Being the Best We Can: My Personal Code of Conduct

AJ Donnelly

8th March 2022

For better or for worse, a lot of media coverage and public attention is given over to the various activities of celebrities, whether it be the good they do, or the mistakes they make. While I’ve never slapped someone in anger, kissed and told or been accused of inappropriate relations, I have made more than my fair share of mistakes, and made a lot of choices in the past that I’m not proud of. I try to live my life better now, and do what I can to improve the world, rather than make it worse. 

With that in mind, in no particular order and based solely on my own experiences, I came up with this little ‘code of conduct’. 

1.  Keep it Positive

Whatever we are facing, whoever is attacking us or trying to bring us down, as professionals, we handle it professionally. That means we shouldn’t air our ‘dirty laundry’ in public, no matter what the situation. We should aim to maintain a public persona of calm, discipline and positivity at all times. That applies to both public posts and direct communication with individuals. If that means never posting when we are emotional, or immediately after something has happened, so be it. If in doubt, ask your team, agent, representative or peers their opinion first.

At the need of the day, people always respond better to positivity and high energy. And it is hard to always smile and look on the bright side when we feel the world is against us. But we do create the world as we see it. So whatever you are sharing, try to keep it upbeat, affirming and inspirational. It shows you to be a true professional.

For reference, think about any top star, and ask yourself how often you see them fire off angry social media posts about something that has happened to them. Very few do, because their silence shows much more professionalism than a post would.

2.  Be constantly aware of public perception

The public, and the media, will only ever judge us by what they see and hear, no matter what the truth is. Things will always be taken out of context. As we grow as actors, more and more of our lives will be in the public eye, and everything we say and do will be inspected and analysed. That means, as much as it’s annoying, we must be very careful of how we conduct ourselves in public. Whether that is losing our tempers at Starbucks staff, or being overly friendly with fellow cast members or crew on set, tongues may wag, photos may be taken, stories may be shared. Even if our actions are justified, or completely innocent, we have to be aware of how we look to others. 

Consider stars like Will Smith (recent controversy aside). He has made it a rule to never touch fans and co-workers, even when hugging or taking photos, to avoid any suggestion of ‘inappropriateness’. 

3.  Avoid arguments

No matter what happens, we should never raise our voices, get into arguments and most definitely never get into physical confrontations. It doesn’t matter who was ‘right’. Being in any public environment means maintaining the professionalism that we should be best known for. And while we may think avoiding disagreement in public is enough, the fact is that with screenshots and word of mouth, disagreements with productions, co-stars and “friends” on any platform can have lasting effects, both for our own reputations, and for anyone we are associated with.

Most of us on set have professional representation, whose job it is to take care of our needs when communicating with productions, crew, media etc. By allowing our reps to handle any disagreements, we shield ourselves from public perception and give ourselves a suitable ‘barrier’ to any kind of ‘miscommunication’ or ‘misunderstanding’. Deal with issues away from others’ eyes and ears, without raising our voices. This doesn’t mean accepting everything that we are told to do, or accepting poor treatment from others. It just means only ever handling it in a 100% professional, calm way. 

For reference, consider literally any celebrity who has been in any kind of argument or confrontation on set. It NEVER reflects well on them, ever. 

4. Do not engage haters

Haters gonna hate. It’s a cliche, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Having detractors is just par for the course the more well-known you become. And there is very little you can do about it. The majority of trolls and dissenting voices will be anonymous, and the more you try to combat them, the more they are getting exactly what they want: attention. 

As actors, we are naturally more sensitive, and it can be a challenge to ignore comments. But how much time do you think Robert De Niro, or Patrick Stewart, spend engaging with those who write negative things about them? I can’t be sure, but I would bet it is very little, if any at all. That’s because they are professional and they know better. There are so many better things you can spend your time on, like improving yourself or spreading positive messages. You have nothing to prove to the world.

5. Be better

When we are working on movies and TV shows, getting media attention or lots of social media engagement, it can sometimes be hard to remember that we, like everyone else, are far from perfect, with our own foibles and quirks. But we do need to remember, and to be aware that we can always be better.

How? It can be anything, whether it’s your acting technique and skill set, your vocal acumen and accents, your fitness, or simply learning more about the industry you work in, from researching directors and producers, to learning more about how lighting and sound systems affect the work you do as an actor.

There will always be something new to add to your repertoire, some way you can be a better version of yourself. Plus, even if you only look at it from a career point of view (and not just living your life to the fullest!) casting directors love to see that actors have taken the time to improve themselves and their craft. So if diving into an acting text book or watching some coaching videos on YouTube might help you land more work, why aren’t you already doing it?

6. Know your worth

No matter who you are or what you achieve, your journey will be a rollercoaster. Sometimes you will be flying high, sometimes you will hate the world and everyone in it because of a bad review. But nothing should ever change the value you put on yourself.

Even if you make a mistake, and we all do, while you should do everything in your power to atone for it, you shouldn’t let it lower your self esteem. Similarly, just because someone else is doing better than you today, doesn’t mean you should feel jealousy towards them. They are on their own path, and will experience the same highs and lows as you. Everyone has the same value as a human being and should be treated accordingly.

7. Promote others more you promote yourself

Most actors want to stand out and have the world see and applaud them. It’s something that attracts many people to the world of movies, TV shows and theatre in the first place. And there is nothing wrong with that. We work hard to climb that ladder of success, and when we do, we deserve a moment to shout loudly from the top “Here I am!”

But once we have a platform, whether that’s on social media, press coverage or our own talk show (one day!) there is a lot more we can do with those platforms than talk about ourselves. We didn’t get where we are without the love and support of others. Whether that’s friends, family, peers, staff, crew or fans, someone, in some way, helped us to get where we are. 

So when you see others succeeding, celebrating or asking for help, consider not sharing your own new headshot or latest casting today, but share theirs instead. Be part of each other’s stories, create community and let people know that they aren’t alone, no matter what their current life status is.

8. Always keep perspective

Yes, it’s true that you are wonderful, yes you are successful, yes your new movie is coming out…. or perhaps you were dumped by a new TV show after they made all sorts of verbal promises. But what’s also true is that right now, while you are enjoying the rewards of what you have sowed, or reeling from the unfairness of the internet trolls, 10% of the world’s population lives below the poverty line, 8.9% of the world live in famine, and by 2030, an estimated 2 billion people in the world will be affected by war.

Think about those statistics for a moment, then ask yourself again how important what you are currently going through is. I’m not trying to negate your happiness, nor undermine your own personal suffering, but I am asking us all to have some perspective, especially when sharing our successes and challenges with others.

Also important to remember is that no matter who we are, what we have achieved, or what we have coming up next, there is always someone better than us, ahead of us, more successful than us. 

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t share our victories with others, because your story might inspire others. But when sharing, we should always be humble, acknowledging those who helped us, the fact that success is fleeting at best, and that there will always be more we can do. 

Or perhaps not post about ourselves today, and post about something else a little more important.

I’m undoubtedly guilty of breaking all of the above codes at some point in my life, and will probably have to answer for that one day, but in the meantime, this list will hopefully serve me as a reminder of some of the most important things to think about in both my life as an actor, and as a human being.

While I hope that these kind of stupid choices are now behind me, I thought this list might also provide inspiration to others as well, hence me wanting to share. Of course, everyone is an individual, and has to find their own way along the crazy path of life, but if these suggestions act as a launching point to help guide you, then they will have served a purpose even better than simply guiding me.

Or maybe you have another point of view, or something you think I missed. If so, feel free to drop me an email or leave a comment below. After all, actors are meant to observe and learn from the world around us, so if you have another opinion you’d like to share, I really want to hear it!

Published On: June 1st, 2022 / Categories: Behind the Scenes, General, Movies, The Acting Industry /

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