The day I found out my headshots were terrible...
I was no "green" actor (or so I thought).
I had worked with and been mentored by some of the theatre greats at the Guthrie Theatre, before coming to LA. Upon arriving in town, I was almost immediately cast in a production at the Mark Taper Forum. I was trained, passionate, and ready to take my career off the stage and onto the screen.
I had made several friends who were booking leading man roles in Hollywood. I did what any actor would do--asked them who took their headshots! After all, if whatever they were doing was working to get them in the room, shouldn't it work for me, too? I was just as capable an actor as they were, obviously it must be my pictures.
So I went to this very expensive photographer and mentioned who had referred me, and he did what he did best. I left with some excellent photographs of me looking like my version of the great male leads of our time. I was gunning for their careers, so I made sure I looked the part.
Cut to me in the waiting room of an important casting director.
I had been called in! And I was prepared and ready. She called my name, "Wayne Dvorak?"
I stood up, ready to go in and impress. "Yes."
She took one look at me, up and down, and said "No you're not." And ripped up my picture right in front of me.
Don't worry! This isn't supposed to be a Hollywood horror-story. What I didn't realize in the moment, was that she was doing me a huge favor. Because...
I wasn't a leading man.
At least, not by type. I am a fascinating character actor, an excellent "second-banana," and that casting director could tell the moment she saw me. But my headshots were selling wannabe Laurence Olivier. I was being called in on a photo that didn't resemble what I could sell. From a casting director's point-of-view, it's like being Hollywood-style catfished.
After that, I found a photograph I felt incredibly comfortable with, who caught me in such a clean way that I was always living up to the promises my headshot was making. The bookings came much more easily from there!
What they say: "Your headshot should look like you!"
Well, obviously! It's a photo of me, being myself (or a more desirable version of myself) how does it not look like me? And what's so bad about taking a headshot that looks like how I see myself? Won't that help a casting director see me that way as well?
But what they mean:
This picture should tell me in an instant what I could cast you as right now. What roles are your bread-and-butter. What you can sell. Not what you wish you could be, or believe you'll be in a few years if "someone would just give you the chance."
It doesn't matter if you're a wild partier-by-night, if your type is the sweet, neurotic nerd then you must own that. Your personal identity and your professional identity are related but are not the same. Don't take your type personally, and don't put your personal baggage on your headshots.
When you take photos that don't resemble your current type as-is (no matter what that type is) what you are telling every agent, casting director, and producer who so happens to see you is
"I'm green! I don't know what I'm doing and I don't know who I am!"
No one in this industry has time to deal with someone's insecurities about their type. Or about their big long-term dreams.
Trust the Process
Right about now you're probably able to list countless actors and actresses who "broke type" and or even started whole new character archetypes that would become the next batch of types for Hollywood to contend with. And you'd be right! Type is not a prison. Expect more posts about type soon.
But type can be your best friend when you're getting started. The last folder a casting director checks for a specific role is "versatile." Be the FIRST person who comes to mind when they need a certain character. When you're untested and untrusted, the best way to get in the door and earn some trust, is to use type to shortcut you to the front of the line.
Later, when you've earned some attention from your work, you can break that mold and show them you are so much more than your first type. But if you try to skip straight to this step, it'll be hard to find someone who takes you seriously.