In life we all want to be true to ourselves, figure out who we are, and to follow our own individual path. This is especially true in the acting world where actors are asked to “play” different roles and the line between individual and character can become blurred. There is a fine line between being true to yourself, expressing yourself and acting as you think is expected.

The fuzziness of that line is why I am so impressed with a 11-year-old boy named Jackson. I first met Jackson about a year ago in a workshop. He was a standout, with long, healthy hair, a great smile and a sparkle in his eye. But when his parents asked me to take his headshot I stalled. As terrific as Jackson is, DC-Baltimore is still a fairly conservative entertainment market. Although it’s growing and changing, I knew that Jackson’s long hair could prove to be an obstacle for him.

Finally I agreed to take the photos but explained that in my experience, his shoulder-length hair was going to prevent him from some kinds of work. Jackson accepted this, was sad at the thought that in order to book some jobs he’d be expected to cut his hair, but even so, he was ready to get his career moving.

He did not cut his hair. His hair is part of what defines him. He is in a band and I suppose the hair adds to the rocker vibe. And while he’s certainly been passed over for some roles, recently Jackson was asked to audition for the Broadway show School of Rock from a home-taped audition submitted by his mom.

Getting a Broadway audition from a self-tape is very tough to do, but Jackson was a triple threat for this role: a skilled musician, he had the perfect look and a sparkle in his eyes, as well as being a great natural talent. In the end he did not land the role, but he had an amazing experience auditioning for a Broadway casting team and loved getting hot chocolate in Hell’s Kitchen during his trip to New York.

Since then, Jackson has been a principal on a History Channel show, booked for three days’ work. He shot outside in 8 degree weather, but still he said, “I would do this for free.” Jackson fully embraces life and all his experiences. These opportunities came to him because he was true to himself. Even at such a young age, he knows himself.

But what is ‘knowing yourself?’ And how does that relate to success in your acting career?

If we think of confidence as knowing what you’re good at, in what ways you can provide value, and then being able to communicate that to others, then the idea of ‘knowing yourself’ is a simple one. Not necessarily easy, but simple.

It requires, mostly, honesty. Embracing what you’re good at also requires accepting that you’re not good at everything. It requires knowing that your shoulder-length hair means you’re less likely to book the role of the school nerd.

After honesty, the next step is presenting yourself with confidence in the most real way you can. Every marketing material you have – your photos, resume, website, audition monologues, clothing choices – it should all reflect your most authentic self. Once you stop hiding behind the role of “actor,” and allow others to see the real you, you will start seeing results. It’s not about “giving them what they want,” it’s about showing them who you are.

So I am not suggesting for all the men out there to grow long hair. I share this story to remind everyone that being true to who you are and knowing what you want is the best thing you can do for your career, and for yourself.


This originally appeared in Actor’s Center April Newsletter.