How to find your niche as an actor

This is an interesting and pertinent question. If you have trained at an accredited Drama School, you will understand the need for honesty, as an actor. Not simply the honesty required to 'strip yourself bare' for certain challenging roles, in order to take on the essential characteristics of the person you are inhabiting, but an honesty regarding your openness and ability to embrace your faults, your shortcomings. Of course, we can all celebrate our ability but it takes a few more years experience to acknowledge one's limits.

In a similar sense, it takes some time - years, even - to understand what sort of roles suit you. And it also requires essential honesty.

It's pretty difficult to see ourselves as others see us, even in 'real' life. We may have developed a vision of ourselves that suits us to think in such a way; perhaps we benefit from exuding confidence where there is none. Perhaps we see ourselves as certain types to cover the very fact that we're not actually that type at all, but would like to be.... Games we all play in real life. Coping strategies that, sometimes, then take over.

However, in the acting business, how you perceive yourself has little to do with what you project to others. For a start, your natural voice can be heard very differently to the voice that you think you possess. We've all gasped with amazement/disbelief hearing our recorded voices played back, for the very first time. 'I don't sound like that!' is the usual cry, to which the unanimous response is 'Yes, you DO!' This is non-debatable. We have to accept that the voice that emerges from our mouths sounds different to the voice we hear ourselves producing.

In a similar way, how we present ourselves to others may be quite different to what we think we project. Confidence may be perceived as arrogance; shyness as diffidence; awkwardness as aloofness. We all have examples, in life, of misreading people by the first impression we receive. There is no difference in the casting business. What you present - whether you realise it or not - is how you will be viewed.

An example (and one based in complete honesty): it has taken me a long time to understand - and accept - that my casting type is quite different to the way I see myself. This was first brought home when I was cast as an old-fashioned, deeply religious virgin-type for a TV series. I had thought I was going to be considered for the role of this character's glamourous, fun-loving extrovert sister! That is exactly what I thought I projected. In fact, it is actually far more me in real life (not altogether certain about the glamourous but fun-loving, absolutely). I was staggered and fairly bewildered to be viewed so differently.

Since that first awakening, I am cast far, far more regularly as repressed, brittle, troubled types than anything else. I have to accept that I project something that fits those character types, whether I like it or not. That is my own, personal niche. Those are the roles that I tend to pursue more than any others, knowing that I should stand a chance of being considered for the part. It still baffles me but I have understood that that is how I am 'seen' for parts.

So, take a deep breath and take a really objective view of yourself, both vocally and physically. How do you sound on voice recordings? How do you hold yourself physically? How do you move? What shape is your nose...? Yes, it's as simple as that. What are the roles you land more often than others? Be brutally honest with your acceptance of your ability and your limits. You cannot play a 25 year-old siren if you are 42. You cannot play a sprinter if you are overweight. You cannot play a courtroom judge if you have a tattoo on your neck. Laughable to read but an acceptance of what you project is essential to finding your casting niche.

It is very difficult separating our own view of ourselves from the view others take. We have lived with our very familiar faces for all our lives: being properly objective is extremely challenging. It takes candour and a balanced stance to try and see ourselves as though for the first time. Honesty is key. Don't make the mistake of asking friends what you project: they will feel obliged to flatter you. Look at yourself: the shape your mouth takes when you are relaxed; what your eyes say; the shape of your jaw, the colour and style of your hair, your deportment, your natural gait. Look at the actors who habitually play romantic leads and see what the difference is - actually - between what they project, physically and vocally and what you present. You cannot play games with yourself and you have to accept that what you are is, potentially, how you will be seen.