I’ve been asking this question in the podcast from the start. So I figured it was time we got a definitive answer. Not from me, obviously. Over resident ‘acting cheerleader’, Anthony English…

Luck, fate, kismet. It has a variety of names and everyone of them it can be an absolute bastard. It is a precarious, treacherous fiend that often tempts one into thinking that blue skies will never see another rain cloud. One moment it is all ‘days of wine and roses’ then, without warning, life goes and does a ‘Karate Kid’ on you (i.e.: an overly-elaborate boot to the face). I often feel the acting profession offers, in microcosm, a paradigm for the travails and unpredictability of life. I think one of the consequences of all this uncertainty is that one can begin to see patterns where none exist (after all, have we not evolved to be pattern-seeking mammals?). A self-created narrative can emerge of being either a ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’ actor. During my acting career (I’ve subsequently left the profession), I earnestly believed that one created one’s own luck. That embracing life with a ‘can-do’ attitude and putting yourself in a position to meet as many industry people as possible would create opportunity. I still believe this to be true but I also wonder if something else lies at the heart of this most unpredictable of professions….dumb luck. Yep, that simple. Nothing more and nothing less.

Now your perspective to this whimsical notion may well be influenced by what rung you are on the totem pole. If you’re a relatively successful actor, it is possible that you feel this cheapens your achievement. However, if the highlight of your acting career to date has been playing Widow Twankey on a community-centre tour of Scunthorpe, the concept of ‘dumb luck is all’ may be rather appealing. Whatever your situation, I implore you to indulge me just a little further in this thought. For example, consider all the variables that are involved simply in the audition process. The odd quirks of luck/fate which have to transpire just for you to reach the venue on time in a upbeat, focused manner. Then we have to consider the psychology aspect of auditioning; First audition after signing with a new agent and feeling the additional pressure? A passionate argument that morning with your lover/mother/landlord that you just cannot shake? Has too much ‘extra-curricular’ the previous evening put paid to any notions of grace under pressure? This is to say nothing of what everyone else is thinking. The director is in the middle of an existential crisis so large it has its own postcode (thus, your emoting be damned). You remind the assistant director of a first lover (who went ‘rogue’ with another), whilst the person before you is best chums with the casting director’s daughter. How can you possibly control for such things?

Brushing aside speculative scenarios usually found in sitcoms, let’s look at a few hard, cold stats.

  • Odds of being born with eleven fingers or toes – 1 in 500
  • Odds of winning an Oscar – 1 in 11,5000
  • Odds of being struck by lightning – 1 in 700,000
  • Odds of non-actor friend resisting the urge to as you if you’re ‘in anything at the minute’? – 1 in 4, 000,0000,0000,0000

Okay, so I made up that last one.

Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers‘ offers lashings and lashings of salient food for thought in regards the fundamental influence an accident of birth can play in one’s potential for achieving success. It was discovered, by a casual observation, that most of the professional ice hockey players in the NHL are born in the first three months of the year. How can that be? Well, the answer is almost crushingly banal in its simplicity. The eligibility cut off for age-class hockey is the 1st January. Therefore, a boy who turns 10 on January 2nd could be playing against someone who doesn’t hit ten until the end of the year. This is a considerable advantage at that age and starts a domino effect of older players getting selected for the team, receiving additional coaching, becoming better players and, ultimately, becoming successful. In fact, this pattern is replicated across a variety of sporting endeavours and educational institutes around the world. It may seem frivolous but an accident of birth provides the foundations from which success is, alongside hard work and talent, built.

Exactly how much control did you have over when and where you were born?

Chance, luck and whimsy.

This is only one man’s opinion and rather tenuous one at that. What the hell do I know about it all anyway? I quit! I’m an acting casualty that got stretchered off the battle-field with a twisted ankle as soon as the mustard gas started flying. I’m a mere audience member restricted to the sidelines watching on with interest. I’m an acting cheerleader with matching pom-poms and a poorly executed ‘come hither’ jiggle. To repeat a not-all-that-amusing broadcasting gag; What’s the difference between radio and rodeo? Two vowels. The acting profession can be an orgy of absurdity so you may as well embrace the glorious mess of it all and come out smiling.

Oh, and one thing, Good luck!

Series 3 of the podcast is coming soon, including interviews with Adrian Lester, Joanna Scanlan, Tom Riley, Kate Fleetwood and Jonjo O’Neill. Series 1 & 2 are available free on iTunes, along with a special live episode for Equity recorded in November 2018, and follow-up interviews with all seven of the emerging actors, conducted in October. Go have a listen

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Anthony English

Actor turned PhD (Moral & Political Psychology). NEET to undergraduate tutor. Feckless youth to funded researcher.