I wonder if there is a specific Acting School for those budding performers who want to play defence solicitors in detective dramas? You know them. They sit beside the accused, opposite Vera Stanhope, Endeavour Morse or Alan Banks. They are usually in a grey interview room, armed with a folder, pen and notebook. Dressed in a smart, but not fussy, suit.
During the questioning they mostly stare at the notebook, making an odd note. Occasionally, they will glance up, emotionless. Rarely, they may nod or shake their head to provide support to the client.
Of course, the reason for the “lips are sealed” role is because these are ‘extras’, not full Equity actors yet. A stepping stone, perhaps, to bigger and better things. Everyone has to start somewhere.
At different points during our lives, we’re a bit like those pretend legal eagles. In a new situation, it’s so much safer to sit in the background until we have worked out how we fit in and can make a worthwhile contribution. We are in awe, to some extent, of the knowledge, skill and confidence of those around us.
We tend to consider two options, at this stage: to aspire to reach the same level of competence, or decide that being a bit-part player is enough. Well, in my opinion, that second route is defeatist.
You have either chosen, or earned the right to be in that situation. Like those extras, soak up the experience of those around you, ask relevant questions, be ready to step up to the plate if the opportunity arises.
Renée Zellweger was an extra in ‘Dazed and Confused’ (1993). Brad Pitt earned $38 for a short non-talking role as “Partygoer/Preppie Guy at Fight” in ‘Less Than Zero’ (1987). Bruce Willis was an extra in a courtroom scene in ‘The Verdict’ (1981). They didn’t do too badly, subsequently.
So, next time you feel a bit intimidated in a new situation, you might feel like “Solicitor in Interview Room”, but think about this as the opportunity to become the next Brad Pitt or Renée Zellweger. Glean what you can from the current situation, and use that in preparation for your next audition. You are good enough. Let others see that.
“There are two main jobs in acting – the first one is to be a good actor, and the second one is to convince everyone that you’re a good actor.” Laurence Fox.