Confidence is everything...especially when you don't have it. If skill is the arrow, confidence is what allows you to release that arrow.

Fortunately, confidence is not something you either have or don't have. Confidence can be developed--even if you're incredibly shy and nearly petrified at the thought of stepping out of your comfort zone.

Case in point: Tamara Taylor, the star of Bones, Fox television's longest-running drama, which is currently airing its 12th and final season. She's also appeared in nine movies and a number of other television shows.

As child she was painfully shy. So what did she do?

She decided to try acting in order to overcome her fear.

As you'll see, "overcome" is the wrong word, though, because, as with many of us, for Tamara confidence isn't just a switch that, once flipped, stays on forever.

Confidence is earned, each and every day...and the process often starts when you dive in and do what you're most afraid to do.

I'm shy (and insecure), and I've worked to overcome that...but I would never have been brave enough to try acting to overcome shyness.

[Laughs] I know it sounds crazy, but it made sense for me. One, I love--loved--movies, and that still, quiet part of myself thought I might be good at acting if I tried it.

But that was also the thing that scared me the most. I was so shy it almost paralyzed me in social settings. And as shy people know, that can become a vicious cycle: The more uncomfortable you feel around people, the more you retreat, and the more shy you get....

Fortunately, my best friend in the world had moved to Los Angeles and gotten a part on a hit TV show, and I thought if only I could do that.... So I got into an acting class because it scared me to my core.

The glorious surprise was I actually loved acting. It took many years of acting classes to get even remotely comfortable, but that's OK. It helped me so much on a personal level, not to mention professionally.

Still, there's a difference between class and an actual performance. How confident were you going into your first real role?

The first time I ever actually had a line was on A Different World, my best friend Cree Summer's show. I was in L.A. visiting her and she said, "Hey, there's a walk-on part, why don't you audition for it?"

I gulped and said, "OK...."

Thankfully, I knew the producers, and that helped, but I still had to stand in front of a room full of producers and say my one line: "I'll bring the toaster muffins." And somehow they hired me.

The night of the show I was looking for exit doors. I was scared, and that made me think this wasn't something I really wanted to do, there was no way I could do it, I wanted to be anywhere but there...but I pulled it together and said, "Hi Duane, see you later, I'll bring the toaster muffins."

That was my big debut. [Laughs] It wasn't as graceful and courageous as one would hope, but still. It was one little thing.

The key is to conquer your fear in bite-size pieces. That experience let me put a deposit in my confidence bank account. That deposit gave me a little extra the next time--I was still scared to my core, but now I had an experience to look back on and say, "I made it through that, so let's try this...."

I love the premise of a confidence bank account, because that's how it works for me, too. But still: Sometimes you run into situations where you don't have enough in the bank to cover what you need to do.

One of the scariest moments was being on Tyler Perry's first movie, Diary of a Mad Black Woman.

I played a drug addict. Up to that point I had played professionals--doctors, lawyers, strong characters--and when the opportunity to play a person who was completely unraveling came along, I jumped at the chance...but that chance also scared the hell out of me.

I had to dive into the deep end. There was no half-stepping on that role. She was a crack head. I couldn't play it safe.

My first day of shooting was in an old church in Atlanta. I had to walk into the church from the crack house across the way. My daughter is singing and I walk into the church singing...I'm basically singing to God.

l was already terrified, and I had to do that scene as my very first scene of shooting on the film. There I was, walking in and looking out at this audience of incredible actors like Cicely Tyson.

I remember going to the basement of the church beforehand and just taking a deep breath. Once again, I was looking for every single exit door, some way to get out of where I was. The fear was so great, I wanted any way out.

I know that feeling, No matter how exciting something seems ahead of time, fear can make me look for any way out when the moment actually arrives. How did you work through that?

I did the same thing I sometimes do now. I took a minute and got really quiet and centered myself. I thought about everything that had brought me to that point. I reminded myself that I was prepared. I was ready. I could do it. And when it's over, I'll be so glad I did.

I was shaking when I walked into the church--which was actually OK, since I was playing a person who was unraveling--but it was also really fun.

And it felt great afterwards. It feels amazing when you push past your fear and give it your all.

You mention preparation--that's a major factor in gaining confidence. Preparation is another way to make confidence bank deposits.

Preparation makes you more confident beforehand, but it also helps in the moment.

If I'm prepared, I can act past the nerves because I know what I'm doing. But preparation also allows room for you to be present and fluid when things change around you. You can walk in with an idea about a scene, but sometimes that scene changes when you're on the set, and if you know your stuff it's easier to roll with those changes.

When you're prepared, changes are just modifications. They don't throw you. They don't steal your confidence, because you know that even if something changes, you're still 90 percent there--you just have to adapt a little to what is new.

How do you stay confident in the face of rejection? Hearing "no" is an everyday occurrence for an actor.

I've seen statistics that say for every one job an actor lands, they were rejected 39 times. That's a gnarly statistic.

You have to have a thick skin, because 39 out of 40 times you're going to hear "no." It's really challenging to go to an audition and give it your all...and then leave the room and let it go, and not take it personally, and move on and do your best at the next audition, and the next, and the next....

I can't tell you how many times how bad I've been in an audition. I can't tell you how many embarrassing moments I've experienced. I also can't tell you how many times I've been great, or experienced stellar moments, and still not gotten the job.

You just keep on trucking until you land something. Often that "yes," however small the part might be, will lead to something else...and at the very least it always leads to gaining more confidence.

There are a lot of great actors out there, but there aren't a lot of people who can persevere. Rejection is tough. You can tell yourself it's not personal, but there are days you leave feeling like you're terrible, that you have no talent, and that maybe it's time for you to give up.

So how do you work through that?

The key to my perseverance was absolutely loving the craft of acting. I just figured that if I kept doing it, at the very least I would get better at acting. Even if I didn't become a tremendous success, as long as I knew I was improving and getting better, to me that was success.

Feeling successful is internal, not external.

There's that Steve Jobs quote that says the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do...and it does require a little bit of "crazy" to say the light is green when the world is telling you the light is red.

The world tells lots of people the light is red. You have to trust yourself and say, "I think the light is green, and I'm going to keep doing this."

As long as you keep going, you'll keep getting better. And as you get better, you gain more confidence.

That alone, to me, is success.

Published on: Jan 25, 2017
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.