My wife thinks I'm not a good actor

10/19/12: My Wife ThinkS I’m NOT A Good Actor

Jimmy CarraneI recently had an audition for NBC’s “Chicago Fire.” A security guard, a couple of lines. Pretty easy… or so I thought.

But, whenever I have an audition, I put so much pressure on myself that it’s no longer about getting the job, it’s about my self-worth. The sad thing is I have been going to audition after audition for more than 20 years — for commercials and industrials and bit parts in movies and TV shows — and 70 percent of the time when I leave an audition I sink down into a terrible pit, asking myself why I am even trying to be an actor.

At home, my wife, Lauren, ran the lines with me. It gets frustrating running the lines with her since she can memorize them after four or five readings, but I feel like I am back in high school cramming for a World History test.

We kept going over the script and each time, I wasn’t getting the reaction I wanted from her, so I kept losing confidence. Lately, I have been so needy in my acting and performing, looking for that outside validation from my wife, and when I don’t get it, I am more than willing to blow every opportunity that comes my way. They call that self-sabotage. I left the house feeling like I sucked.

When I walked into the room for the audition, the director and producer sat comfortably in the back on a leather sofa. I tried to find the girl who was going to read with me as someone handed me a tiny microphone to clip onto my shirt. Then I nervously began to read the script.

They let me read it three times, normally a good sign.

The second time, they said: “Don’t bend down when you deliver the lines.” The third time, they said: “This guy is business as usual.”

When I was finished, I felt like I might have a shot. I took direction pretty well and they had asked me to do it three times, which meant they must have seen something they liked.

As I was leaving the room, the casting director, whom I have known for years, followed me out and pulled me into vacant room and said in a very supportive tone:

“Do you know you are reading the first line?”

“Um… um…. No, I didn’t,” I said, feeling like a brick hit me in the head.

“I wanted you to know that. That is how you lost the last job.”

“Is that what I did in there?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. Obviously, if I had to ask her, I was doing it in there.

“What can I do next time?” I asked, still seeing stars from the brick.

“You know the script. Memorize the first line. Say it to yourself five times in the waiting room before you go in.”

Immediately, my brain went to three places:

1. Oh god, they will never call me in again.

2. I suck.

3. I want to kill myself.

But after a few minutes I realized that her feedback was actually incredibly helpful, and I felt hopefully that she’d taken the time to give me some constructive notes. Maybe it meant she thought I had potential.

The next night I went to couples therapy with Lauren, and I still had a bit of an emotional whiplash from the day before.

At the end of the session I said: “Maybe I am projecting this onto Lauren, but I don’t think Lauren thinks I am a good actor.”

There was a long pause, and I heard her squirm on the couch next to me.

“I have to be honest with you. I don’t think you are a good actor.”

Another brick. Then I went to those three places again. (Refer to above)

I felt angry. She was telling me this now, after we just got married?! She is my wife, she is supposed to support me. I was devastated. What was I supposed to do with this?

Later, I talked to my friend, Dan, who said, “I don’t know what this all means, but I bet it makes you a better actor.” Though I still felt angry about this, I had to agree with Dan.

After a week of wanting to kill my wife for saying this, I started realizing something: What I hated wasn’t her opinion about my acting, it was my opinion about my acting. I was the one who didn’t think I was very good. And though in perfect world your partner should think everything you do is Oscar-worthy, I would rather have her be honest with me than blow smoke up my ass.

And I started thinking about some of the lessons I’ve learned from other improvisers over the years. Jon Favreau used to be an improviser here in Chicago before he went on to become a hugely successful writer, director and actor. He wasn’t known as a great improviser, and he got lost at iO and couldn’t get any recognition at Second City or The Annoyance Theater. It was safe to say Jon wasn’t getting much validation from the improv community he wanted to to be part of, but he didn’t let that stop him. Favreau believed in himself. He believed he had talent. And he especially didn’t care what other people said. After he got a co-starring role in the film “Rudy,” he went out to LA and made things happen for himself, starting with writing and starring in “Swingers.” He surprised everyone, except himself.

When it comes to confidence, I am a work in progress. The one thing I am clear about is no one is going to have confidence in you, if you don’t have confidence in you.  If you believe you are good, they will believe you are good. Any TV and film jobs I have booked over the years all had the same thing in common: I went into the audition ready to play with confidence.

I am going to be blunt. Working on my confidence takes work. Constant work, hard work, and sometimes I will be able to get help form the people I am closest to and sometimes not. And the more confidence I get, the less I look for outside validation. Even from my wife.

22 replies
  1. Lara
    Lara says:

    Tough lessons. Thank you for your vulnerability — your willingness to be sucky and have people know. Honesty, reality, presence: these make not only great actors but even better mentors. Your path is a diverse and bright one, don’t settle for one thing, one opinion, one all-being end. When I fail miserably, one thing I must tell myself is at least I was ‘in it’. Can’t fail, can’t learn, can’t improve if we aren’t in it. Thanks for being in it, Jimmy.

  2. Ruth
    Ruth says:

    Great post. External vs. internal validation and maintaining self-esteem in the face of rejection led me to write a book, Find Your Inner Fabulous. The point: we’re all fabulous as we are. Right now.

  3. tehilla
    tehilla says:

    best blog entry ever. i so applaud and appreciate your honesty and candor. your students are very lucky. and so is your wife 🙂

  4. ChiChefJim
    ChiChefJim says:

    If you were to replace all of the acting references with cooking references, I would say; STOP WRITING ABOUT MY LIFE!!!

  5. Dave
    Dave says:

    Good start on the road to confidence by having the sheer guts and bravery to write and post this. Good for you, and I know it’s tough. I’ve just started re-connecting with theater, lately, and am just doing some community theater shows and improv for now, but have had loved ones tell me I’m not natural. And it’s the same thing. Bothers me, then I realize it wouldn’t if I felt good about what I was doing.
    It’s a tough blow to the confidence but good for you for recognizing your wife was trying to be honest, not hurtful. Even better for you to have such bravery in confronting the emotions instead of hiding from them. Not easy to do and should help you. Best of luck to you and keep striving to be your best. That’s all you can do. I would add that if you’re getting those kind of auditions and the casting director cares enough to give you feedback, there have to be some positives going on for you. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Louis
    Louis says:

    really touching… you have lots of courage painting this picture so clearly.
    I havn’t been able to put words to it but you just have. Thank you for the awareness and sharing.

  7. Louis
    Louis says:

    Thank you for the awareness and putting words to the internal struggle we go through at times.
    Very courageous…
    thank you jimmy good luck…but you don’t need it.

  8. Catch em
    Catch em says:

    it’s refreshing how open you are about discussing therapy. can you recommend anyone in chicago who might be good for an improvisor on a budget?

  9. Cynthia Raxter
    Cynthia Raxter says:

    I was a programmer long ago! When I screwed up and threw the mainframe into an endless loop, before I tried to fix the fiasco, I’d do some maintenance. Empty the printq of old print jobs… 2-3 other things to find my feet, boost my confidence and, thus, calm my nerves.

    When first doing improv (and later standup), 15 minutes before I went on stage I’d find anyone that would listen. I’d tell them my funniest stupidest story ever with every bit of GUSTO I had!!! It woke up the silly part of my brain, AND woke up my confidence. Making them laugh put joy in my heart too. Heart joy is pretty irresistible. 😉

    Thank you of reminding me how I find my feet before a show. A good friend passed away last week. I canceled shows last week but I performed this week. And for the first time ever, I was hesitant on stage. Thank you again. My friend loved to laugh, loved my shows so it is a fitting tribute to him to perform.


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