Why Actors Shouldn't Feel Guilty About Watching 'Trash TV'
Lauren McCrostie talks about why "trash TV" shouldn't be off-limits for "real" actors...
As an actor you can draw inspiration, learning and grounding from everywhere.
Okay, I have a confession to make. I love Dinner Date. On a night in I find it the perfect aperitif after a heavy film. It’s a perfect pick me up, always varied and always an easy watch. It makes me chuckle and surprises me in equal measure, and whenever I see a new episode or celebrity special, I buzz with excitement for the 45 minutes ahead of me.
So, considering I seem to like it so much, why am I reluctant to ‘confess’ my appreciation for the show? It’s hugely successful, with a dedicated, loyal following and has run for over 8 years with 10 series. But truth be told, I felt slightly embarrassed to reveal that I enjoy the programme. I felt that, as an actor, I had to choose my time with TV carefully. I could and should only be making decisions based on what would help me as an actor.
Unlike other friends or family members, I would make sure to align my TV/film choices with those that could expand my knowledge; learning the work of new directors and actors as well as educating myself on ones that have passed. Not only did this make me feel like TV, stage and screen were solely a device of ‘schooling’ for me, but it acted as a sort of punishment too, causing self-doubt and discouragement. And although these shows and performances and pieces of work should of course all be watched and prized… You are allowed to watch the ‘trashy’ bits too. There is importance in watching both the critically acclaimed work in hand with the “low brow”, light hearted ones.
Give yourself a chance to ‘switch off’
Being a working actor is as straining and as demanding as any other job. So, coming home to revise the complete works of Daniel Day-Lewis, forcing yourself to learn from the actor who won the part you’d auditioned for, or watching another dense Scandi noir (no disrespect here - I loved everything about ‘The Bridge’) can be quite a dismantling end to an evening.
Deciding to watch these pieces can also fuel the belief that you are not yet good enough. The choices are loaded with a deeper meaning and an ulterior motive. You can feel pressure to view solely the Oscars nods and critically acclaimed series with intent and this intensity can make it all a really exhausting affair.
But if you were to look at non-actor friends or family members, they use TV, film, and theatre as a form of escapism. Yes, they too may seek greater insight into alternative life from performances, but this media often acts as a distraction from the world. And as actors, we should mimic this. We should allow ourselves to enjoy the act of watching TV and not see it as ‘homework’. It can become disheartening and a chore, which can result in it losing any appeal for us.
Use the activity as both tuition and downtime. Give yourself a chance to watch something completely unfamiliar to you - requiring minimal concentration or which gives you the ability to switch off.
Expand your perspective
Looking at all different types of productions gives you a broader view and understanding of the world and the people in it. Therefore, only giving gaze to the most “valued” work in screen and stage limits your perspective as a performer - something we all should avoid. We should be as open as possible.
If we are to correctly reflect society and all the types of people that encompass it accurately, then we must look at an array of productions. We will instantly be introduced to different characters, lives and issues that we may not otherwise have been witness to. Indeed, ‘trashy TV’ can actually provide equal schooling as award-winning films. The world is full of variety of people, places and things - some of which may not typically be explored through the typical.
For example, due to the nature of ‘Dinner Date’, many of the contestants we meet are wonderfully elaborate personalities and have acted as a great stimulus for characters for me. You can relish in the knowledge that you are simultaneously gaining a deeper awareness of all that surrounds you while enjoying TV.
Awarding yourself the opportunity to see what you like to - and not what you may feel pressured to - will make you much happier too. Rejoice in the reality TV-based content, the dilemmatic dating shows and the old school cartoon animations! Plays are written; programmes are cast, and films are shot, all so that people can enjoy them. Of course, one can enjoy observing the timeless classics and period dramas but if you take pleasure in also watching the ‘trashy TV’ pieces too, then do this too!
Using it with such formality and only as a tool of ‘work’ can stunt motivation, understanding and creativity as a performer. Work on picking your programme based on what you need at that time. Balance the all-time greats with the zone-out soap opera. Of course, studying the films of Streep or Peck has significant benefit and enjoyment. But do not restrict your eyes from Bridesmaids or episodes of ‘I’m a Celeb’ if you enjoy them too.
Indeed, the highbrow pieces seemed the only relevant ones worth watching for me. But of course, this is a lie. It is not solely limited to the award-winning flicks and episodic thrillers. As an actor you can draw inspiration, learning and grounding from everywhere. I hope that I have worked to dismiss the perception that as actors we must only watch principled period dramas. And have persuaded you that you are, of course, completely fine in continuing to watch and enjoy those ‘guilty pleasures’ you've been hiding from public knowledge.