“It’s not pretty out there.” Those are the words of a casting agent as he sifts through the headshots of the pretty people filing in for commercial auditions. He’s referring to the life of the actor, the nuts-and-bolts, everyday routine of rejection and more rejection. A SAG rep informs us that the numbers are against a new actor succeeding, and we hear the verdict of a talent agent: “It’s extremely competitive.” MTV’s “True Life: I’m an Actor” doesn’t get a whole lot deeper than these obvious platitudes, but director Adam Cohen does a serviceable job outlining the acting profession from four perspectives within the food chain: the new arrival with nothing but a dream, the working actor, the guy who’s been acting forever but still makes his living as a waiter, and the star.
The center of the piece is that kid with a dream, in this case embodied by Blair Gibbs, who abandons his Tennessee hometown, college and, on camera, his girlfriend, and heads west in search of acting stardom.
His credentials consist of having starred in his high school play, in which his parents insist he was incredible. In truth, he probably does have a lot more going for him — in looks, determination, and maybe even in talent — than a lot of his fellow acting aspirants.
Once in Los Angeles, he battles loneliness, the unexpected costs of getting started and the humiliation of the casting cattle call, which he’s smart enough to know he’d better get used to. He does land some extra work for meager pay and gets to rub elbows with Jennifer Love Hewitt. He seems to have a pretty good time not really getting anywhere.
A more seasoned view of the acting life comes from Thad, who makes his living playing a bad boy on “The Young and the Restless” but spends most of his time auditioning, working out (“You need to be the best of your stereotype,” Blair learns quickly), taking acting classes and, above all, waiting by the phone hoping to get a call with positive casting news. To the docu’s credit, the audience is given a taste of how hard a young actor needs to work, and that perhaps the primary prerequisite is an exceedingly thick skin.
Blair Underwood, star of “City of Angels,” takes us on a tour of his set and speaks graciously of his good fortune as an actor. But Underwood doesn’t provide much insight, further than explaining that, in chasing the acting dream, “the trick is staying afloat.”
Similarly bland statements are made in brief cameo appearances by actors like Matthew Broderick and Vin Diesel. As a whole, in fact, “I’m an Actor” remains satisfied with scratching the surface of its topic, staying far away from nuance or controversy, or even females.
The most amusing depiction here is of the forty-something old pro who’s never made a living at his profession. Joel Weiss, an exuberant Easterner who’s had brief appearances on everything from “CHiPs” (we’re shown the rather embarrassing clip) to “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” works as a banquet waiter in-between gigs, which is basically all the time. He’s certainly aggressive enough to be successful, always willing to introduce himself to anyone he recognizes, and after two decades of struggling, he won’t even consider the idea of giving up.
He’s certainly the most engaging personality in the docu, and the most revealing. It’s a bit ironic: In this reality programming, the stand-out — the star, if you will — is the hardest to cast.