When Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated and BAFTA-winning actor Chiwetel Ejiofor was lauded for his portrayal of Solomon Northup in 12 Years a Slave, he was overwhelmed with support before the awards ceremonies. In stark contrast, he likened the subsequent days after the awards season to the Olympic Games and the World Cup saying, “You win and it’s great. But then it’s time for the next one, and nobody cares if you won before.” So what is Chiwetel’s idea of success in regards to his acting? He was once quoted as saying, “I like to disappear into a role. I equate the success of it with a feeling of being chemically changed.” Perhaps he is continuing to feel chemically changed in his more recent projects including playing an FBI agent in the film The Secret in Their Eyes, and starring in a London theater production called Everyman.
Kevin Spacey has had his share of accolades as well. With Best Actor Academy Awards for his portrayals as Roger “Verbal” Kint in The Usual Suspects, and the mid-life challenged Lester Burnham in American Beauty, and more recently taking home a Golden Globe for his character Frank Underwood in the political drama series House of Cards. But Spacey similarly equates success with an inner feeling. “I very often watch a lot of young people sort of meander around without any idea about why they’re doing what they’re doing. I mean to want and to be ambitious and to want to be successful is not enough. That’s just desire. To know what you want, to understand why you’re doing it, to dedicate every breath in your body to achieve; if you feel you have something to give, if you feel that your particular talent is worth developing, is worth caring for, then there’s nothing that you can’t achieve.”
Dustin Hoffman has had his generous share of awards showered upon him for roles in movies like Kramer vs. Kramer and Rain Man. But he insists that even if he hadn’t received “by freak accident” a breakthrough role–as Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate–which lead to his prolific and celebrated career that he’d still be acting any chance he could find. “There’s no question in my mind whether I’d be teaching at some college or whether I’d go to some repertoire theater in Seattle, wherever, I’d be doing it.” His idea of success is actually doing what he loves to do, likening his sense of purpose as an actor to Picasso and his relentless drive to paint.
What are your ideas about success in your career? Do you share the sentiments of these three noteworthy actors, or do you have other ideas of success and milestones to mark along your actor journey?