Okay, but what the hell is my “type?”
By: Mackenzie Barmen, Actor/Co-Founder of REEL U FILM
Mackenzie Barmen is the Co-Founder of REEL U FILM; a video production company that specializes in Acting Demo Reels. When working with actors and creating original, type-specific footage, it's key to know your type. Here are some tips on identifying your type & having a stronger sense of your strengths.
Okay, so you’re a theatre trained actor who’s played everything from the tree in your elementary school play to the masculine, mysterious woman in Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap” to angelic, soft Johanna in Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd”. You’re a character actor who can handle anything the industry throws at you. You can play any role. You’re Meryl FREAKIN’ Streep.
But then there’s the whole “type” thing. Typing can be one of the most difficult things for an actor to figure out, because our vision of ourselves doesn’t always match up with how the world perceives and receives us and our energy. We might have massive resting bitch-face but be the sweetest, most vulnerable soul, so they want to cast you in the mean-girl roles when you feel so drawn to the girl-next-door type. It can be a challenge, to say the very least, to break into an industry that’s so type-driven when you’re used to playing a diverse range of roles. So - here are some tips to identify your type & investigate your unique eccentricities to help casting directors & industry leaders know exactly how to pitch you and get you in those audition rooms.
1: How do people you don’t know describe you?
You can get very different results when you ask your close friends and family to “type you” than asking strangers. Strangers have the ability to be objective; they can take in your energy, presence, eyes, mood and give an unbiased, uninformed opinion. THIS IS WHAT YOU WANT. When you audition, 9/10 times they won’t know you, and so being able to identify those “first impressions” will help you hone in on that type. If strangers are consistently giving you ‘nurse,’ ‘mother,’ ‘supporting best friend’ vibes, then lean into that. Investigate that. That’s your starting point. I highly recommend #BonnieGillespie and her Facebook Group #SelfManagementForActors. She has a lot of great resources for this. We love Bonnie. You can purchase "Self Management for Actors" here.
You can really start honing in on that type by compiling a list of auditions you go on, what you get called back for the most & what you book the most. Look for a through-line in the roles you play. Are they all on the more vulnerable side? Are they more physical, or more internalized? Are you the victim, or the villian? Pay attention!
2. When you’re watching TV or a movie, what characters are you identifying with the most?
Something else that can be very helpful when identifying your type is being mindful of the characters on shows or in films that you personally identify with the most. Then, dig deeper and see what about these characters you’re identifying with. Is it just that they look like you? Or is there something deeper in their character that you can relate to and say, “Hey. I could definitely play that role.” If that’s the case, go research more about that actor. See what they started out with. See the roles they’ve played, and transcribe some scenes from films/tv they’ve done. Work those sides. Become these characters and really see what comes out in you when you’re playing them.
3. Take an acting class. For real.
Something imperative for your craft is taking a class. Find a teacher (or a few) that you love and that feed your creative soul and WORK with them! Bring in material that you identify with, ask them for suggestions (if they’re a good teacher, they’ll have some), and dig into your type in a safe, supportive workspace. Yes, class is the time to exercise, expand and experiment, but it’s also a place to really hone your craft & your strengths as an actor.
4: Put yourself on tape and watch your work.
Watching yourself on film can be a daunting, intimidating and uncomfortable time. I’ve personally had to get a lot more comfortable watching myself & self-critiquing. I would try with all my might to not watch back any of my work (and please, don’t torture yourself, there’s a line), but it’s so important to be aware of your ticks, your “actor-isms” and other things you may not be fully aware you’re even doing! Do you blink a lot? What do you do with your hands? Are you actively listening? Are you engaged the whole time, or are you thinking about your next line? Are you anticipating their line? Are you mouth-breathing? Pay. Attention. Take that time to really focus on yourself & what you’re putting out there. Get together with a friend - put yourselves on tape together. Have a great dirty martini while you do it. Have fun - it’s just for you.
In a nutshell, knowing your type will bring out your authenticity, your eccentricities, your personal take on material and it will strengthen it and elevate it. Knowing yourself & your best starting point in the industry will only benefit you in the long-run. Don’t just throw spaghetti at the wall and wait for something to stick. Know which types of noodles stick to the surfaces, and throw those. More will land.