Lisa Jakub
August 03, 2013 2:00 pm

Many child actors are going down in flames – some literally, in the case of Amanda Bynes. There are several reasons for that, but one problem is that the majority of our skills are useless in the real world. Sure, I had some very specific abilities, but when I retired from acting at the age of 22, I realized I didn’t know how to do vital real world things like do my own makeup, fill out a time card or get a high school diploma.

I started working as an actor when I was four years old. I had 18 years of experience honing these specific talents before I realized I had no passion for my job. Acting had been a fun gig for a while, but then it was time for something new. I joyfully joined the ranks of those who don’t spend the vast majority of their time pretending to be other people.

But to be honest, the transition was a little tricky. Making a career change is challenging for anyone, but it is especially deflating to realize that the things you are good at hold very little relevance in the real world.

Here’s the stuff I am good at:

1. Crying

When I was 11, my manager was coaching me for an audition and asked what made me cry. When I responded that dead puppies were pretty sad, he said, “Great! Think of dead puppies!” This was very helpful, since I almost always played a kid who was upset about something: my parents’ divorce, my life-threatening injury or the destruction of the planet by alien life forms. But here in the real world, where it’s normal to rein in your feelings a little bit, I remain overly emotional. I constantly put myself in everyone’s shoes; I cry when someone else gets a paper cut. In Hollywood, my endless psychosis could be passed off as sacrifice and dedication to my craft. In the real world, I’m just a mess.

2. Sleeping sitting upright in a folding chair

Film shoots tended to be long and exhausting. When 18-hour days were the norm, it was beneficial to rest whenever possible. However, it was also important to keep the hair and makeup people happy. They are definitely not happy if they need re-do your crown-topped bouffant and cover those creases and drool marks on your cheek for a third time. So, I learned to catch a quick cat nap while keeping everything about myself undisturbed. It didn’t take long to realize that in the real world, if you publicly sleep in a chair, people tend think you are homeless.

3. Finding my light

An important part of my job was being in exactly the right place. I could hit that mark on the floor within a millimeter, without looking down. I knew to shift my weight to my left foot to get out of shadow and be properly hit by my key light. Those things might seem like meaningless minutia, but if I looked down to see if I was on my mark or if I let that other actor block the light, I would have ruined the shot. That meant we’d have to do it again and lunch would be delayed and no one likes that. In the real world, there is very little need for me to stand in a precise, well-lit location. Plus, I am allowed to look at my feet whenever I want to.

4. Remembering dialogue

I learned to read when I was three years old. Being able to read makes it easier to memorize lines and since I also had giant doe eyes, I ended up with a career. I could memorize scenes at the rate of about a page per minute and I can still recite my lines from a film 20 years ago. But in the real world, remembering everything is not always an endearing quality. I can replay most casual conversations verbatim, like a scene in a movie. If my husband forgets that we had plans for Saturday night, I can remind him that we talked about it while he was standing by the kitchen sink and he said “Sounds like fun, babe” and then put his glass in the dishwasher and then I said “Great” as I went to answer the phone. Though it might be effective, absolutely no one outside of the film industry is charmed by this ability.

5. Being anybody other than myself

I was good at pretending. I could be the puppet. I would wear the clothes they chose and say the words they wrote and have my hair look just the way they imagined. I’d be the bitch or the rebel or the girl next door and I’d embody them all wholeheartedly. I would hide every inch of my authentic self. That type of escapism was enthusiastically rewarded in my line of work. In the real world, having a completely malleable personality tends to mean you are a psychopath.

When it comes to real world skills, us former child actors sometimes come up a little short. But it’s good to remember that not all of us are engaged in a downward spiral of entitled behavior and ever-expanding rap sheets. Some of us are getting our GEDs, learning how to cook dinner and just trying to figure out who we want to be when we grow up.

Image via Gawker

Advertisement