It was Woody Allen who once famously said of showbiz, ‘It’s not so much dog eats dog, as dog doesn’t return other dog’s phone calls.’
His words may have been coined some decades ago, but in 2016 they seem more apposite than ever. For whenever I ask actors nowadays - young and old, male and female, successful or struggling - what is their biggest single lament about the business in the 21st century, the reply is almost always the same. ‘I hate not being told I haven’t got the job.’
Note the word ‘not’; for that’s the operative one. Being told you’ve got the job, is of course, quite another matter. Indeed, one actor I spoke to recently averred that those three little words from your agent - ‘it’s an offer’ – is the best moment of any gig. Whether it proves the biggest hit since Harry Potter or the biggest turkey since Christmas, nothing exceeds that initial moment of knowing you’ve been chosen.
Yet oddly, being told you’ve not got the job is nearly as much of a relief. OK, the news may be bad -but at least its news. You can strike it off, reframe your life, cease your daydreaming and get on with the next job interview. Onwards and upwards.
But increasingly nowadays, I find the trend from producers and directors is to give you no news at all. Courtesy seems suddenly so last century. Instead, with so many projects green-lit at the last moment and everything done on the hoof and at the eleventh hour, actors are all too often hung out to dry, cradling our rapidly dying flame of hope long after it should have been humanely destroyed by means of the telephonic equivalent of a vet clutching a service revolver.
Indeed, the first time you hear of your fate is often when you see the cast list (minus yourself of course) advertised on the internet or in The Stage. In truth this practice has been prevalent in the TV and movie world for some years, but it now seems to be increasingly prevalent in live theatre as well.
Believe me, I’ve toyed with the idea of taking a stand. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2016 was to end every interview with the simple and undemanding request – ‘Might I ask you make sure you let me know one way or another?’ It seems little enough to ask, given that, like many thesps, I’ve spent the previous few days reading the play, learning the lines, perhaps even reading several episodes of the series or mining extensive background material to the project. A simple phone call in return – ‘Sorry, but it hasn’t worked out’ - surely isn’t too much to ask by way of recompense.
But of course, like most actors, when push comes to shove I’m weak, vacuous and eager to please. So I smile, thank them for seeing me, wish them good luck, and slink out without a word.
Of course, those on the other side of the table – the producers, directors and casting directors - will argue that they’ve simply no time. ‘Man up’ they’ll say – ‘the business is tough, there’s no time for old-fashioned pleasantries – and in any case there are more important calls to make, more projects to cast, and not enough hours in the day.’ Yet as long as that attitude prevails, the job of acting will continue to be twice as hard as it need be.
Maybe I’m just getting over-sensitive in my old age. But as John Cleese says in the movie Clockwise – ‘It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand…’