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What does the term actress actually mean and, are you an actor or actress?

Are you an actor or an actress? © Nick Gregan

Actor Sheila Hancock by Nick Gregan.

I was listening to an interview with Dame Sheila Hancock just after I had taken her portrait. Dame Sheila is a legend in British TV and theatre and is respected for her strong views.

She was talking about her new book Old Rage, where she discusses getting old, her career and her life in general.


The ONE thing that struck me was when the interviewer asked her why she described herself as an actor rather than an actress.

She was quite forthright in her explanation, she said, ‘do you call a female doctor a doctoress or a female engineer an engineeress?’  

Is there a difference? No.

Is the craft different? No.

So why should we be called something different?

I am an actor.

Why is what a woman does different from a man when they are doing the same job of work?

But Dame Sheila makes a valid point, is there a difference in what they do, their craft, their preparation, their interpretation and their delivery? Is there a difference between a male actor and a female actress? She thinks not. 

The question, are you an actor raises some interesting points.

I’m not an actor so I can’t say definitively, but I would agree with her and say there doesn’t appear to be a difference in their performance.

In my actor headshots, I ask my subjects to perform and act as though they were on stage or set. I haven’t seen a difference in what a male or female does!

As far as I am aware it’s the same craft, the same skills and the same passion. I have seen a difference between good actors and those less skilful.

I have seen a difference between those who give 100% and those who don’t and those who understand the qualities a successful actor needs. 

Ask yourself are you an actor or just playing at it?

A great actor headshot will get you noticed, and it will get you in the door of the audition. But it can’t do the acting for you. 

If you are an actor, your actor headshot is only part of your armoury and part of your marketing toolkit. But in the end, it boils down to the simple question you need to ask yourself are you an actor?

This is what defines you, are you an actor or an actress?



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