So you want to be an actor eh? Well stop right there and ask yourself do you want to be or need to be an actor. There is a huge difference and the below might help you in that decision. These are some of the thoughts and tasks that go through my head when acting and trying to make your way into this fiercely competitive industry. (The above image is of Gloria Swanson in 1980)
1. I Need To Practice My Craft
You never really finish learning and perfecting your craft. In the early stages this is really critical, you need to make sure you’re getting enough of the right training for you. Now I don’t just mean throw yourself at a drama school for three years and hope for the best, a school is only ever as good as its current teachers (despite the illustrious alumnae). You need to find a teacher who you feel is bringing out the best of you and your preferred way to work. Once found, often a task in itself, then you need to stay disciplined and focused on committing to your classes.
2. Get The Essentials
Often the first thing you’ll hear once you decide to embark on the actor’s road is do you have your headshots? Are you on spotlight? These things though costly are certainly necessary. Here are a few key for your list:
- Spotlight if UK
3. How Can I Be Seen?
Another question that you’ll soon face is how to get yourself noticed in a massively competitive industry. Here are some useful methods. (For full details click here)
- Casting Director/Agent workshops
4. Know Your Industry
You have to devour the trade journals all the time, watch films…a lot of films, TV, go to see plays. You need keep up to date with the industry. Who’s making what? How much did that film gross? Who won what awards? Etc. (More details can be found here)
5. Make it Part of your Weekly Routine
It takes a lot of discipline to be an actor, you need to make it part of your routine to reach out to the people you need to. Whether that’s emailing agents/casting directors, or applying for jobs via spotlight/castingcallpro.
6. Don’t Apologise for Yourself…Ever!
It’s tough when you’re first starting out, going about your day to day lives, filling out forms, meeting friends, old acquaintance’s and new people, sooner or later there will come the inevitable question of…”so what do you do?” At which point you can:
A: Tell them about your day job
C: Tell them you’re an Actor
Option C is the most difficult and brings about the most awkward, uncomfortable feelings as you gulp and await the inevitable counterattack “Oh so what have you been in?” It’s tough, its unforgiving, its frustrating, but don’t apologise for it. It is what it is, you are who you are and that’s the sum of it. This feeds in nicely to the next thought on the list…
7. Friends and Family May not “Get” It
So you’ve fessed up and surrendered to the fact that you are indeed an actor (albeit a somewhat less worked one). You tell your friends and family, you tell them that you’ve been in countless wonderful fringe theatre productions, and that really good short film they shot in New Cross, and on that one they even paid for your travel (a few extra quid on the oyster card). But no as yet you haven’t made any substantial income from it, and you’re not about to get a mortgage from the bank for your efforts.
As much as you try to explain, your friends and family for the most part just wont get it, they wont understand why you need to act so badly and why you would be willing to go through such bleak times for a goal that in all honesty is becoming increasingly difficult to attain (to sustain a living as a working actor). The point is they don’t NEED to get it, you need to accept that you are who you are, and its your dream, your future, and its in your hands…even though most times it doesn’t seem that way at all.
8. Prepare to put in long hours at the Day Job
You’ve hyped yourself up, after this showcase you’ll obviously be snapped up by some bigwig talent agent, you’ll sign with them in the morning over coffee, and by midweek you’ll be auditioning for Tarantino’s latest film so clearly you’ll have to quit your day job…wrong.
Although it is indeed possible to be snapped up by a big agent and go on to live happily ever after (I have known a few this scenario has happened to so it is possible) the odds are certainly against you and actually even if you do get signed up by a huge agent there is no guarantee you’ll get auditions let alone work. You need to be practical (very difficult for us highly imaginative actor types), plan for the long term. Save up so you can go to your classes, pay for your essentials, and maybe even make your own short film/production. This is a marathon not a sprint, you’re gonna be running a lot longer than you think.
9. Say Hello To Superstition
“Very superstitious, writings on the wall” Stevie Wonder
I use to believe it was just me affected by this but having spoken to other actor friends I now know I am not alone. It seems many actors are notoriously superstitious…it’s practically part of our tradition. Isn’t that why we say, “Break a leg” rather than good luck before a performance? In any case, we actors tend to cling to any and all forms of superstition, constantly looking for signs in the moon as to whether we will get through that audition tomorrow, or will my headshot finally land on Spielberg’s desk.
10. There’ll be a lot of Waiting
Make no mistake about it, the majority of an actor’s time is spent waiting, waiting for an audition, waiting to hear back from your letters, waiting to hear back from the short film you applied for, waiting, waiting waiting. It’s actually incredibly exhausting and frustrating; unless you decide to relax, breathe and take each step one at a time.
11. The Movie Face
Oh yes, this is a big one “The Movie Face” the ideal face we would like to have, its quite a ridiculous notion but if I’m honest the industry does have a big part to play in this as they can be horrifically ruthless in their perceptions of an actor. When all’s said and done, we have the looks that we’ve been given “It’s the way my mother put my hat on” to quote from a film. We can’t do anything about our looks, but we CAN make them worse through neglect or abuse, so the best approach is to make sure we’re eating right, exercising frequently to make sure we’re in the best condition we can be. Exercising regularly actually increases your confidence anyway so hopefully this should become less of a problem…so long as you don’t become obsessive over it. Do note that having confidence in ones self immediately makes you more “attractive”, in turn we can definitely notice this effect on screen, take Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston for example.
“I genuinely could not care less about how I look” Bryan Cranston
12. Lots of Self Doubt
Due to the anxiety and frustration of gaining ground within the industry you will no doubt come up against self-doubt. Can I even Act Anyway? Do I have the right look? Will I ever get an agent? Will I ever work in TV/Film? Rest assured you are not alone in harboring these thoughts, its normal, don’t let them weigh you down don’t too much. Keep on going despite them.
13. Beware all Stimulants
I have this theory, actors and in fact many creatives by their very nature of wanting to go to the extremes of an emotion tend to react aversely to all forms of stimulants. Take alcohol for example, as an actor its very easy and tempting even to binge given all the worries mentioned in the list above. It also feels like a bigger release to step off into the abyss of Gin and let tomorrow take care of tomorrow. Definitely worth being aware of the impact these substances have on your mentality as well as your body. If anything, they increase your already burgeoning anxieties.
14. Keep Going Through to the Next Checkpoint
Last but not least, you’ve got to keep going pushing through to the next checkpoint no matter what life throws in your way. It’s a difficult industry to break into but its not impossible. Those that have found success seem to have one thing in common and that’s stamina. Remember in film, at the “All Is Lost” point where it seems hopeless for our protagonist, they are near the journey’s end.