4. How to Become a Film and Television Actor
Have you ever dreamed of one day becoming a famous Hollywood actor? If so, the first thing you need to realize is that this dream can become a reality if you’re willing to put in the time, training, dedication, passion and patience required to make it in Hollywood.
If you’ve always wondered how to become a film or television actor, then here are ten steps that may not get you the role of a lifetime, but they will help you to treat your acting career as a career and not simply as something you choose to do for fun.
Keep in mind that if you’re hoping to become a theater actor, some of these may not apply to you. However, all of these steps are good to keep in mind no matter what type of acting you decide to pursue.
Learn How to Act
Seems like a given, doesn’t it? But I can’t tell you the number of people that come out to Hollywood thinking that all they need to do is get a job as a waiter at some popular restaurant, meet an agent, get “discovered” and then it’s nothing but champagne and caviar from there. Uh…no.
Acting is first and foremost a craft. The best of the Hollywood actors understand this and no matter how far they have come in their careers, they are constantly looking to improve upon their craft. They take classes, work with acting and dialogue coaches, they study life experiences, etc. They know full well that even after a lifetime of work and study, they may never reach absolute perfection.
So, for you, it’s imperative that you take a wide variety of acting classes. Work in a wide variety of styles with as many different groups of people that you can find. Try it all. From Shakespeare to comedy, from improv to cinema verite — the more you know, the more well rounded you’ll be and ultimately, the better prepared you’ll be for whatever roles come your way.
Location, Location, Location
I hate telling people this, but if you hope to work in film and/or television as an actor, you need to go where the work is. Now, that doesn’t necessarily doom you to living in Los Angeles or New York. After all, there are plenty of acting jobs in Vancouver, Montreal, Chicago, Miami, Baltimore, etc.
But, New York and Los Angeles are where most of the casting directors work and live. So, many of the shows that are shot in Canada or other cities within the U.S. are still cast in LA or New York. So, even though you don’t necessarily need to move here, keep in mind that it is where most of the action is.
Be Willing to do What it Takes
No, that doesn’t mean what you think it means. Don’t worry about the “casting couch.” But you must be willing to do what it takes for the sake of your craft. You might ultimately have to sacrifice certain aspects of your life to ensure that you will have success as a working Hollywood actor.
You must take the time to master your craft. If that means sacrificing a relationship or a few friendships along the way, so be it. I know that sounds rather harsh, but acting is not a 9-5 job by any stretch.
If you’re lucky enough to land a role in a major film or television production, realize that this is not the glamorous Hollywood job you might’ve thought it would be.
It’s a lot of work, often 14-20 hours per day, in all kinds of conditions and at least initially, for not much money.
Even actors who make millions of dollars per picture still must “work” to earn their keep. They are on location for months at a time and every day they commit themselves both emotionally and physically to their roles. It can be extremely exhausting. You must prepare yourself both mentally and physically for this type of challenge.
It’s one of the many reasons why Hollywood stars have trainers, psychologists, plastic surgeons, nutritionists and divorce attorneys at their beck and call. Their job is hardly an easy job.
I once had a friend of mine tell me that there are no bad actors, just actors who aren’t willing to “fully commit” themselves to their craft.
Just as I mentioned above that you have to make certain sacrifices to make it as an actor in Hollywood, one of those is your ego. If you’re about looking cool or trying to maintain a certain image, then acting might not be for you.
The best actors are those who are willing to let themselves be 100% consumed by the role they are playing. They physically become the person they portray.
If you’re in the middle of delivering your lines and suddenly you let yourself drift back into your own life, you are not fully committed to the role, and your performance will show it. You have to literally “forget yourself” to help ensure the quality of your performance.
Hollywood is all about helping those you know because they might one day be in a position to help you as well. So, you need to remember this steadfast rule — be nice to everyone. From agents’ assistants to fellow cast members to whomever you meet in Hollywood. Remember, that assistant you treated poorly two years ago might one day become a casting director, film producer, talent agent or whatever. And trust me, they’ll remember those who stomped on their toes on their way up the ladder.
Conversely, they’ll remember those who were nice the whole way up, and they’ll be that much more inclined to help them achieve their own goals.
Focus on the Craft – Not the Agent
There are many actors I know who spent years worrying more about getting an agent than becoming a well-trained actor.
Agents are a necessary evil, but they do not make you or break you (as much as they like to think they do). As many actors will attest, simply because they have a powerful agent does not guarantee their success.
The happiest actors are the working actors. And just because you might not be getting paid for your acting, doesn’t mean that you can’t be a working actor. Every experience is an experience. So, spend less time seeking out an agent and more time seeking out acting opportunities yourself. From small plays to student films — you’ll be happily surprised how many seemingly insignificant opportunities are the ones that make your entire career.
Besides, when the time is right, an agent will come and seek you out.
QUICK NOTE ON AGENTS: If an agent makes you pay for their services up front then don’t walk, RUN away from these guys. Legitimate talent agents only get paid when they get jobs for their clients. After all, what incentive do they have to find you a job if you’ve already given them their share in advance? No matter what they try to tell you, or however they try to validate charging you up front (e.g., personalized service, guaranteed jobs, headshots, etc.), do not under any circumstances pay these individuals a cent.
Take Some Improv
Regardless of what you may think of improvisation theater, it is one skill that most actors that I’ve worked with count on in a time of need. Especially for you theater actors who might be stuck with someone who freezes midway through their lines.
Beyond a crisis situation, improv is one of the few styles of acting where you have absolute freedom to discover what things you’re good at, and which things could use some work.
As one actor friend told me, “improv is a way to discover your range as an actor while at the same time, it forces you to explore new territory while having to commit wholeheartedly to the situation at hand.”
So, where you can find an improv class, consider adding it to your repertoire.
Know Your Range, Then Break Through It
We’ve all seen those actors who seem to constantly be working in a particular range of roles. For years, Clint Eastwood epitomized the “tough guy” image, Meg Ryan, the “cutesy, girl next door” even Tom Hanks was once the “goofy, nice guy.” These actors made their name playing certain roles because they found a range they made work for them and stuck with it.
But then, as many of the better actors will often do, they decided to challenge themselves and break through the mold that audiences, producers, and their agents had put them in.
Initially, it’s somewhat important to find a range that works for you. It helps people (meaning, casting directors) know who you are and often when you’re starting out, it’s those memories that get you paid work.
But that doesn’t mean you stop developing as an actor. Use the character traits you’ve discovered to get yourself working. But continue to learn new facets of your personality. From voice characterization to exploring a wide variety of acting techniques. You will find that everything you learn in the acting realm will be put to use someday.
There is one general rule in Hollywood — talent won’t get you there, but persistence just might. If you are a dog with a bone, then Hollywood is the town for you. Those who are gritty and willing to give it their all day in and day out will have a much greater chance of success than the Julliard-trained actor who waits around in his apartment for an opportunity to come knocking.
The trick is, you have to get out there. Meet people and let them know what you are doing. It’s essential to your success.
Rare is the true “overnight success.” Sure, there are those actors that seem completely unknown one day, only to dominate the limelight the next. But the reality is that there were years of hard work and preparation that led them to that “sudden discovery.”
Hollywood is a strange town. There are actors who have been working for decades when all the sudden, they’re in a role that gets a bit of attention and suddenly, they’re famous.
Patience is not only a virtue in Hollywood; it’s an absolute must to keep from going insane. So develop your patience and you will enjoy the process of rising to stardom that much more even if you never end up getting there.