Richard Sutton has been acting for 20 years and has had his fair share of career envy. Here he shares some techniques for how he deals with moments of jealousy.
Do you remember the Roadrunner cartoons? A scabby coyote feverishly trying to kill a cocky little emu thing in all manner of sadistic and imaginative ways? What was his motive do you think? I guess he just wanted a snack. Or perhaps the boastful little bird had just “Beep! Beeped!” its way into five lines on Bridgerton and thus swiped the role from our poor, mangy little friend. The wily ol’ dog is insanely jealous. He’s the green-eyed monster and my God I know how he feels.
Of course, I wouldn’t wish harm on anyone but I often think back to those cartoons when I see an actor on social media hash-bragging about “Getting back to work.” I do try not to fantasise about dropping a grand piano from the top of a cliff onto their trailer… but I don’t always succeed.
My personal rock bottom was reading one morning how a contemporary had just been offered a role at the Royal Shakespeare Company. In full Withnail mode, I began roaring something about the only RSC he’s good for is Ready Steady Cook before literally tearing his picture from paper and eating it. That’s right – I ate it! True story.
But don’t we all feel it? Especially now as we wipe away the tiers of lockdown. As much as I love hearing from friends who are slowly beginning to get quaran-seen by everybody from Nina Gold to Joel Silver, I do often feel like everyone’s got an invite to a party that I didn’t know was happening.
Now just imagine how that energy could be used positively instead. Here are some techniques I’ve learnt over the years that might help. Try them next time you find yourself painting out the teeth on a rival’s headshot outside a West End theatre (don’t judge me, it was a low point):
1. You can only control the controllable
You’ve heard this one before, right? But there’s a reason for that: It’s true. There are a myriad of possible factors why Thingy Double-Barrell is filming for HBO and you’re temping for B&Q but most of these reasons are out of your control. The minute you begin telling yourself that, it begins to get easier.
Try to reframe what succeeding looks like to you. Tell yourself the story that ‘making it’ is not all about dazzle and dough. It’s about creating a strong reputation for yourself in the industry. It’s about nurturing solid relationships, being kind, generous, proactive and giving your best in every casting, set-up and dress run. That’s success.
2. Stop comparing
I know that this is easier said than done but try to focus on your own goals before looking at others. Refrain from looking left and right on the starting line at those who are all seemingly fitter and faster than you. You will already have lost the race if you do that. Take no notice of them. Put those blinkers on, thumb in those earplugs and concentrate on the horizon. Concern yourself solely with your own story.
3. Be gracious
Apparently, the actress Lisa Kudrow was originally cast in the pilot of the sitcom Frasier. For some reason, the test audience didn’t take to her and she was let go shortly afterwards. She must’ve been devastated however she took all that inevitable pain and threw it away. She contacted her replacement and passed on kindness and her best wishes. Pure class. Instead of letting someone else’s success get her down, she used it as an inspiration to be better. A few weeks later she won the role of Phoebe in a small show called Friends which brought her an Emmy, a decade of work and lifelong fame.
4. Remember that you are more than the sum of your parts
Don’t only define yourself as an actor. Remember that you are also a daughter, a brother, a dad, a friend but most of all you are a person. Don’t forget to take a breath, smell the roses and have a life. Remind yourself that you have already achieved so much. You’ve taken a huge risk by choosing to follow your dream when most people don’t even try.
There’s often no rhyme or reason as to why she’s in the John Lewis advert and you’re just in John Lewis or that he’s giving his all in Hamlet and you’re giving your elf in Hamleys. You might very well have a voice like a songbird and the presence of Idris Elba, but the world may never know because, unfortunately, the industry just doesn’t work like that.
The business can choose whoever it wants, whenever it wants to. It was ever thus and the sooner you make peace with that, the better. If you choose to remove all those bitter thoughts, you’ll be surprised at just how much space you’ve made for happier ones.
But here’s the best bit: no-one is forcing you to stay in the profession. At any time you can take your actory scarf, your box of Vocalzone and pirouette off out of here.
But you won’t, because you can’t, because you love it.
It’s a job like no other. A rollercoaster of endless highs and bottomless merlots and no matter how well he or she is doing over there, you’re still getting out of bed on a Monday and giving it a go. That’s enough. And in fact, that might actually make others envious of you. I don’t blame them – you’re following your dream.
Try to refocus your energy, flip your thinking and concentrate on yourself. I hope that by doing so it helps you feel like a better actor, a stronger person, and gives you the belief to bag that job… unless of course, we’re up for the same role, in which case you’d better look out for any low flying Steinways! Joking! (Not joking).
Richard Sutton has been a professional actor for 20 years. His credits include ‘Line of Duty’, ‘The Crown’, ‘EastEnders’, ‘Emmerdale’, ‘Sherlock’, ‘Humans’, ‘Casualty’ and AMC’s ‘The Terror’ showing on BBC2 and iPlayer this Spring. His most recent work was in the West End and number one tour production of ‘Ghost Stories’, which was cut short sadly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Richard is on Twitter @richsuttonactor and Instagram @richardsuttonactor.
Headshot by Daniel Sutka.
Main image by Tommaso79.