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The Primo Carnera Effect

If you’re an old-time boxing and wrestling fan, you know the name Primo Carnera.

Carnera was a phenomenal athlete – and, apparently, a physical giant. He was a circus strongman in his native Italy before traveling to the U.S. and winning the heavyweight boxing title in 1933. You may remember his (somewhat unflattering) portrayal as the giant boxer who Max Baer defeats in the film Cinderella Man. Better still, you can see the real Primo in two of my favorite old-time movies, Mighty Joe Young (1949) and

The Prizefighter and the Lady (1933).

If you talk with fight fans of the day, they’ll all tell you the same thing: “Primo Carnera was a giant. He was over seven feet tall.”

Actually, he was six-foot-six, certainly very tall for a boxer, but not quite the seven-foot man-mountain people believed him to be.

There’s a reason for this slight discrepancy between perception and reality. Primo’s handlers – and the promoters of his fights – surrounded him with the shortest men they could find. Trainers, sparring partners, ring attendants, seconds, cut men, photographers, announcers … everyone.

They wanted to make sure that whenever people saw Primo Carnera – but especially when he walked towards the ring – he towered over everyone else. In live arenas, in newsreel footage, or in still photographs, he always looked like a giant.

I call this the Primo Carnera Effect.

It’s a relative difference in perception based upon those around you. How does this apply to actors? In a subtle, but powerful way. You don’t have to be the best actor in the world to book your next role – just the best actor in the room.

You don’t need to be Miss America to book the role of “Pretty Girl.” Is Julia Roberts the prettiest woman in Hollywood? Maybe. Maybe not. But what’s the name of the film for which she’s still best remembered? Correct.

If you find yourself at an audition with a bunch of actors behaving atrociously – as actors sometimes do at auditions – then try being as polite and respectful as possible.

By comparison, you’ll be seen as the nicest, friendliest actor in town. And the easiest to work with. That’s always a big plus in our industry.

And next time you're feeling low, before you put yourself down, think about Primo Carnera – and find a creative way to build yourself up instead. Tune in next month, and we’ll discuss the number one reason for all of us to stop criticizing ourselves for good.


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