3 Ways to Become a Lead Actor

Author: Justina Vail 4/15/13

Most actors imagine themselves in lead roles in plays, series, and movies, and spend their early days studying the craft as well as marketing themselves. Yet in order to succeed, actors have to be prepared for the full reality of what they’re asking for—and creating a sustainable career in lead roles requires skills beyond what you might expect.

First of all, what do you consider to be the benefits of being a lead actor? The typical answer I hear is: To have better roles, get positive attention and accolades, have more creative control, and make more money. These are important things to many actors. However, I rarely hear, “to inspire others to learn and grow,” “to make a positive difference in the industry,” or “to help projects become successful through my presence.” Those who do say that tend to be the ones who are already successful and their attitude was probably part of what got them there.

Booking a lead role in any project brings responsibility to the project itself and to the people in it—which essentially describes leadership.

In his best-selling book Inspirational Presence: The Art of Transformational Leadership,” Jeff Evans, Ph.D., a leadership development
consultant writes, “As a leader’s sphere of influence increases, the requirements for skills related to emotional intelligence goes up as well.” In other words, the more successful you become as an actor, the more you’ll need competencies that go far beyond technical or creative ability. You will need higher levels of interpersonal skills. You need to be a good leader.

In an interview I had recently with Jeff, he shared three ways an actor can become a better leader, and therefore a more likely candidate for lead roles.

1. Stand for the project. Hold the highest good of the overall project and show up every day to make it happen. This means being more than just part of the creative process. It means doing your part to create the shared vision of the project as it emerges.

2. Empower Others. Work just as hard to make the other cast members as successful as you do for yourself. A great lead actor will perform lines off-camera just as fully as when he or she is on-camera. Give people the highest possible base for their performances. Creative processes can produce uncertainty and conflict, so work to bring people together in an environment of success and avoid negativity and drama on the set.

3. Be Inspired. Many leaders talk about motivating others to change for the better. Motivation, however, requires an outside force to move people along. Inspiring others, on the other hand, plants a seed inside them that grows and becomes it’s own force of change. To inspire others, you have to be inspired, and that requires you to be in harmony with your choices and direction. Be a force of inspiration by making sure you’re on path and making a positive difference no matter where you are in your career.

I’ve learned many things from Jeff’s teaching, one being that leadership skills are essential for every one of us no matter what we are doing. Being a good leader means that you contribute to the system you’re in and inspire others toward something greater than what already exists— and that means you get to be a force of positive energy in a world that really needs it.


© 2013 Justina Vail • All Rights Reserved

Why Your Exit is Just as Important as Your Entrance

Author: Justina Vail, PCC CHt 3/12/13

In the business of acting, we usually talk about making an entrance. There’s a focus on how you enter rooms, start scenes, and begin working with people. Yet a very important factor in the unfolding of your life and career is how you exit.

Everything ends at some point, and how you act during that time will color and shape what you create next. For example, if you’ve decided you must leave your agent to go to another, you are exiting a relationship and an agreement with them, and how you act will affect what you experience next. The same goes for an audition—how you button up, not only the acting scene but also the actual moment between you and the casting director or producers, will greatly determine whether you book the role or not.

Why is that?

First of all, you leave a taste in their mouth—you leave an impression that determines what they will feel and think about you forever, no matter what came before it. An agent who’s been fired unkindly will probably always think and talk about you negatively. One that’s been treated with respect may even keep the door open, or spread good word. At an audition, it becomes less important how great your reading was if you rush your exit, fumble around, apologize, or walk into a closet (it happens!) That’s what they will remember. Some not so great readings can be overlooked when a powerful exit happens and the last thing everyone remembers is how happy they were to meet you.

Secondly, how you exit leaves a taste in your own mouth. It will determine how you feel about an audition, a performance, a relationship, an agreement, and most importantly yourself.  By your actions, you have decided who you want to be as a person as you move forward, and that affects whether you feel good inside, which affects the future you create.

One way to use exits is to think of them as opportunities to start again in a better way. You get to decide how you want to engage the world, others, and yourself. You have the immediate gift to choose integrity above any fears, resentments, or judgments you may have. You have the opportunity to say “yes” to honesty, compassion, care, and honoring what feels “right” in your gut. You become whole and undivided in your thoughts and feelings about others and yourself. You get to be complete.

So, get clear about how you want to exit a room. Practice leaving meetings and auditions with the best, most grounded part of you leading the way, having made a positive difference for the people there. When you move on from a business or personal relationship, communicate with those you’re leaving behind. Express your gratitude for what they have done for you. Be kind. Let them respond without judgment or defense. Treat them as you would like to be treated no matter how they have treated you. It’s about how you act, not how others act, that you carry with you into your future.

Your new beginnings can be clean and powerful, uncluttered by what’s unfinished, and empowered by your knowing of who you have chosen to be and what you bring into the next chapter of your adventure.

© 2013 Justina Vail • All Rights Reserved
This article is also on BackStage

Stop Fighting Your Success!

Author: Justina Vail, PCC CHt – 2/27/13

Have you been striving for years to make your acting career turn into something tangible? Have you found that, no matter how much marketing you do, how many acting classes you sweat through, and how many great headshots you send out, your career seems to be stuck? And do you ever wonder, What am I doing wrong?

If that sounds familiar, you’re not alone. I can’t count how many actors I’ve coached, at every career level, who come in telling me they’re doing all the right things, yet their vision of the future has been just that—a vision of the future. It hasn’t had the chance to become a reality.

Why? Very often the reason we get stuck is that we’re not aligning with what we want.

Creating the career you want requires making smart choices and taking specific actions, and it also has to make sense in your internal world— where your beliefs, thoughts, states, and intentions live. If those inside elements are fighting all the actions you’re taking on the outside then you’ll probably have a hard time making things happen. Even a belief you’re not aware of can shape what comes back to you. If, for example, you have a subconscious belief that you aren’t interesting enough to be a series regular yet you really want to book one, there’s disagreement. There’s conflict between the belief and the goal. Your behavior in auditions and meetings will then be affected by that conflict, your reactions will keep backing up the belief, others will sense it, and you probably won’t book the series regular!

Certainly, it’s not a black and white world and some people who feel undeserving still have huge careers. Yet in my experience with many busy, working actors, I’ve found that if they aren’t aligned with the good that’s already happening to them it either doesn’t last or they just can’t enjoy it, so they’re back to being stuck in a life they don’t want. However, when they free themselves from limiting thoughts and beliefs, and begin to align themselves with their vision, they usually move on to deeply fulfilling and sustainable careers.

So, stop fighting your own dream and start aligning with it. Ask yourself, Am I in conflict with my own vision of the future? If the answer is “yes” – and trust me it will be somewhere – then take time to become aware of your own deep beliefs, your habitual thoughts, and your go-to moods. Make sure that they’re working for, not against, your career. Have them all agree on your vision for the future. Yours is a unique and important dream and you’re the only one with the power to step in and claim it.

© 2013 Justina Vail • All Rights Reserved

This article is also on BackStage

How To Handle Competition

Author: Justina Vail, PCC CHt – 2/15/13

You walk into an audition waiting room and your throat tightens as you size up the other actors. A voice in your head starts to say, Most of these actors have more credits than me. These people are ridiculously good looking. What the heck are my lines again? Everyone else has the lines down. No, I’m going to beat everyone out and nail this part! I have more talent than anyone here. Ugh, the actor who just came in is way better for this role. Why am I even here? You swing from insecurity to defiance and back again, becoming a mixed-up, distracted mess. To compensate for this you try to convince yourself that you don’t care whether you get the role or not. Yeah, whatever, I don’t need this part anyway.


Being competitive doesn’t help you get the part. In fact, for most actors, it’s an uncomfortable, self-sabotaging experience. What happens to your mind, emotions, and physiology in a competitive state takes you out of the moment and away from your power.

Many of you might argue that competition is a fundamental part of human success. Granted, there are elements of the drive it creates that can give us a boost, but research shows that ultimately it takes us down. Being competitive comes from a lack of trust. There’s a me against them, mentality—a belief that you have to win at the cost of others and that there’s not enough to go around. When we think with low levels of trust we become less creative, less competent, and our higher thinking shuts down, moving us into a fight/flight mode. None of this is a good platform to operate from. Even business organizations are realizing that a competitive stance is destructive to long-term profitability and success.

So, how to handle this? Rather than fighting your own feelings of competition, try stepping into a collaborative stance instead.


Many of the producers I know say the majority of actors enter auditions with a self-involved “I’m here to get the part” attitude. The actors who stand out and usually book the roles are the ones who come in interested in serving the project. After all, the reason any project succeeds—or any actor has a lasting career—is because of the relationships that were built and the collaborations that occurred. Collaboration is about serving the good of the whole as opposed to oneself. It comes from believing that we all have something unique to offer and that everyone deserves to win. It’s about trusting in the bigger picture. Putting aside talent, do you think Ryan Gosling, Anne Hathaway, or Bradley Cooper have the careers they have because they’ve been focusing on competing against other actors, or because they have collaborative, team-player spirits?

So, when it comes to competition in audition waiting rooms perhaps a new, more ‘collaborative you’ can stop seeing other actors as the enemy of your success and instead regard them as your allies in the goal to make something good happen. Perhaps you can open your heart, soften your defenses, and know that showing up to contribute to the whole somehow will mean you—and everyone else—will probably end up gaining more than you ever imagined.


© 2013 Justina Vail • All Rights Reserved

This article is also on BackStage

Free Yourself From Attachment to Audition Outcomes

Author: Justina Vail, PCC CHT 1/15/13

Every one of us knows what it’s like to be attached to outcomes. It’s human—we decide we’ll suffer if things don’t turn out the way we want them to—and it sabotages our success. For an actor it’s especially important to manage this human trait because audition after audition, you’re being asked to step in and deliver the goods, yet still be an artist.

When you’ve got an audition and you’re attached to an outcome of any kind, like saying your lines a certain way, impressing the room, or booking the role, you’re going to get into a state that’s more likely to sabotage the outcome than make it happen.

Take an example of the actor who decides what a performance, moment by moment, is meant to look like. Every gesture, inflection, and facial movement is planned out. The outcome of the performance is the focus. Then there’s another actor who gets really clear about the life of their character, who they are, the desires they have, the struggles, the thoughts, the relationships they have, and even the environment they’re in, and then they let it all go, trusting in the preparation that’s been done. They become fully present in the moment, connecting with what’s right there. Which actor out of those two do you think is more likely to give a compelling reading, impress the room, or book the role? It’s an irony of the business that the actor least focused on those outcomes ends up more likely to get them!

The reason attachment sabotages us is because it’s based in a lack of trust. When you’re thinking I have to get this reading just right, or I hope they like me, or It will kill me if I don’t book this role, you’re white knuckling your way through the experience. It’s fear. And aside from the energetic, emotional, physiological, and spiritual effect that this has on you, the neurology of fear makes your higher brain functioning shut down and the more primitive fight/flight/freeze instincts kick in. You’ll find yourself less likely to be creative, make good choices, and connect with others because of that. You’re even going to be less able to connect with your own feelings and needs, which for an actor is a sure way to sabotage your ability to show up as your best self. That’s when those yucky, disconnected auditions happen. That’s also when the outcome is probably not going to be the one you’d hoped for! After all, people don’t tend to hire fear.

So, what can you do about it? If you think about the times you were the most powerful as an actor—fully living the life of your character and being part of something fluid and magical—you probably weren’t attaching yourself to an outcome, but instead were connecting with someone and something in that moment.

Connection is the source of our ability to be creative and it requires connecting with the present moment.

Making a conscious choice in your daily life to detach from outcomes and get present will eventually seep into how you respond to that big audition, or that important agent or producer meeting. With practice you learn to have a vision of what you’d like to accomplish, get very deliberate, prepare yourself both internally and externally for what’s ahead, take the necessary actions, and then let it all go. At some point you have to trust, make peace with the unknown, and let those magic moments be what manifests the outcomes you dream about.


© 2013 Justina Vail • All Rights Reserved

This article is also on BackStage!

3 Ways To Create a Path to Success in the New Year

Author: Justina Vail, PCC CHT 1/6/13

If your journey as an actor has felt rocky and unclear, you’re not alone. Most of the actors who come to me for coaching share that experience. In the thirty years I’ve been in the film business – eleven of them coaching and consulting actors – I’ve discovered some crucial steps needed for the journey to be successful. Here are three simple ways to create a clearer path to success in 2013.

1. Get clear about where you’re going. One common factor among actors is having little more than a vague sense of what they want. There’s a lovely, hazy dream floating on the horizon about being “successful,” but not a lot of real results happen that way. What’s required is a strong, clear vision of the future. A first step is to ask what kind of career you actually want. Do you want a multi-camera television, independent film, stage, soap, commercial, or other career? And what would that mean for your life? Where would you live? Who would you be around? What would your bank account contain? What would your working hours be? What car would you be driving? What would your relationships be like? What would you believe about yourself and the world? Your dream is uniquely yours to create, and just as you create your character’s lives and inner workings, you owe it to yourself to spend some thought and energy on your own. A great way to do this is to write a detailed story about your life two or three years from now, told in the present tense, and made as ideal as possible.

2. Give your path its edges. If your path has no edges, you’ll find yourself standing in a big open space with no direction. The “edges” of your path separate out what belongs on it and what doesn’t. They’re boundary lines. Setting those parameters require that you ask yourself what people, places, behaviors, relationships, habits, beliefs, and agreements keep you in the direction you want to go and what distracts, diverts, or sabotages that goal. Whatever you say “yes” and “no” to in life will determine what your path is like and where it heads, so be intentional about each and every choice you make. I suggest writing a list of what’s in your life now, and decide which ones need to go because they’re holding you back, and which ones serve your journey. Those are the ones that deserve your attention and gratitude.

3. Surround yourself with legitimate support. Whether it’s coaches, mentors, or teachers, fill your life with those who support and inspire you, and make sure they’re qualified to do so. It doesn’t matter if it’s in-person, or via books, CDs, or teleseminars, the industry is full of untrained and inexperienced “snake oil salesmen” promising to get you an agent or bring you that big movie career. If you’re going to hire a coach of any kind, for example, make sure they’re qualified. Your acting coach needs to have a real history of success with their students, and your career or life coach must have experience, training, and proper certifications to be a legitimate resource to you. Anyone can give advice, and often that’s just uninformed opinion. With your future at stake, surround yourself with experts who serve your path to its highest potential. And make sure you’re listening to that most important voice of all—the voice of your own deepest instincts and wisdom— because that will always steer you in the right direction.


© 2013 Justina Vail • All Rights Reserved

Use Your Fear To Fuel You – Spielberg-Style

Author: Justina Vail 12/18/12

Some say the stress level an actor experiences on opening night is about the same as the stress a jet fighter pilot feels during combat. Whether that’s true or not, you’ll probably agree that being an actor can feel like you’ve got a lot on the line. Some research says that public speaking —which is the cousin of acting— is second on the list of things people are afraid of. The fear of death isn’t even on many of the lists, which means that many people would rather die than do what actors do on a regular basis!

So, how do you engage your fear? The typical response is to try not to feel afraid. This usually makes it worse because of the increased conflict with your own being. The key with fear is how you “frame” it, i.e. what meaning you put on fear. If you think of fear as “bad” and something that will cause you failure, then it will be so. If, on the other hand, you see fear as something that can be a source of creative juice, focus, and energy, then it becomes your friend and you can work with it.

Steven Spielberg was recently asked about how he deals with his fear, especially in relation to the pressures of making a movie like “Lincoln,” which came with huge expectations. He shared with Oprah Winfrey that he felt insecure every day on set, and added, “I don’t work well when I’m fearless. I’m not as good a filmmaker if I know what I’m doing every step of the way. When I don’t have all my comfort foods with me then I get really, really—and it’s a good thing for me— insecure, and that insecurity opens me up to any possibility. I need to wake up in the morning and get to the set and feel that I have an upset stomach…. then I’m more able to rescue myself by taking risks and doing things I didn’t know I was going to do when I woke up that morning.”

Spielberg has made friends with his fear. Rather than fight it and see it as his enemy, he has found a way to frame it so it actually works for him.

When you feel what you call “fear,” remember that it’s simply a feeling, nothing more. And you can interpret that feeling as the reason for the demise of yourupcoming performances, or as a source of your ever-expanding creativity. Really, you have the ability to interpret its purpose any way you wish. So take a lesson from Spielberg and take that pounding heart, upset stomach, shallow breath, and dripping sweat as a sign that you’re about to step off the known into a creative space you never imagined before. One that takes you right into the middle of your passion, your purpose, and your power!

© 2012-2013 Justina Vail • All Rights Reserved
This article is also on BackStage!

Own Your Power

Author: Justina Vail 11/14/12

Personal power is a big part of being a successful actor. In last week’s TeleSeminar I talked about one important element of personal power. Read about it in this months article below…

And don’t miss this week’s TeleSeminar. I share 3 Tools to Boost Your Confidence.  Make use of our SPECIAL and get a month of weekly TeleSeminars for just US$1 when you become a Happy Actor Member. Check out our Membership Page for more information.

Own Your Power

Events in life are simply neutral. Your reaction to them will create your experience of living.

Ego is the fear that takes you out of your own power. This very human part of you makes you doubt yourself, which then makes you feel the need to prove to others that you’re worth something. If you’ve been fired, turned down, or told ‘no’ for example, it’s the ego that has you react, lash out, blame, beat yourself up, or feel victimized. The ego wants to feel powerful by doing these things, but it is, in fact, weak and afraid. Your true self, on the other hand—your higher consciousness—allows you to learn from situations, as well as detach from whatever’s not ‘yours’.

In order to own your power, it’s important to distinguish between what’s really yours and what’s not. When you do that you discover how often people’s behaviors or choices have very little to do with you. And even when it is about you, you learn from the feedback and become wiser without feeling threatened.

Personal power is about knowing who you are, knowing your value, and not feeling the need to defend it or prove it. Instead, you spend your time serving others and taking actions to make the world a better place for us all. And those are fundamental ingredients to being a happy and successful actor and human being!

Be well, be happy, and pass it on.


Actors Life Coaching

©2012-2013 Justina Vail. All Rights Reserved