NEILSON’S COLUMN (October 29, 2015): ‘I have never encountered a self-described retired actor’

I wonder if actors ever retire. Although I’m an actor myself, this is something I’m unsure about.

I’ve never heard anyone in the acting profession describe themselves as a retired actor.

I’ve heard people from other professions refer to themselves as retired plumbers, civil servants, doctors or whatever, but I’ve never heard anyone say “I’m a retired actor”.

Maybe we don’t retire.

I remember a seasoned actor telling me: “You don’t give up the profession, it gives you up.”

I remember asking him “When do you know?”, to which he replied ominously, “The phone just stops ringing.”

Of course, this begs the question, how long after the phone stops ringing do you know that the profession has given you up? Is it weeks, months, years maybe?

The answer I think is, never.

Actors never know when the profession has given them up, so they carry on as actors until the day they die. They may have an inkling that it’s all over but without a fixed date of retirement, a gold watch for service or someone showing them the door, an actor carries on being an actor, albeit one that doesn’t work very much, if at all.

You see, actors are amazingly optimistic people, another job could be just around the corner, the next job could be the “big earner” or, as we say, “Spielberg could phone”; although we know that is highly unlikely.

However, sometimes there are surprises.

I have a friend who was on the verge of giving up after years of irregular work, when he landed a role in a major TV series, luckily being filmed where he lives. From that he got a new agent and has gone on to make a film and another TV series. As work breeds work, more will undoubtedly come his way.

Of course, had he given up, he wouldn’t have described himself as having retired from acting, he would have said “I used to be an actor”. It’s an odd phrase and it sounds much more final then being retired. It has the ring of failure about it somehow, but it seems to be preferred to the phrase “I’m a retired actor”.

Maybe actors prefer to think of it as a decision they have made for themselves and had some control over, rather than admit that the profession has given them up, as seems to happen to most actors...eventually.

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