When Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson transitioned from professional wrestling to Hollywood, he struggled to get roles.
The industry told him: Sever ties to your past career. Go by Dwayne Johnson. Never mention "The Rock" again. Leave that name in the world of wrestling. Slim down your body. You're too big. Start dieting. Stop working out so much. You need to fit into existing character descriptions.
In other words, don't be yourself.
He tried at first. To squeeze into the suffocating mold that was handed to him. Then, he got fed up.
Now, The Rock is Hollywood's highest-paid actor. If you ask someone on the street if they know of Dwayne Johnson, they'll probably recognize the name. Ask them who The Rock is, and you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn't heard of him. Now, he gets paid millions of dollars to play himself in every movie--with a different name, a different backstory, and a different occupation perhaps. But undeniably him.
He got tired of following other peoples' blueprints, so he became more of what made him him. Bigger. Stronger. Rockier. He refused to conform to the industry, and you know what happened? The industry conformed to him.
When The Rock is in a movie, it instantly boosts the film's value. He makes so much money because people will pay to see Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as himself. Movie studios want him, not because he fits into a role, but precisely because they have to make entire roles and storylines to fit him.
So at that time, when there was no blueprint for somebody like me, half black, half Samoan, I look how I look, I talk how I talk. You can’t be big, you can’t go to the gym, you can’t call yourself The Rock. Let’s not talk about pro-wrestling.
Well, you buy into that shit, as I did. Until--one of two things is gonna happen. You’re either gonna continue to go down that road, and that path, and you’re gonna be miserable. And eventually, your career is probably gonna fizzle out. You’re not going to have any sense of longevity or quality to it. Or, the other thing that’s gonna happen, you’re going to say, “Fuck this shit, I’m gonna be me, and we’re gonna see what happens.
And I think in that authenticity moment, that moment of clarity, a funny thing happened in the world of professional wrestling. And a funny thing happened in the world of Hollywood. Both industries conformed to my authenticity and allowed me to be me and that’s when things changed.
- Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson
In the vast marketplace of talent, the last thing you want to be is a commodity. You don't want to fit inside the traditional box. Lean into your uniqueness and eventually, if you're good enough, people will draw entirely new boxes to accommodate you.
Admittedly, "The Rock" approach isn't suited to everyone. Luckily, there's another career strategy that can work just as well.
You could be a chameleon--so adaptable that there isn't a job you can't do. Johnny Depp has played so many diverse characters that we hardly know what he actually looks like.
People will pay a lot for either: The Rock who only plays himself. Or Johnny Depp who wraps himself in fiction so skillfully that the actor is indistinguishable from the character. It’s the middle ground that will kill you. 95% of actors try to be versatile but with a slight personal flair, and it makes them look like wannabes.
Most people will find the most success being completely themselves (like The Rock did). But a few people are so focused on their craft that they'll do best molding themselves to their profession (like Johnny Depp did).
Either way, no one prefers lukewarm water. What matters is that you pick a side.