An actress speaks: Dealing with self-doubt and being female in a competitive industry

by Hayley Mcfadyen

Not having confidence is something which I have only overcome in the past year or so. I think as actors, people can sometimes have a preconceived perception of us. Yes, we are very confident in our craft, but that doesn’t always mean we are confident in ourselves day to day, it does take time. I used to struggle with trusting my decision on jobs, auditions and roles, however in the same breath I had to do those jobs and experiment with roles to realise what projects I actually wanted to be involved in. 

Being confident before going in the room is a personal process, everyone is different with how they deal with nerves. I think because I am in a lower range of the 20’s I am usually auditioning for people much older than me, that can sometimes cloud my judgment, because I get in my head and start to worry that I am too young or inexperienced in some way, even though they are the people that have invited me in to the room. I am also usually auditioning for male directors. I find that this can sometimes be intimidating and has made it harder for me to connect as a female actor. There are lots of variables that can stop you being your most confident in the room.

I personally handle this by making sure I know my script and role inside out, this helps me to feel secure. Lee’s classes have enabled me to tackle a script efficiently and know my stuff before I go in. There are a lot more females in this industry and it is very competitive, knowing your script will automatically make you feel more secure, being an organised individual, feeling like my script is embedded in me allows me to feel completely at ease and more confident to play. Everyone has different techniques that work for them and you need to experiment to find out which one works for you. 

Another obstacle I sometimes face are the roles I want to play. We are so lucky at the moment because there are so many parts out there, so many amazing roles at our fingertips and picking the right job for you is important and it definitely takes a lot of confidence to be honest with yourself on jobs you feel unsure about.

After training with Lee, I now have such a good understanding of what roles I can smash out of the park and what roles I know are not right for me. I have discovered a lot about myself whilst training and through that I have figured out that one of my strengths is being firm and to the point, without being bitchy, I have been able to identify the difference between them and now they have become separate casting types that I feel confident with. On the other hand, having the confidence to test yourself is important, to try roles that are different.

During training I have found it hard to tackle certain scripts; as a female I struggle with my vulnerable side, because I never want to seem weak. I have only come to realise this by comparing the script to my own life and how I respond to it. I find that free writing helps me to put my thoughts onto paper and clear my head, I tend to do this after a situation has happened, it opens my eyes to how I react to people and scenarios, which is key to any script. Poetry is a game changer for me, I personally think reading poetry can make you realise so many things about yourself, I have found that I resonate with a lot of poems and that helps me to feel better about things that I struggle with, along with putting things in perspective. Focusing more on myself and using that in my craft has helped my confidence massively, it takes a lot of courage to admit your flaws and work on them. 

There is definitely a lot of anxiety in trying to always be working as an actor, which is maybe why sometimes myself and other actors take on jobs for the sake of just having a role to play. We strive to be acting everyday, it’s something that pushes us. However there are always things to work on individually if you’re not working on a job. As a female I want the confidence to challenge stereotypes and be different in my roles. Someone like Jessica Barden has taken on roles which are such a niche and I like that, she has challenged the usual roles females play and given each one her own twist. I aim to make sure each role I take on is specific to me, it has my own print on it. This takes time and training. I find that doing things individually, taking the time to read scripts and experimenting with my casting types independently gives me the confidence to play around before throwing it into an audition.

Ultimately, everyone is in the same boat. Use the people around you, work with what you’ve got, use the time out of a job to your advantage. 

About Hayley: An actor, poet and co-founder of House of Rhymes, a spoken word and live music evening based in London. House of Rhymes took on Vault Festival at the beginning of the year and sold out, along with its two other events since being created. Hayley has performed at the Cockpit Theatre, Tristan Bates Theatre as well as the Lyric Hammersmith as part of the 2019 Evolution Festival. Hayley is currently writing her own play, as well as collaborating with artists to create some sounds for her spoken word, striving to create tracks, in the hope that people will resonate more with poetry.

Unique Selling Point Part 1: Doing the job

But isn’t USP just typecasting yourself?

When I first introduce the idea of a USP to actors that have just started training with me I can see their brains rattling at the idea of being “typecast” or “put in a box”. 

Having a USP isn’t limiting creatively, it’s just being realistic and smart about your strengths and what you have to offer, owning it and using it to book jobs.

Once you’ve created a platform then the versatility will happen naturally. 

When you’re still new to the industry or have a sparse CV your potential employers want to know first and foremost that you can actually deliver the goods, that you can do the job.

The Job

What I mean by this is the reality of being on set: the time pressure, the technical stuff, hitting marks, who’s who, taking direction, cheating eye lines, drinking a drink at the same time every time or being in danger of ruining a take and pissing the whole crew off. 

That is the job, whether you like it or not, so before you get carried away worrying about how versatile you are you need to be able to deliver the basics, time and time again to a high standard, and that’s where the USP helps.

Knowing your strengths – what does your aesthetic say about you?

The casting process starts with a headshot, ALL the casting director has to go off initially is a picture of your face. It BLOWS MY MIND that someone who naturally looks very villainous has their main headshot (or in some cases their only shot) as “trying to come across friendly”. 

Why? What are you doing that for?

Yeah great, in real life you’re a top guy, but your face, when neutral SELLS villain, USE that. Get a strong headshot that amplifies that villainous quality and get your arse in the room for the right roles and books jobs! Once you’ve booked a few and have proved that you can. Do. The. Job. Then we can worry about what a lovely guy you are.

Further to this, your spotlight should have 3-5 strong/different headshots, each of them selling something different.

Lee Lomas, headshots

Think about chocolate bars in a shop. You know what you want and they are easy to find. “I want something with caramel.” You choose the bar that quite clearly has caramel in it, you don’t pick up a dairy milk and hope that it might have some caramel in it, or maybe once you take the wrapper off it’ll actually be a caramel bar. 

Casting directors know what they’re looking for and they want to be able to find it in a time-efficient way – so make that process easier for them by being clear with what you sell and play to your strengths.

Coming next

This is tip of the iceberg stuff when discussing USP, I’m going to do some case studies with famous actors to demonstrate this theory. I’ll also cover how you can find your USP and how it can be applied to headshots, showreels, script analysis and approaching castings in future articles.

Thanks for reading.

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