“I still feel sometimes that I’d like to be as good as so-and-so actor. I see some other actors’ work, and I think I’ll never get there. I wish I could.”
Who do you think said this quote? A barely-known C-lister? A stage actor who isn’t a household name?
Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks as in two-time Oscar winner, “America’s Dad”, your mom’s favorite actor, Tom Hanks. And before you think he must have said this early on in his career, this quote is taken from an interview with The New York Times in 2013, well past both of his Oscar wins for best actor.
It’s an unusual look into the artistic process of a well-known and celebrated actor. What can the rest of us learn from Tom’s moment of self-doubt? The easiest thing to see in this quote is ourselves and our own acting careers. I know I’ve said or thought something similar about my own acting work, and I’m nowhere near to Tom’s level. So if an A-list star is having the same doubts that all actors are having, this must mean that he still feels that he can go further with his skills, continue to improve, and isn’t at the level he wants to be at yet.
As an actor, you may have several goals in mind that you want to accomplish in your career – book a guest starring role, book a series, star in a movie, and so forth. This post isn’t about tearing down those goals – they’re great ones to have! It’s not about getting you to “be realistic” about your goals, either. You’re a dreamer and it’s okay to think like one! What Tom said in that interview means that he still has goals he wants to accomplish, too. You can see that no matter what level you get to, you’ll always be looking for the next achievement. And that is exactly as it should be.
This is where being realistic comes in – you can (and should) have your sights set high for yourself and your work, but just know that when you achieve those milestones, there will still be places left that you’ll want to go. The mountains don’t go away – you just find new ones. Being an actor is a journey, one that you should enjoy. When you reach one of your hard-fought goals, take pride in it. Recognize what you did to get yourself there and use it to propel you to the next phase of your work. Just don’t forget that there will always be a next phase of your work.
Humans often unconsciously think “When I achieve [x], I’ll be happy.” When you do attain “x”, you probably are very happy, at least for a little while. But it is human nature to continue to work for something new. Creative people are especially likely to feel this way. There’s always a sense of “What’s next?” This doesn’t mean that you can’t be delighted at the goals you meet in your career, it just means acknowledging that it is part of the artistic process to keep wanting more. You shouldn’t make the mistake of ignoring goals you’ve already met, either – there will be times in your career when you’re not working or creating as much as you’d like, and being able to remember what you’ve already achieved can be helpful in reminding yourself that it’s all a part of the journey that is being an actor.
As we all know, Tom Hanks didn’t stop after he won his first Oscar – a feat I’d imagine is seen as an ultimate goal for many, if not most, actors. He kept going and won another. Even after that second win, he’s still making movies to this day and working in other artistic areas, like producing and directing. The NYT interview we’ve been discussing was conducted because Tom was appearing in a play on Broadway at that time – he hadn’t been in a play in several years, and this was his Broadway debut. Obviously, I can’t speak directly for him, but I bet he saw this as a new challenge to stretch his abilities and get himself out of his comfort zone.
You have a choice on how you view your career – you can be despondent and think “I’ll never get ‘there’,” or you can embrace the idea that there will always be something new for you to strive toward. The biggest stars in the world still have things they want to accomplish with their careers – that’s probably part of the reason they’re famous in the first place, because they don’t stop pushing themselves, even if they have moments of doubt. Your journey may or may not be like theirs, but it is one worth taking.