When I was but a naive, young thing still in acting school, I came down with a long-term, emotionally and physically exhausting illness. One particularly difficult day, as I was on the verge of tears and really lamenting about how badly I was feeling, one of my very favorite teachers took me aside to impart some words of wisdom, some encouragement, some hope.
“You’ve got to keep working,” he said. Huh?! I sniffled.
“I know it’s a hard time,” he said, “But now is when you have to work. Now is when you show up, and you do your job, and you use every ounce of your strength to get it done.”
WHAT?! Why wasn’t he telling me to go home and rest my weary body? Why wasn’t he pouring me chicken soup? Why wasn’t he picking up the new releases at Blockbuster for me and sending me flowers and telling me I was the greatest actor ever and I was allowed to take as many days off as I needed?!! Clearly, he didn’t make me any soup. And, clearly, I never forgot it.
What he meant, and what I didn’t truly learn until later, is that life doesn’t give you sick days. And neither, for that matter, does this business. And if you take off a day, you don’t work, and if you don’t work, you don’t get paid, and if you don’t get paid…you can’t survive. And, honestly, I look back and while I was very sick at that time, there have been times since then when I’ve been sicker, and lo and behold, I had to get up, get out the door, and work. Because that’s how the rent gets paid. And that’s how you move up in the world! Movies have to stay on schedule, regardless of your feelings, and the show must go on, regardless of your temperature. Sometimes, you’re gonna have to suck it up and keep up the momentum (until you can collapse in your bed later!)
Furthermore, we are part of a select elite who honestly do use every part of our bodies to aid us in our careers. If you’re not taking care of your body, then you will get sick. I had a friend who had signed with a voiceover agent who loved her voice, and got her an awesome audition for “Grand Theft Auto,” and she booked it! Unfortunately, the day before she was to go in and record, she got a cold. They heard her phlegmy, sick voice, and went with someone else. Obviously, it’s not like you’re never going to get sick again. And, obviously, I’m not telling you to go into your acting job when you’re keeling over with strep throat. (Getting your big-shot director sick is probably not the best way to make a good first impression.) Regardless, the important thing is that you take care of yourself enough to prevent getting sick. Keep healthy as best as you can, so you can avoid those tough days when you show up to set feeling achy, tired, and feverish, and have to get the job done anyway. So…here’s some tips on how to stay healthy (and how to stay working!)
1. Keep hydrated! Water flushes out your system and keeps your vocal cords in good shape.
2. As soon as you start feeling that cold coming on, try to ward it off with some vitamins. Get a boost of Vitamin C from Emergen-C (mix it with your water!) or Airborne.
3. Make sure you wash your hands all the time. Share headshots, not germs.
4. Quit smoking. Seriously.
5. Get plenty of sleep! I know, I know, we get busy and we aaaalll think, “Who needs sleep? I can get 4 billion more things done if I just never close my eyes.”
6. Get some exercise. Even better, soak up some Vitamin D and get some exercise outside.
7. Get health insurance. (This is the tough one.) There has been a time in every actor’s career when health insurance has taken a big backseat. I know. It’s hard to find, hard to keep, hard to justify at times. But it only takes one accident, or one infection to land you in the emergency room in even worse pain and worse financial woes. It’s not worth it. Get a plan, get a doctor, and USE IT. Get check-ups regularly and stop putting your health last in line for your attention.
So. By now, you get the gist. An actor’s job can last all day and all night, in sweltering heat and freezing cold, outside, inside, underwater, in hospital beds, in sports arenas, on top of mountains, at the bottom of deserts. You can be called to audition in a month, in a week, in an hour. Be ready: be healthy!