"Ah, the life of a working actor, sit around and wait…"
— paraphrased from Johnny "Drama" Chase
I like that show "Entourage." I liked it back when I was younger because it portrayed a Hollywood lifestyle that everyone has probably imagined once in a while: the late night pool parties, the wildly obscene bong collections, the money falling out of even inconsequential drivers' assholes. It got me pumped for my trip out west. Of course, by the time I had spent a few short months in Hollywood myself, I realized it was wildly unrealistic, from the mundane (Ari being able to tell what club the guys are at simply by the background music through Eric's phone) to the offensively stupid (no up-and-coming actor would turn down an action movie/passion project combo set in stone); but by that time I had grown to like the characters and care about their dramas, and every once in a while, someone on the show will drop a piece of truly significant observation. Like that quote above.
There's a line attributed to Michael Caine that goes something along the lines of, "I act for free, it's the standing around I get paid for." This is a pretty good argument to toss in the face of anyone who ever dogs actors for making the money they make; yes acting is fun as shit, that's why anyone takes an interest in pursuing it, but actually working on set is just that: work. I've said this before, but you go in and have an expected job to do, there's pressure on you, there's constant critical feedback from your bosses and there's a lot of menial, boring bullshit to deal with in between the parts of the job you like doing: waiting around for everything else, lighting, sound, art department, background and director to coalesce into the perfect time to finally call "action."
But that's just on set. That's after you have already booked the job. If you're on a union shoot, people kind of give a shit about the actor, they might even let you kill most of your time in a trailer or at least sitting down and reading or something. If you're on a non-union shoot, you will stand around on set for thirty minutes before they realize the particular set up they've had you standing in for doesn't even work. Then they'll do that again (seriously, I stood in for three different set ups of one shot recently because they never bothered scouting the fucking location before the shoot date). The point is, on set acting has breaks and down time, craft services and lunch breaks, 2nd A.D.'s who, in theory, are only there to accommodate you accordingly. There's waiting around, but there's other parts of an actor's life that require actual, active waiting. Yes, that's a real phenomenon.
Take the audition process. Here's the first thing you need to know about auditions: the time you're supposed to arrive doesn't fucking matter at all. Sometimes audition notices will say "Very strict schedule! No open call! Please arrive promptly on time!!!" This means that they'll try to get you in anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes after your posted time. Other times there's "open windows," where you can conceivably show up anywhere from, say, 11AM to 4PM. You can try to show up at 10:30 to get in and out, but rest assured, there is no such thing. You can try to arrive at 11 even though your "preferred" time is 3. They'll give you shit and make you wait because it "wouldn't be fair to the scheduled actors" even though we're talking about a fucking 80 person callback and the order of every single similar-looking, similar-dressed wannabe doesn't matter at all.
You may think it's only reasonable. When you factor in slating, still shots, direction from the casting director, playful banter, then maybe two or three takes, it would be impossible to adhere every actor to strict 2 or 5 or 10 minute windows of audition. And you're right. But let me re-iterate: against any and all logical thought, you are predestined to sit around waiting for an audition. One time I was called in for a THIRD callback for a job. By that point, you gotta believe the talent pool has been reasonably thinned, maybe ten or fifteen other competitors, down from over 100? I was the first of the day, 10AM. I practically would make it to work on time. I even got there at 9:30, just so I was ready and raring to go. Then they sat my ass until 10:45 AM. Who the fuck knows why, but it happened. I did however end up booking that job, so that kind of made up for it.
That waiting room wait isn't the worst, but it ain't pleasant. I've touched before about how there's always someone there who wants to turn their general call audition into a stand-up showcase, but even without that, the tense silence that permeates a holding room isn't much better. You notice the other actors, especially the ones who look just like you. Some dudes go over the same three lines again and again, others fiddle with smart phones. Every four seconds you look to the door, not because you're anxious to finally get in there, but you're hoping to see whoever's in there walk out, just so you're that much closer to finally getting the hell out of there completely. It makes no sense to sit for an hour for a three minute audition, but that's the way it is, and everybody has done it before and knows they'll do it again. It's the same mentality you had in school when you were a kid: just desperately waiting for the audition or school day to be over; actively wishing time would magically pass you by. Wishing your life would disappear and fast forward to something less brain numbing. That's a depressing thing to experience once you're old enough to realize how short life is.
The almost worst wait is waiting to hear about the fate of that audition, once it's finally done with. There's actually not much curiosity when you leave a first audition, but if you make it back for the callback, you already start thinking you have it nailed, even though you're nowhere close. Hoping to receive a call placing you on the "avail" or better yet, "booked" list, eats at you like waiting for the pregnancy test results or the status of your fantasy running back who busted a knee last week. I've gone into this mindset in detail here.
But aside from actually passing the time on set, in the waiting room or in bed staring at your inactive phone, actors, or at least struggling, working actors, are constantly waiting. Not to be cheesy, but they've been waiting their whole life, and that's the worst of all the variants of waiting an actor has to deal with. Waiting for that elusive major film audition, or waiting for that placement on an improv team. Waiting for the right person to notice them, or the right casting director to offer a workshop. Waiting for that dreamlike moment when they see themselves on a billboard, or a filthy, vandalized bus stop poster. Waiting for the time when all the personal and public debts can be paid off in one fell swoop. Waiting for the chance to quit the day job. Every actor is constantly waiting for the time in their life and career where they no longer have to wait. Only then can they stop wishing the time would pass and just enjoy the time they have. But until then, they have to wait here. Longer.
But what the fuck would I know, I'm just an actor.