes a certain financial comfort, which I haven’t always enjoyed. I didn’t make any real money until I was in my forties, when August: Osage County hit, so there’s always been economic considerations to work prior to that. But I think some of it is just a mindset, too, where you sit there and you say, ‘It’s not worth it. It’s not worth the agonizing, it’s not worth sleepless nights, it’s not worth doing work that I’m not proud of.’ Ultimately, economic considerations be damned if it’s really not worth it. “

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