One of the toughest things I’ve run into about being an actor is “knowing your category.”
I’ve been told you are supposed to figure that out, so that you can properly market yourself and your particular talents.
This raises my hackles. The whole reason I got into acting was to escape my perceived category. “Who would ever want to be me?” I have wondered. I had lots of other people I wanted to try and be, not just another facet of Jim. Yuck!
Not that I have a bad self image particularly; I’m as vain as anyone else who posts photos of himself endlessly on Instagram.
But knowing one’s category, while it must be very useful for casting people, feels constrictive, like being told at the United airlines ticket counter that my suitcase is six pounds overweight and now has to be lightened somehow. What a Sophie’s Choice that is!
Eventually, one’s resume or IMDB page will passionately reveal one’s basic category. This list of roles is WHO YOU ARE.
The splendid actor Dean Norris must surely have noticed, even before Breaking Bad, that his category was “Cop”.
But for most of us, building a decent resume takes time, and before you know it one finds oneself in another, more mature category. Oops!
That can be pretty depressing!
In my case, I have sort of grown up with the idea that my best acting work will come late in my career. I was a slow starter, and many of my heroes were, too.
I was also one of those little boys that couldn’t wait to wear a three piece suit.
I cling to the knowledge, that George C. Scott, one of my very favorite actors, began his career relatively late, as did Gene Hackman.
I’ll never be in their august category, but still it brings me some comfort. The train may not have left the station yet!
It’s also nice to recall that my own mom, the luminous Marion Ross has enjoyed a career that largely began, at least at scale, after she was forty.
I have a sneaking suspicion that my own category, which was never EVER “ Hip”, “ Sexy or “Edgy”, is firmly now in the character realm, never to return, skewing in the inevitable direction of… let’s call it “experience.”
It was just a year or so ago that I found myself in a TV commercial in the role of “cranky old guy wearing socks and sandals” for Fedex. And although I wore prosthetics when portraying George Washington this year for Geico… it wasn’t a stretch.
But in my heart, and deep in my artistic soul, my category is really HUMAN BEING. And that has no limit at all.
And I say that categorically.
May you exceed the limits of your “category”, and put to shame anyone who thinks it can contain you.
Thanks for reading this.