It’s an English Thing…
I like Americans and in particular I like their straightforwardness. I will explain why. There is a peculiar distinction between us and our American cousins that has become obvious recently as I am in consideration to direct what may be a rather substantial and interesting US TV series. The distinction is that, unlike in my experience UK producers, they want me to like it, they get off on my appreciation, my excitement excites them because they think perhaps it might mean I will want to do the very best I can, which it does. My enthusiasm seems in a very straightforward and logical way to be the glue that makes them want to cement me to the project.
So is it not the same in the England and I don’t say the UK because this appears to be an English thing? Well, no, not in my experience. The English have hundreds of years of rigid hierarchy and snobbishness behind the facade and the beliefs that underpin that run deep and still echo and I think that might be the cause.
Over the years I’ve been up for a good many substantial TV and film jobs. Some I thought were really interesting, genuinely exciting and I expressed my enthusiasm, sometimes to an embarrassing degree, but but I never ever got any of those gigs. What they did have in common, apart from not featuring me, was a look I came to recognise on the face of every one of those producers who interviewed me and the nearest thing I can describe it as is, disappointment, blended with a soupçon of superior contempt.
I’m not a wildly sophisticated person, I’m reasonably intelligent and I can be quite perceptive, but I’m pretty straightforward and I loathe playing games with people. That’s not to say these producers were toying with me, I don’t think that, I actually don’t think they had any idea how odd their behaviour was at all. But it does seem to me entirely idiotic that my enthusiasm for their project should translate in their heads into my being unsuitable, but I promise you, I watched that happen again and again.
This brings me back to Englishness in a way, because the jobs I did get were the ones I held in a slight contempt myself. This attitude, bewilderingly, seemed always to translate into my being considered perfect for the the job. In fact the less interested I became, the more frantic they became to convince me to come on board. Let’s be clear about this, these were things I didn’t really want to do because I was rather unimpressed by the material, so am I really likely to deliver something fantastic? Enthusiasm is rather frowned on isn’t it, it’s a bit puppy dog, not professional, not alpha wolf and pretty much every English producer sees themselves as the leader of the pack. If you’re keen, it must mean you’re young, inexperienced, callow and enthusiasm provokes an instinctive superiority in the English. Self possession is attractive, instinctively we admire people who seem to look down at us, but we forget that if we look up, we automatically force the other into a superior position.
But it’s still idiotic, I shouldn’t have to behave with mild contempt in relation to something I like in order to convince anyone I’m serious, but I often do. Personally I think it is absurd to be so blinkered and as it means we rarely if ever pick the person most likely to do a good job, it might even be our greatest failing.
Okay this is going to sound strange, but bear with me. I had an interesting conversation recently with someone and something quite odd occurred to me which might explain what I have been discussing in this post. We were sharing reminiscences about why both of us seemed to never get the gigs we really wanted to, when I uttered the phrase “well perhaps there can only ever be a certain amount of ‘want’ in the room”. Immediately I said those words I understood the truth of them. It seems plausible to me that there is a balance of energy in every exchange and if one person corners the market in an aspect, like ‘wanting’, the other is necessarily pushed into the position of occupying the opposing energy, of ‘not wanting’. If there can be only ever ‘so much want’ in the room, then by wanting a job very badly I ensured the other person would ‘not want’ me for the job. Balance, or even an expression of ‘not wanting’ therefore could play into your favour.
I remember a story about some or other famous early Hollywood actor that seemed to bear this out. It was possibly Burt Lancaster and he was called to mass casting before he was anyone. There was a line of over 100 hopefuls and he had no idea how to get noticed as the director walked along the line. While everyone else was aching and begging to be picked, he acted nonchalant and uninterested, even turning his back as the director walked past. He was picked and the rest is history.