Posted by: bitsydungaree | June 1, 2008

Shake Your Money-Maker

In “The Importance of Being Earnest” do I have to play Gwendolen, or can I play Cecily? I asked my bartender last night while perusing the script instead of working.

You have to play Gwendolen.

This, of course, sparked a debate about (from my side) why I am a good enough actress to play the role that I wouldn’t be the automatic choice for and (from his side) why it would be a waste of my time. I argued that Cecily was more interesting to me because she is farther from my “type” and that her openness would be an interesting challenge, to which he replied, If I could go back to being a young actor, I would spend less time trying to challenge myself and more time making sure that I was better than everyone else at what I was already good at.

Hmmm. Point taken.

As an actor, I agree that it is essential to know your “type” and to be great at it, and I have always credited this self-awareness with how often I am cast. I know my money-maker and those are the roles I audition for. But does that mean that that is all I am allowed to do? Is my chance to challenge myself is over? Is that what college was for and now that I am a “professional” actress, my lot is to flip through scripts, find the most dominant female character and never consider what I could learn from the others?

I kind of think it does…but I don’t know what to make of that.

I think that a part of my resistance to over-shake the money-maker is that I am afraid it will become stale. I love playing these strong, educated, independent women, but I worry that, if I never play the woman who’s out of control, power will be a lot less interesting to me (and a lot less interesting to the audience the way I am likely to play it if I don’t know anything else.)

I largely attribute the depth I am beginning to find as an actress in the strong women that I inevitably play to my experiences playing roles that were outside of my type. Playing women who were powerless has shown me a new dimension to strength, and playing characters who unashamedly open their hearts has colored the women who choose to guard those same feelings. These experiences have kept me fresh and prevented my type from becoming a hat-trick, and I guess I fear that, without them, I won’t be able to create the same fullness.

So the burden is on me, I suppose, to find a way to do what I’m best at without painting each of these women with the same brush, to find the variety in my own life that I have relied on acting challenges to reveal to me.

But how do I do it? How do I give up on these women that are so fascinating to me because they are so far outside myself? And when do I stop trying to prove that I am a good enough actress to tackle any role and just learn to shake my money-maker?


  1. I understand whole-heartedly. I usually play quirky characters, but it doesn’t stop me from dreaming of playing a leading lady. *sigh*

  2. Nicely put. I’m talking about labels in Seek a date today. However, it is interesting that your friend brought up a very strengths based reality. Be the best you you can be. Instead of trying to be okay at lots of things, be really good at the things you are good at. It’s an interesting dichotomy.

  3. You know I struggle with this same sort of tendency, being more of a Benedick than a Romeo. There is always part of me than wishes I could play a more traditionally stoic leading man, but I when I end up stretching into these sort of roles, I always end up Jeffy-sizing them anyways. When I’m in a comedy, I long for a drama and vice versa. When I’m playing a villain I miss being a hero. It can be very frustrating.

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