living in a hallway that keeps growing

An all-too familiar coda:

My friend, who I saw yesterday, called me this afternoon. I missed the call, so I heard her message on my voicemail. She was so happy and positive. “I just tested for that show! I wanted to find out if you tested too, because it would be so much fun to work together again!”

Of course, I did not test and I will not test. The only feedback I got from the audition was: “Wil isn’t the guy.”

Thanks. That’s very helpful, and lets me know if I sucked and didn’t realize it, or if I was fine, but not pretty/tall/thin/what-the-fuck-ever enough for the role.

Oh, wait. I mean it’s the platonic ideal of not that. The not knowing is awful and maddening. In the absence of any meaningful and useful feedback, all I can do is tread water in an ocean of self-doubt and try really fucking hard not to drown in pretty heavy seas.

I work so hard to not have a single fuck to give about auditions once they’re done, but the truth is: I wanted this one. I wanted it even more when there was the prospect of working on a series with my friend who will likely book this job because she is amazing.

I’ve tried to remain positive, tried to accept that this is just how it goes … but I have to face a terrible and undeniable reality: I never book jobs when I audition. When I’m offered a job, I do great work on the set, and I haven’t done a single project in the last ten years that I’m not proud of, but something clearly is not working when I audition. Something isn’t clicking between my perception of my work and the actual work, and I can’t see it. I have no idea what I’m doing wrong, no idea how I’m not getting it done, and I genuinely don’t know what to do. I know I’m a decent actor, but I think maybe I’m just horrible at auditions.

I haven’t felt this awful after not getting a job since  … Jesus, I don’t know how long. But I know that I feel like it’s just a giant fucking waste of everyone’s time for me to audition for anything, because my batting average is so far below the Mendoza Line, I would be cut from a T-ball team.

After 33 years this should be easy. I shouldn’t feel this way, ever, because math just says I’m going to go on 20 auditions for every job I book, if I’m beating the average.

It should be easy, or at least easier … but it isn’t. It never is.

94 thoughts on “living in a hallway that keeps growing”

  1. “It’s not you it’s me!!” Doesn’t sound good to hear in dating or in professional circumstances. Rejection sucks and inevitably minimizes how awesome all the other things that are also happening are.

    From all you’ve written, the process Hollywood tends to use to determine who’s on a show or in a movie is crazy-cakes and ends up erring on the side of samey-ness. I’m putting on my mom voice here: Anyone who doesn’t want you in their show doesn’t appreciate how totally amazing you are and they don’t deserve to live in your head rent-free.

    That being said, I understand the need to really feel all the feels about not being chosen. And I know you’ll dust yourself off and remember all the holy shit cool stuff you get to do all the time these days. And is this closed door just the split in the road that takes you to something even better? I’m going to say yes.

    We love you, Wil. Eff them for not picking you. Pfft. They probably wanted someone edgy, gods help them.

  2. Wil, unfortunately such is the way of the world. Not getting jobs is all too real a fact to have to deal with, given that there are always more applicants than available positions, but, in this day and age of easy e-mail access, there really is no excuse for not employing a personal touch to take some of the sting out of the rejection. I almost never even get so much as an e-mail to tell me that I was unsuccessful when I apply for a job, and such treatment, over time, really does cause a profound sense of apathy, at best.
    I hope you get a role soon that really fulfils you, and which you would not have been able to take on had you been successful in your attempts outlined above.

  3. Wil,

    I read this and I wanted to say, Thank you. Thank you for putting yourself out there in all your amazing, geeky, insecure, immensely talented, thoughtful, and thoroughly REAL self. Not to be all fan girl about it, but I have been a fan of yours for a long time, and have always enjoyed anything I’ve seen you in. Reading your blog, and your twitter feed, has only increased my respect for you. Not only because I find you hilarious, but because I am in awe of your ability to put yourself out there, and not hide when you feel things like this.

    So again, Thank you.

  4. I can’t say anything about auditions or the text of your post that hasn’t already been said, so let me say this: I LOVE the subject line of this post. Who wouldn’t imagine JoBeth Williams in a football jersey running, and running, and running, with a post title like that?

  5. I feel for you Wil. Constructive feedback well heeded can be the most valuable growing experience. Destructive feedback can even be valuable. No feedback is cowardly, offensive and potentially harmful on almost every level.

  6. Wil, what IS the “batting average” for the non-superstar actor? Other than your frustration level, there’s really no context for how typical/atypical your experience is. Not trying to minimize your frustration or experiences, but you know we nerds need to quantify everything, and your world is sooooo outside of mine. :-)

  7. Disappointment and a feeling of rejection are hard things to deal with, and even harder when you’re unsure of what/if you did something wrong.
    In an effort to bring something of a smile, I saw this online this morning and thought I’d love to see a ST:TNG that was cast this way.

    “When asked who they would cast in their own role in a J.J. Abrams-style reboot, Jonathan Frakes came up with the best/most obvious answer: Wil Wheaton.”

    I can imagine you doing the “shoulder walk” down the hallway of the Enterprise as Cmdr William T. Riker (the T stands for “The Iceman”, right?), that would be amazing.

    Keep smiling Wil, there are a lot of us out here that revel in your successes and pull for you when things don’t work out.

  8. I will admit to being 100%…or maybe 98% ignorant of the professional acting audition process. The closest I can compare it to is querying my writing. I guess my question is, can’t you (or your agent) talk to the casting people and ask for some constructive feedback? I’ve been lucky that when I’ve received rejections from literary agents, it’s come with brief explanations of why the manuscript wasn’t what they were looking for. The one time I got a really vague rejection, I politely asked for more concrete feedback so that I had an idea of what needed work or what would make it what he/she was looking for. And I got it. I know that’s not always going to be the case, but what harm is there in asking?

    Who’s to say you could have done anything differently? Sometimes people just have their minds made up about what they want and you could be the triangle when all he/she wants is a circle and nothing else.

  9. Wil, you are incredibly talented as a writer, performer, speaker, and actor. (I never saw any of your improv work, but I bet you were great at that too!)

    Your work on Leverage and Big Bang Theory proves you have what it takes to be riviting, funny, and a fan favorite on television.

    It really sucks that this TV show decided you “aren’t the guy”.

    It sucks even more that they didn’t give you any helpful information about WHY you aren’t the guy. You wouldn’t be so frustrated if they said “We want someone blonde, 15 years younger, someone with a surfer vibe, the producer’s nephew, black, jewish, a former sports star…”

    But this frustration will pass.

    You are feeling helpless, which you are. So you want to think that you suck. Because then it would be YOU causing this decision rather than a thousand decisions and opinions that are outside of your control.

    You don’t suck. In a couple of weeks you will remember how awesome you are. And then you can react properly by thinking “F that show. They would have been LUCKY to have me.”

  10. Maybe you don’t know this but you are amazing. You have always inspired me to simply be myself. You have made me proud to be a “geek/nerd”. I have 3 daughters (11, 9, and 7) who adore you and watch everything you are on. They skip ahead to episodes of The Big Bang Theory just to watch you and even went through all your Wesley Crusher days on ST:TNG. People who pass up on getting to work with you are missing out. I have heard only good things from everyone I know who has ever met you no matter if it was at a Con or in an airport. They have all said you took the time to talk to them and truly seemed humble and interested in who they were and how big of a fan they are. It is on my bucket list to meet you one day and I know I will be able to afford the cost to go to the Con here in Orlando and take a picture and get your autograph and it won’t be this year but it will happen. You are the only person in the world that I would pay to have my picture taken with and to get your autograph. You are a good egg Wil don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

  11. Same thing goes on for lots of unemployed people, I’ve had one interview in five months: didn’t get the job, got no feedback why. But that interview made me question if I really wanted to work there as they had a really cheap/shabby operation. With the exception of two or three that I can think of, every job that I’ve gotten over the last 30+ years I had an inside connection and they worked pretty good.

    Thus demonstrating the value of personal networking.

  12. Hey Wil,

    I’m really sorry you didn’t get the part you wanted this time. As an actor who has lost confidence in auditioning, I know how truly painful and self sabotaging it is to not be chosen, to beat yourself up about all of the things that you feel are wrong with you, and it really does take a huge emotional toll- one that not many people are willing to put up with for long. Just by continuing to strive to be such an amazing actor for so many years, you are special.

    Reading through your previous (post audition) post, it sounded like you did get some great validation from the casting room after your audition. They could really feel what you were trying to convey, which is an art in itself. You may not have gotten this part, but it doesn’t sound like your auditions are bad. It sounded like you did a really good audition, and for whatever reason you weren’t the right fit this time. You are still awesome. Stay strong, and keep auditioning! Your fans wants to keep seeing you in new and exciting roles. :-)
    And now, my favorite video to hopefully cheer you up a bit:

  13. I’m probably almost old enough to be your mother, and if not, too bad. You are getting my “Mom talk.” First of all if they had any idea how much your fans love you, they would have hired you on the spot. Whoever “they” are whatever “they” are looking for they got it wrong this time. That happens all the time in the arts. I’m a writer, I know. Ask me how many times my first novel was rejected before it got published. And I was lucky. So many artists never get recognized for the work they do.

    But you know all that. You know you picked a profession that rewards fickle attributes like height and looks over talent. Over suitability. How many times have you seen a movie that could have been so much better if “they’d” gone for acting ability over fame? I’ve seen tons.

    The problem with basing everything on the potential for commercial success is that it causes whole industries to travel the safe road. To choose based on box office draw rather than on what will make an audience come back and see the movie again and again. I don’t know what you were auditioning for, but whatever it was, if you thought you were good for the role, you probably were. (Oh too many commas in that sentence. I can’t be bothered to fix it.) You strike me as down to earth and level headed. I assume you aren’t trying for roles that you aren’t suited for.

    I think the fact they didn’t hire you has far more to do with their own short sighted inability to see beyond their preconceived and previsualized ideas than it has to do with your talent. People see what they want to see, not what is truly in front of them. You could have played the essence of that part, and they may not have seen it. Because you didn’t match the picture in their heads.

    You can’t do anything about that. And it’s no use beating yourself up over it. I understand the disappointment. There’s an editor I would LOVE to work with, but she doesn’t see what she needs to see in my work. I can get better, but that’s no guarantee that I’ll ever get to work with her.

    So be disappointed, but hang on to your self esteem. You could be (insert the actor you admire most here) and have awards out the kazoo, but you’d still be wrong for somebody. (To paraphrase a line from my favorite movie – which was a commercial flop, btw.)

  14. Wil I’ll say this with only respect STFU……. Pull up your Big Boy Pantys and deal with it…..
    Your chosen career comes with a lot of rejection for no reason so what?
    Don’t you think that millions of people go to their shit jobs for crap bosses for no money for 60 hours or more a week with no end and no future?

    Now the carrot. Remember you rock, good kids hot wife good life, better and more work than you have had in years….
    KEEP doing it exactly as you have and remember it doesn’t matter what anyone especially me thinks, only you have to lay your head down and sleep with your choices you make in life and if you gave it your all that’s all that matters..

  15. I empathize with you, Mr. Wheaton. Trying out for a “real” job can be similar but usually the rejection is not based on something totally superficial like the few acting tryouts I’ve had. I wasn’t the right height/weight/hair color/age… If such stupid things were important then they should have announced that up front. I feel if they are looking for something in particular then they should let everyone know that ahead of time and if you don’t want to go that way or don’t fit the superficial bill, it’s your decision and risk. Something deep inside me tells me the way most auditions are done, even for what you say is a “real” job, is abusive and wrong. Even for those, I find they want someone with a piece of paper saying they are good but not someone with real, demonstrable experience. And even then, they might want someone with a lower pay scale attached to them even if it means way more potential problems (I’m thinking computer security here but it applies elsewhere).

    From my outside of the acting world viewpoint, it seems that many gigs are gotten through someone else seeing your audition tape after the fact and thinking that you’d be perfect for this other roll over here completely not attached to this project. Seems I’ve heard of that happening. Then you get a call, somewhat out of the blue and bingo, you’re in another acting roll that turns out to be magic for your. I recall a recent interview with Bradley Cooper where he sent auditions in for several projects cold. He didn’t get them. But Robert De Niro saw one and came to visit him in person to tell him to keep it up. Turns out that helped him get the gig for Silver Linings Playbook. You never know!

    You’re a good person and many, many people feel kinship with you and what you’ve gone through in your life on many levels. So, stiff upper lip and all that. It sucks; so go curl up with your wife, have a (home made) beer. You’ve earned it.

  16. Today I am down with the flu and I feel like crap. I am lying on the couch and my dog jumps up on me and proceeds to lick my face for a full 60 seconds. He says, “There, now. Everything is fine! I love you, I kissed you. Life is beautiful. Smile.” And you know, I feel a lot better. Go hug your dog and remember the important things in your life–Anne and the boys.

  17. I’m sorry that you didn’t get it. That really stinks.

    Would it help to point out that you have been wanting to focus on writing? It sounds like this job was a TV show, which would have taken a great deal of time.

    No, it probably doesn’t help because right now you’re feeling sad and discouraged and so just know that you’ve been heard and that it is okay to feel how you feel.

    Also know that lots of people think you’re a pretty amazing fella and we’d LOVE to see you each week on a great show again. I’m sure that day will come!

    P.S. I really want to come see you in Portland next week. I’m in Eugene, Oregon and I hadn’t budgeted for that this month, but I’m going to try to figure it out!

  18. I’m not an actor but a teacher so it’s not going to be an accurate comparison, but bear with me: elementary teaching jobs in the Portland-area get about 200 applicants for each positon. If your lucky, you interview. The problem is that it doesn’t show what you’re really capable of. I know I’d get the job most of the time if they just saw me working in a classroom and keeping people engaged.

    That’s my comparison. You’re such a great entertainer that an audition almost isn’t fair. I’ve never heard anybody talk about you as a bad actor. Even people I know who hate Big Bang Theory have offered, “Sometimes that guy from Star Trek is on but otherwise I don’t like it.” It sucks what happened to you, but all of your fans, friends, and family are going to continue to recognize the quality of what you do.
    (P.S. gummi bears will always de-curse the frogurt)

  19. I was a bit behind on reading your posts, so I just read this post and the previous post in reverse order.

    Man, that was just heart wrenching.

    I’m so sorry you’re “not the guy” especially after all that. And that you don’t even know why. That just sucks. I’d like to think it was for some silly, shallow reason like they wanted someone extra tall or extra something that was not really a reflection on you at all. In fact, given what was said at the end about your affection bleeding through, I almost can’t see how it could be anything else.

    But I suppose all the blog comments in the world, supportive and kind as they are, can’t really solve the self-doubt issues the have cropped up. I hope that you are able to make peace with the situation sooner, rather than later, so you can be ready for the next awesome opportunity. Your fans would love to see you back on our TV screens again. We miss you. :)

  20. I’m really glad you posted this. I recently attempted to start a voice over career. I liked the recording and the editing. But I found I hated auditioning. I never got any response. Was the technical quality bad? Did they just not like my voice? Did they even listen to my audition? Any kind of input would have been helpful. I felt like I was sending demos out into a void.

    To know that you, with a long career in acting, feel the same doubts, makes me feel better.

  21. This might not help but you will always be “Our guy”.

    I can honestly say that I will watch a TV show, web series, whatever, simply because you are in it. In my world that puts you in the same league as Morgan Freeman, Patrick Stewart and James Earl Jones. Steve Jackson’s games now has a direct line to my bank account thanks to Tabletop . The Creepy Candy Coating Corollary is the reason why I started watching Big Bang Theory and I started consuming all things Nerdist because of your appearance on the podcast several years ago.

    You make a nothing show something and a good show spectacular.

  22. So, I know I’m just a fan. Well, not just a fan, because I know you value your fans, but still. I’m not a friend of yours, or an actor, or anything. But I have to say that I love you in Big Bang, and The Guild, and I loved you on Eureka (and I’m still gutted it ran its course), and I love TableTop and seeing you perform live (twice) is one of my favorite things, a thing I brag about. It was a highlight of the JCCC2 for me.

    So, I say take what your fellow actors and other creators say to heart – it’s not you, it’s them and their decision. I think you’re a great actor, and a great writer. You make things I want to see and things I want to read. I’m sad for you that didn’t get to be the guy, but I know you will get something else that will be awesome, too, and the thing you didn’t get will be the worse for not having you in it. I am sad for me that I won’t get to see you in it, which is selfish but ultimately true. I am with Bonnie Burton – when she opens BurtonFilms and I’m her not-so-silent cash backer, we’ll cast you in Every Film Ever.

    Anyway, you don’t need my opinion. Go brew something, hug your awesome wife, give your kid a hard time, and watch the dogs chase each other around the backyard, because that’s the real joy you get in life, not reading the fan comments on the internet. ;)

  23. I know it’s totally not the same, but I am a hard worker and I care about any company I work for… and I totally suck at interviews. There have been so many that I have rocked and not gotten the job, and so many that I totally bombed and also not gotten the job, because who hires the girl who starts crying in a freakin’ job interview? Holy crap.

    You were happy with what you did in that audition. On top of that, big-name-producer read your performance how it was intended and liked it. You did that. He didn’t compliment you because he felt obligated; he’s big-name-producer! You made an impression because you are good at your craft. You may have just opened the door for another totally awesome project with big-name-producer because of it. I know it’s the not knowing that kills, and you may need to change something about the way you audition, but you are good at what you do and don’t let any voice in your head tell you otherwise.

    I’m judging at a Forensics competition next weekend, and I’ll be thinking about you when I write my critiques. Those kids, who probably get picked on because they talk to cinder-block walls between rounds, deserve an honest assessment of their work that gives them direction for improvement, not just an arbitrary ranking of their work.

  24. Something that increases disapointment in life, is REALLY wanting something in life and then not getting it. We’ve all had it, whether it’s the girl, the job, the car, our team to win…or the lollipop ( I recall my own tantrum at not being allowed to have it NOW) (so what if that was last week…)

    We forget all the times we did get, the girl, the job, the car, our team won, or yes the lollipop. For me, the most amazing thing occur when I’m not trying, searching, hoping.

    You’ve told us here before, your happiness doesn’t depend on other peoples decisions. In this case, maybe truly, you just weren’t right. I’m sure a lot of good actors treid out for the joker in Batman. They probably did great auditions. But, Heath Ledger was right for that role, not them.

    Not getting the job says nothing about you. Some games are really good games, but yet you decide they don’t get the gig on Tabletop. Imagine how those poor games feel. They migHt think they suck, but does not being on table top mean they suck? No. They, for whatever reason, just weren’t right for YOUR show. But they are still great games.

    Keep at it. Something great will come along.

  25. Ah ya know what? I remember tony Robbins saying, if you tried something and it didn’t work, try something else ( or a different way). If that didn’t work, try something else, and if that didn’t work, gues what…..? Try something else.

    How long would you give the average baby to try and walk until you didn’t let them try anymore? Are you kidding? You have them try UNTIL they walked. – Tony Robbins.

  26. Wil,

    You inspired me to start writing again, you convinced me to start a blog this weekend, and you are the most positive role model in my life right now. It tears me up to see that positive well of energy, you so readily share with the world, poisoned with negative self-talk.

    We’ve never met. I don’t know you. But I know you are a talented actor, a brilliant writer, and if your cadre of friends and family are to be believed, a caring, awesome human being.

    Let’s call this blog entry ‘venting’ on move on with your wonderful life. Extra hugs Anne! Tell him to go-on with his bad ass and do something awesome. ;)

    My partner and I will raise a glass of Sierra Nevada Pale in your honor tonight. See you next week at the show!

    In support and admiration,
    Richard from Portland.

  27. I am successful, but the stack of rejection letters that still continues to grow makes me question that success from time to time, particularly when there is financial reward dangling beyond the rejection.

    I have learned to take a deep breath and ask myself:

    1. What went well?
    2. What was a little tricky for me in that situation?
    3. What would I do differently next time?

    And then I move on. I cannot turn back time but by asking myself these three questions I am doing what I can to prepare for next time. There is always a next time.

    Also, sometimes there is no changing the morons sitting across from me that don’t want to be a part of my success. There loss, not mine.

  28. The obvious problem is that these people will never be able to tell you why they didn’t pick you for the role, because the criteria are so nebulous as to be impenetrable. I mean, how many roles have been setup for a male and then some person comes in and changes it to a female, without really impacting the story much at all. These roles are determined by whoever is working the room at the time and whatever they think is right, based on a bunch of gut feelings generated by what they’ve read in the script. So, essentially you’re playing your version of the character and hoping that your version matches up with whatever they have come up with in their head.

    This to me is a Sisyphean task. I really don’t see why actors ever go into these things expecting that they will get the role. If anything you should be expecting failure just about every time, but hoping for success.

    The first thing to do would be to take auditions roles where you fit at least physically the type they are looking for. I would assume that Wil Wheaton doesn’t audition for 300 Part 2: More Ripped Sword Wielding Dudes. That said, people are still influenced by looks, but there is not much you can do about that other than change your haircut or shave or alter your clothing. Perhaps plastic surgery? Shave your head like Picard and get some neck tattoos?

    Honestly, I have no real good advice, like I said the whole thing seems to be a setup for failure, so at the very least you shouldn’t be surprised when people at these auditions don’t recognize that your interpretation of the character is terrific. Their fantasy concoction of the character just doesn’t really match up with yours.

  29. I’m sorry. It truly blows to not get something you really want. I hope something three thousand times more awesome comes your way soon.

  30. Hang in there, is somewhat over used, but a mantra that I repeat on a regular basis. I too used to audition and rarely ever get the part, but if I was offered things went well ( in stage, though.) Now I’m a poet, and I have found that being a poet is so much like that. You send 50 poems out, and never get a single one published (for the most part it’s still true that poets aren’t famous until after their gone.) And yet every year I have to stand up in front of teenagers and teach them, guide them, and *believe* that I am poet enough to do so. Some months are far, far easier than others. I think that rejection should make us question ourselves… and it certainly keeps up re-inventing ourselves, even if it punches you in the gut a 100 times while doing it.

    The reality is, you are talented. It’s there in the dramatic and comedic roles you’ve played. You have managed to take on rolls that from what I can tell are so completely opposite of who you are, and pull them off with aplomb. Remember that, remember that you also have friends and family who are incredible (obviously) and pets who adore you, and all the things you go through, love and experience only make you better.

    It sucks to not get a part you want so badly. There will be other parts, and someday you will get that part that makes the people who didn’t take you think they were mad!

  31. I have taken to assuming that they wanted someone older or less attractive than me. :-)

    And I have gone back to directors I’ve worked with to ask how I can improve the way I audition and have gotten some pretty good advice.

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