1. Understand the Industry
Before you enter it, become an expert on the acting and
entertainment industry. Read twenty books on the business of
acting, talk to dozens of actors and meet with as many people in
the industry as possible (directors, producers, agents, editors,
grips, stage managers, etc.). Pick their brains. Take notes. Send
thank you cards.
Interview a working actor with a career you’d like to one day have.
Ask them to share their roadmap with you. Study it.
With this knowledge you’ll have fewer surprises and disappointments
down the road.
2. Manage Your Expectations
Remember that your chances of becoming a star are extremely small.
You may be able to make a living after years of training and hard
work, but 99.99% of all actors are unknown and unburdened with
paparazzi and plenitude. If your goal is to win an Oscar, you will
most likely find disappointment.
However, if your goal is simply to act, fascinating audiences with
your ability to bring characters to life, working among a community
of fellow artists, then there is little to stop you. All you need
is a bit of talent, and a huge helping of persistence, flexibility,
and hard work.
3. Get Training
Study at a university with a good drama program. In addition to
acting, take courses in literature, psychology, history and
philosophy. A broad liberal arts background will provide you with
more tools and a broader palette from which to paint your portraits.
Never stop training. Take a few classes every year to address your
weaknesses (auditioning, camera work, stage combat) or to improve
skills that will increase your stamina, awareness, or psychological
well-being (yoga, aikido, dance are all good bets).
4. Get Awesome Headshots
Headshots are your primary means of getting work – don’t rush or
skimp on them. That doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune; it’s
more important to find a photographer who can bring out your best
Great headshot photographers will take time to get to know you,
identify your type, and give you lots of options. Job-winning
headshots are bursting with personality.
5. Get Practice
Don’t wait for the perfect role or the big gig: get out and act.
The most successful actors I know are continuously searching for
and working on various projects.
In addition to improving your abilities, working consistently keeps
you on directors’ and agents’ radar and increases the number of
people you’ll meet. And work leads to more work.
Finally, don’t be afraid to take on projects that aren’t perfectly
interesting or which don’t pay well (or at all). Especially in the
beginning of your career, you’re better off acting than not.
Remember that you can learn something from every acting experience,
no matter how dismal.
As in all industries, personal connections play an important role
in progress. Agents and directors work with those actors that they
know, like, and trust. So make sure people know you, and earn their
respect. You can accomplish this by always being professional and
Many people don’t like the idea of “networking” because it feels
impersonal and false. Think of it as building a community of people
who can support you in your aspirations. And you can support them.
The more advocates you have out there, they more work you’ll be
7. Be Positive
People like to be around those with a positive outlook. So don’t be
grumpy, especially on set or backstage. Don’t bring personal
problems to your job. Not only will the project be more enjoyable
and rewarding for everyone involved, but you’ll almost certainly do
And nothing helps get recommendations down the road than being
remembered as a person who was a joy to work with.
8. Never Stop Learning
Great actors are insatiably curious. They are full of wonder at the
world and the people who inhabit it. They ask questions, they
listen, they read, they watch plays and films and great television.
And even more important, they watch themselves.
In all these activities, they take notes and reflect, constantly
honing their craft.
9. Know Your Type
It’s natural to want to try new characters and normal to fear being
typecast. However, especially in the beginning of your career, it
is important to know your type. It will determine the feel of your
headshot and the roles you initially aim for.
It’s best to get advice from an experienced actor or casting agent
as to what your type could be. I’ve heard of actors who asked
strangers on the street: “What job do you think I do?” That can
give you an objective idea of what your look is (heartthrob, funny
guy, young dad).
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can’t break free from your
type, just that you understand your place in the market. You should
also realize that while most stars are quite attractive, there are
actually many more acting jobs for average or even quirky looking
10. Know Success When You Have It
If you work for five years at becoming an actor, one day you may
wake up to find that you’re consistently acting. A student film
here, a “downtown” play there. A commercial every now and then (you
were called in at the last moment because someone remembered you
from that student film), and maybe a one-woman show at your corner
You’re doing work that you love, you’re doing what you do best, and
you’re part of a community. You’re a successful actor.
Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like a failure because you
don’t make millions or aren’t in constant demand for big city
tours. Appreciate the fact that you are doing what you love. Very
few people can claim that.
BONUS TIP: Take the Next Step
Many actors never become successful because they never take the
first step. They are afraid or too busy, so they only dream. Others
stagnate in their careers because they don’t know how to get to the
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