Election season is upon us. Depending on when you read this, you are either days away from voting for the President of the United States or you just have. The truth is, politics are always pertinent, and not just in the fall every four years (there are other elections, you know, and plenty of things to be passionate about year-round). However, your mother and Miss Manners were right when they said it’s not polite to talk about politics, particularly when you’re working.
Actors are stereotypically passionate people, and they tend to be informed about politics and hold strong opinions about what is going on. I love this and personally encourage you not to be wishy-washy in your life! Have convictions and create/promote/be the change you want to see in the world (thanks Gandhi!).
Okay, now I’ll step off my soapbox.
Actors should feel free in their private lives to speak out, post signs and wear shirts promoting their beliefs. However, these expressions of opinion are not appropriate in the lobby of your commercial audition, in emails to producers, casting directors, ad agency execs, or even lowly PA’s, for that matter. (No one stays a PA forever.) Talk with friends about your political beliefs over cocktails, discuss all things relevant with the signature-gatherer of a proposition, or chat with the political party promoter at an event. Just don’t talk politics with someone who currently (or might in the future) have one iota of power in the decision to hire you to work on a commercial.
Why? Simply put (and I have said it before), if you rub one person the wrong way, you have potentially ostracized yourself from them and all of their jobs, current and future, forever. Let’s face it. People have a sharp memory when it comes to someone offending them. Unfortunately, grudges last a lot longer than any good feelings. It isn’t fair, but it’s very true. Now, with online casting, it is easy to make grudges lifelong. In a matter of seconds, casting directors can add a note to an actor’s profile that will be there forever. Every time you are submitted for a role, this note will appear about you. This means that memories of an unintentionally offensive statement can’t fade in a few months like they used to; they’ll always be right next to your photo in black and white! (Don’t forget that this can work for positive thoughts about you, too.)
Actors sometimes forget that each audition is a job interview. It’s not appropriate to talk to an interviewer about your stance on gay marriage when you are wearing a suit and applying for job in corporate America, and it isn’t appropriate in an audition setting, either. Even when you think a casting director MUST feel the same way, don’t take the chance! Maybe they are on the same page, but the other casting director within earshot may have different and equally passionate feelings about the same topic.
Don’t forget the pyramid of power. The producer of a commercial you shot may have your email address. They may be shooting mass emails out to everyone in their address book to encourage voting a certain way. You do not have the luxury of hitting “Reply All” to offer a different opinion. (I would also advise against hitting “Reply All” to support their opinion.)
Just keep your mouth shut. You can’t afford to offend anyone in the commercial industry if you are hoping to work in the field. If you get an email from a producer, you can be certain that there are other influential people being emailed, too. Take a look. Producers have the luxury of voicing their opinion to people below them (for lack of better word). You, as an actor, do not. You are at the bottom of the pyramid and the food chain of the commercial industry. If that makes you unhappy, consider a career in casting or production.
Being in a commercial is a great gig for a lot of you. Do yourself a favor and stay neutral (silent!) on political/moral issues when you are at an audition, on set, or sending emails to industry professionals. Don’t unknowingly sabotage yourself. You may never know why you aren’t hired or called in on a job, and it could have everything to do with a political statement made in passing. Think of yourself as Switzerland!
If you’re someone who just can’t keep silent, at least you know now that there are potential ramifications for your decision to speak. It’s your choice, but after reading this, hopefully there will be no surprises!