I can’t tell you how much the following questions bother me.
Listen, I get it. These are average questions and if you’re not on our side of the table, it doesn’t sound annoying or presumptuous at all. But it is. And some really awesome friendly people say these things all the time. So I’d like to take this time to tell you why this is annoying and what ELSE you can say to an actor you meet or know (cause here is a secret, actors are people, I know I know, crazy talk).
Why is this offensive: Off the cuff it sounds like a generally nice life question. But to put one’s passion and career and daily grind into one flippant “thing” is frustrating. It sounds like you are compartmentalizing and belittling someone’s hard work into a small item, like a car they are working on or a recipe they are trying out.
Alternative question: How are you?
This works because if that person wants to talk about their career in that moment, you have given them the space. But maybe they want to talk about their pet rat. Or they are on a kickball team. Whatever. Your job isn’t the only thing you want to talk about or what defines you. And don’t fret because it’s not impersonal at all. It’s nice. Follow it up with listening though, that always helps.
Why is this offensive: you would never ask anyone in any other profession for their highlight reel immediately upon meeting them. Oh hey, you’re a teacher? Cool, how many of your kids graduated on to Ivy League schools? It sounds shitty when you re-frame is doesn’t it?
You should also know most actors have not done something you have seen. Being on a huge mainstream widely known project is a BIG deal. Most working actors haven’t achieved this. However they have probably done a zillion projects that “no one” has ever seen or maybe they have had a bunch of roles that didn’t make a final edit or were so small you already forgot them. That doesn’t mean they aren’t legit or have done a lot of work. But explaining that to someone in line at the coffee shop is really complicated.
Alternative question: Up to anything lately? OR What’s your favorite thing you’ve worked on?
With the first, let’s leave it open once again to more than just career talk. I have never met an accountant who wants to talk about tax returns over a nice glass of wine. This is also lighter and less pressure to show you’re worthy of your career title.
With the second, well that’s just nice chit-chat. Perhaps for more of an in-depth conversation. This is something that will spark for any actor or human really. We all did at least one cool thing (it could have been 7 years ago, honestly no one cares) that we care to talk about. This is much more personal too.
Just don’t ask this question. It’s rude. You’d never ask a mom how long she plans on keeping her kids.
Alternative question: What did you have for breakfast today? I know it has nothing to do with the first, but honestly it’s such a shitty question I’d rather tell you about my coffee and oatmeal.