As a child, you probably used to play pretend all the time, taking on different roles such as astronaut, cowboy, princess, shopkeeper, doctor and homemaker. For many, roleplaying has evolved into a passion – a passion that has catapulted them to international acclaim as successful and talented actors.
Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Johnny Depp, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts and four-time Academy Award winner Katherine Hepburn are prime examples. Of course, the list doesn’t end there, but the message here is that with a little hard work and dedication, you could join the ranks of some of the best actors in the world.
If you’re interested in following this exciting career path, you’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn more about how to become an actor.
1. Research the Profession
First things first, before you dive straight into training to become an actor, let’s take a quick look at what exactly it is that actors do, what skills they need, what to expect on a day-to-day basis and how much they can potentially earn.
Actors use speech, movement and expression to bring characters to life in television, movies, theatre and radio, as well as other performing arts media such as commercials. While the word ‘actor’ is generally used for male performers and the word ‘actress’ for female performers, ‘actor’ is, for the most part, now used for both sexes.
Though daily activities vary from one role to another, your responsibilities will typically include:
- Reading scripts
- Meeting agents and other professionals before accepting a role
- Auditioning for directors, producers and casting directors
- Researching a character’s traits and circumstances to portray that character as authentically as possible
- Memorising lines
- Rehearsing lines and performance
- Attending fittings for costumes
- Discussing their role with the director, producer and other actors to improve the overall performance of the show, movie, etc
- Following the director’s instructions
- Attending promotional events
Essential Skills and Qualities
There’s more to acting than simply memorising lines and portraying a character. To succeed as an actor, you’ll need to:
- Have excellent communication and listening skills
- Have acting talent
- Be creative
- Have self-discipline and resilience
- Be determined and persistent
- Have a good memory for learning parts quickly
- Be punctual and reliable
- Be able to take instruction or criticism
- Be able to work well in teams
Depending on the role, you may also need to possess other specialist skills. For example, you may need to be able to play a musical instrument, sing or ride a horse.
Working Hours and Conditions
Working hours for actors are extensive and irregular, to say the least. You can expect to work early mornings, evenings, weekend and even holidays. You can also expect to work in unpleasant situations such as outdoors in bad weather, while wearing an uncomfortable costume or makeup and under hot stage lights.
Travelling for work is very common in the industry, and you may need to spend long periods away from home if touring or filming on location.
Most actors spend about 80% of their working life resting (not employed as an actor). It can be extremely stressful being in between jobs, and many actors work other part-time jobs to make ends meet.
There’s really no set income for actors, though Equity (the UK trade union which represents professional performers and other artists working in the live and recorded entertainment industry) sets minimum rates of pay for its members to avoid exploitation. How much you can earn depends on who you work for and where – for example, you could make around £420 a week working as a performer in theatre. In the US, meanwhile, the median wage for actors is $18.70 (a little north of £14) an hour. An agent may be able to negotiate higher rates, taking a percentage of earnings as a fee.
Generally speaking, actors are paid a fee for each contract or performance, and only the most well-established actors earn a high salary. For example, Mark Wahlberg, who was recently named the highest paid actor in Hollywood, made a staggering $68 million last year alone having appeared in movies like Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day.
2. Complete Training
Though formal education is not required (many of today’s most celebrated actors have had little to no professional acting training at all), it can help you set yourself apart from the competition and, in some cases, can be essential (especially in theatre).
If you decide to take the formal education route and enrol at a top acting school, you could work towards obtaining a diploma, foundation degree, bachelor’s degree or postgraduate diploma in drama or in a relevant subject like acting or musical theatre. You could also train at a community college, acting conservatory or private film school through acting or film classes.
Even if you’ve successfully entered the industry, you should aim to continually develop and improve your acting skills through workshops or mentoring from a drama coach, for example.
3. Market Yourself
Especially if you’re just starting out, you will need to dedicate a lot of time marketing yourself to land roles. Below are a handful of ideas to help you get started.
- Write a résumé: As with any job, writing a résumé is an essential part of looking for work. Unlike for more ‘conventional’ jobs, though, your actor résumé you should focus on your training and skills (such as horse riding, driving, accents, singing, fluency in a foreign language and the ability to do certain stunts). You will also need to include personal details like your height, hair and eye colour, age, as well as a photo and your union status.
- Get an agent: Agents are, quite simply, a necessary evil. When seeking an agent, try looking for one who specialises in the area you’re hoping to break into and be careful of any agents who ask you to pay for their services upfront. Moreover, don’t spend your time and energy looking for an agent but rather acting opportunities, even if it means unpaid work.
- Prepare a showreel: Also known as a demo reel, a showreel is probably the most important part of professional casting submissions. Essentially, it’s a montage of your best work in TV, movie, etc up to 1.5 minutes long. (If you don’t have anything to show, consider shooting a monologue or stand-up set.)
- Get headshots: Next up is a set of good quality headshots (photographs from the chest up, with a focus on the head) done by a professional headshot photographer. Headshots should be 8” x 10” – never use a headshot smaller or larger than this.
- Build an online portfolio: An online portfolio is a great way to combine all your marketing tools together. The good news is that there are many free and easy-to-use online portfolio builders out there to get the ball rolling.
On a side (but relevant) note, don’t wait around to be ‘discovered’ by a director or producer. Chances of that ever happening are pretty slim, so it’s essential that you make an effort.
4. Gain Experience
It’s important that you aim to take on a variety of roles (for example, characters in drama, comedy and action movies). Variety, after all, equals a greater and more diverse skill set which you can use to your advantage.
You’ll typically start by playing small roles in independent or low-budget projects and gradually advance to higher paying roles in larger movie productions.
Are you considering a career as an actor or in the film industry? Perhaps you’ve already made a mark in the industry and would like to share your thoughts and experiences, as well as insider tips, with aspiring actors? Join the conversation down below and let us know!
Don’t forget to check out who are the highest paid actresses of all time!
Salary information and job profiles are based on data compiled and published by various online sources, including the National Careers Service and the US Bureau of Labour Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. Currency conversions are based on rates supplied by XE.com on 24 November 2017.