Defining Your Own Success As An Actor

An actor's take on defining your own success as an actor...

By Talia Norrish

Actor friends, indulge me in a little round of Hot Seating?
When I say “successful actors”, who immediately springs to mind?

And if I asked, "what does their success look like?”, how would you answer? An Oscar? An income of £30 million per film? Always working with the top directors on stage and/or on screen?

Now if I was to ask, “What’s YOUR definition of success?”, would you defer to the answers and images above? And if so, would that genuinely be what lights the fire of your most authentic actor self?

I recently decided to sincerely ask myself this question and was surprised by the response I got. Surprised, a little guilty, but mostly relieved by the burden lifted from recognising a lot of that stuff I ‘assumed’ I should want as a successful actor, wasn’t actually what I truly wanted.

We’re all mates here, so I thought I’d share what I came up with. My (current) definition of success has been refined down to “moving towards mastery”, and consists of a number of external markers that indicate whether I’m staying on track. Spoiler alert: not one of them involves winning a shiny gold statue. I know right? Outrageous. Not that I would necessarily say no to one if it came my way, but acknowledging this has been so damn freeing.

External markers of “moving towards mastery”, for me, include:

  • Always, always, always learning. If success equals learning, then the great thing about this is I’m excused from the pressure of having to work with the ‘names’ or on the big, shiny productions to feel accomplished. I can literally learn from anyone and everything. Again, I’m not going to turn down these bigger opportunities, but equally, am not going to concern myself with how others perceive smaller-scale projects.
  • Cultivating a good reputation. I’m also free from having to be ‘famous’ or hold a blue tick next to my Twitter handle, if instead I strive to have people frequently say, “you know, I’d really like to work with you again.” Not necessarily because I proved to be the best thing since sliced bread, but because I was giving, hardworking, supportive, and courageous along the way. Because spending the past four weeks (or six months) with me hadn’t been a (complete) nightmare. Perhaps it had even been somewhat enjoyable and/or amusing.
  • Ultimate financial soundness. Do I need a million trillion pounds per film? Nope. But would I like to live a comfortable existence sustained by pursuing my craft? Be free from working a pay-the-bills job (or four) to get by? Have the ability to give generously to others? You betcha. If over time I am able to inch towards achieving this, landing impressive-sounding salaries - while obviously welcome - becomes irrelevant.

Of course, I completely recognise my values will inevitably change as I grow and adventure on in life. Hell, I might look at this list next year and be think, “oh twenty-three-year-old-Tahlia... You comical little human...” (Likely event). But that’s okay. We can only work with who we are today, and strive to live the most aligned lives from where we stand now. One must continually consult their compass to check they are still heading north.

My challenge to you is to take a moment to really discern what constitutes success for you as an actor. The idea here is to ensure you are living life by your design, not by someone else’s default.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to win an Oscar, getting £30 million per film, or always working with the best of the best, as long as that’s sincerely YOUR goal and not what the media/your mum/the postman says is correct. If it is, go for it wholeheartedly, knowing you have set your ladder against the wall you want to climb. Look I’ll confess, I’m striving to be an Oscar-nominated actor, but knowing I don’t have to actually win the damn thing not only makes it five times more likely, but just feels right. That’s my wall.

Back to our Hot Seating game: what does a thriving, harmonious industry look like to you?

For me, one where people are kicking butt on their own remarkably unique path with respect for everyone else doing the same - that sounds pretty damn good.

Tahlia Norrish is an Australian actor and writer currently based in London. A graduate of both The Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (Acting & Musical Theatre) and Rose Bruford College (BA (Hons) Acting), Tahlia continues to work across film, VO and theatre - when she isn't otherwise engaged devouring anime and/or peanut butter!

Image credit: Benkin Photography