Just today, I had a talent walk into the office telling me a story about being asked her real age during a casting session. She is the exception to the rule in that she does not play anywhere near her real age, but she decided to answer the question with her legal age. The Casting Director and she had a short and kind conversation about her not fitting the client's requested age range. She was advised she would not be submitted because the CD did not want to have to lie to the client, should the client directly ask. No one did anything wrong, so why isn't she being considered for the gig?
In an industry of perception, these words from NYC casting director Scott Powers are timely!
If you haven't been on the receiving end of this question yet,
you will. How you deal with it is critical to the future (productive or destructive) relationship between you and the person asking for this intrusive information.
Keep in mind we're in a visual industry. What you look like is a big part of being submitted and booked for jobs. This includes your age - your empirical age. If you truthfully look 35 - 40, but are in reality 65, you should be submitted for 35-40 year olds. Not for roles that are looking for 65s. You don't look that age, so you shouldn't be going out for them. You will not get that 65 year old part! You will be wasting your time and your energy.
The age question comes up often in agents' interviews. It's also on a lot of stat sheets. That doesn't mean you necessarily have to answer the question specifically. We never advocate lying, but did you know it's against the law to ask your age as a condition of employment, with the exception of alcohols, tobaccos and certain pharmaceuticals?
Here's the smart way to handle the question of what your age is: put down or tell them the middle year of your age range. In dead earnestness, as if your own mother doesn't know how old you are. We all try to get the skinny on you. Now "they" think they got some illicit information about you. "We know how old she really is!"
Step two of this process, determining what is your empirical age range. This is not the time to get too creative crazy. As a rule of thumb, age ranges tend to be max in a 10-year range (for older actors) down to a few years (for younger actors. Each year on an older actor is not as specifically registered as on a younger person.) To be objective on this, you don't do the numbers. Have a trusted agent, casting director or manager do this. Ask more than one and get an average.
BTW, did you know you'll drop to the bottom of your age range (the youngest you'll look) when you are smiling? So on those oh-so-blue days we all have, smiling will make you the youngest you can be.
Every few years, recalibrate your age range so you stay current and competitive.
AND, now you will be submitted for roles that are truly age-appropriate for you. AND will continue to have a constructive, rather than destructive, relationship with whoever is doing that asking.
No one in the casting room is going to bother with checking an ID in most cases. (You shouldn't be taking unnecessary materials in with you anyway, so leave it outside.) You're an actor, after all! It shouldn't be difficult to convincely state your character's age if you are in character. The casting session isn't about you -- it's about your character!
Have your [birthday] cake and eat it, too! What age are you playing?