Actor And Influencer: Do We Have To Be Both?
By Lydia Sarks
The internet is excellent. So excellent, some days, I’ll consume the entire thing twice. But, when it came through with the most game-changing vehicle for sharing content – social media, many of us whose works exist exclusively in the public eye were immediately implicated. In film and television, when once social media played a supporting part, lately it seems the marketing medium is on a steady rise to a leading role. Often the social media platforms of a project’s cast become key to the overall promotional strategy. So, just how important are “followers” to an actor?
The short answer is they’re not. Not if we’re looking at the pure craft of the profession. Sure, we need an audience – but if the work is good, they’ll come. We don’t ever need Instagram or Facebook or Twitter to do what we do. But, by the spirit of Shakespeare, in 2018 – it helps.
Just how much a film or television show really benefits from hiring someone contingent on favourable social media numbers isn’t particularly quantifiable but it would appear that producers, networks and casting agents are hedging their bets.
It wasn’t until I started missing out on work due to a lack of a “following” that I began to understand the relevance of this perception.
Here’s where this little Instagram inquisition started. As an actor myself (moonlighting as a writer) I had left one too many audition rooms where my social media numbers were discussed, I had been pipped at one too many posts by a contestant on The Bachelor or [insert latest reality TV craze here], I’d even had my contract restructured because I couldn’t personally provide the desired marketing reach. Now, I’m not saying casting choices informed by social media aren’t smart – as much as I’d love to, I can’t argue with the fact that hiring someone that comes with a built-in viewership is good for business.
This BYO-audience approach to casting makes a frustrating amount of sense.
I’ve always known a certain level of openness comes with the territory. However, as an introvert from way back (yes, plenty of actors are introverts), a day-to-day public online presence has never been something that’s come to me naturally and has always been outweighed by my instinctive impulse to lie low. To be an introverted actor was actually very manageable, it just required a clear separation between work and everything else.
I began to feel a real “chicken or the egg” situation arising – I can’t work without a following but I can’t get a following without work. So, with this new awareness in mind, I gingerly switched my profiles from private to public, had a minor panic attack and began to implement social media in more of a professional capacity. Spoiler alert: I’m rubbish at it.
On one hand, it’s exciting, we now have a very accessible and extremely popular platform to advertise a product, whatever that may be. On the other, as I am my own commodity, please welcome to the stage; my conundrum. Lydia on the TV and Lydia on the couch were becoming one and the same and I could palpably feel my reclusive tendencies being challenged. I’m still working on a way to stay on board whilst maintaining a level of openness that I can yield to. I suspect it will forever be a work in progress.
In saying this, I definitely don’t shy away from technology. I love it as much as the next millennial but I will always take time to regularly review and refine my approach to social media. I frequently remind myself that there is a lot to be said for the emotional and mental health that comes from keeping some of yourself to yourself – and for actors, this can work in our favour.
The reason I have such a push/pull relationship to social media is not because I’m a Grandma trapped in a 32 year old’s body, it’s because I believe a sense of mystery is a valuable tool for an actor.
One of the reasons I love doing what I do so much is the feeling of getting lost in a role – feeling Lydia dissolve and whomever I’m playing take the reins – it’s what many of us spent years of our lives to devotedly study. At a time when “pigeon-holing” is more prevalent than it’s ever been, I would have thought the less people know about me the better?
My job is to convincingly play someone else, so why would anyone need to know where I personally had brunch, what eye cream I use or that I’m at the airport?
There is, of course, a bright side. In addition to the (albeit conceptive) theory that it makes getting hired easier, if you’re an actor who creates original content, social media is the perfect vehicle to launch it. It also showcases another layer to what you have to offer as an actor – it can serve as a sort of daily showreel to demonstrate your ability to “play” yourself. For example, a lot of my work is comedy and where I can, I improvise.
On set one day I was asked to produce a reaction akin to something I’d done on my Instagram story. I’d previously thought this to be about as much fun as being told the punch line before hearing the joke, but it helped me comprehend the significance of my own self within my work. I’ve had jobs where upon booking them, characters have been reworked to more closely resemble me. It’s a compliment I suppose and leaning in to serving up more of Lydia in my work has been a curious yet enjoyable gear change.
The actor themselves is now a powerful player, it’s valuable currency and the more I experience this, the more empowering this idea becomes.
It’s opening up another dimension to being an actor that many of us were never trained in. I take my career seriously and, in every other area, if something is required of me, I’ll do it, whether that involves an investment of time or money or both. But to me, the upkeep of a public persona is time consuming, distracting and frankly a little boring so I will always assign more time to my work, reading, researching and writing. At the end of the day, I’m comforted by the knowledge that I can still carry on being a working actor without it.
Being a little late to the proverbial party does have its benefits; by now I have a clearer understanding of who I am, the sort of work I want to do, and what I want to say in between. My aim these days is to share little hints of my life on social media, support artists and causes I care about and post just enough photos of my mug to satisfy my publicist – but by no means is it a complete depiction of me. Nor does it need to be – socially or professionally. There will always be more than meets the IPhone.
Of course, this topic is completely subjective – one actor’s exposure threshold can be very different to another’s and I’m not saying those who serve everything up are wrong – I trust that that approach works in a healthy way for them. But I know for me personally, I’ll take any shot at balance I can get and there’s some sanity that comes from knowing I haven’t given it all away. The full enchilada is reserved for people I choose to serve it to – you’re welcome friends and family! They’re the ones that deserve it and will value it, they’ve earned it and I can trust them with it.
Humans are intricate beings, and some would argue actors even more so, and we are only just starting to see the mental and emotional effects of living our lives so publicly.
So I’m simply starting to implement a more mindful approach to sharing. While I’ve loosened my grip on staying an enigma, I’m often reminded that thanks to Peter Andre, we’ve known about the potent allure of mystery since at least 1996.
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