There are lot of blogs out there that give tips to actors, and I have long debated writing one. Many “advice blogs” can really come off as condescending and self-indulgent, and I didn’t want to fall into that trap. But I keep seeing actors I know make bad decisions and sabotaging themselves, and I want to help them. So please understand that this blog is intended to be friendly, despite how cynical I may allow myself to get at times. And my focus here is on the business side of acting, not so much the technique. Your ability as an actor comes down to you and I can’t tell you how to act. I can only tell you how to behave.
To all aspiring actors out there, I don’t envy you. You’ve chosen possibly the hardest profession in the world, and one I would personally never want. No matter how talented you are, the success you have in this field is dependent mostly on others picking you and you getting the right role. What you can do is try your best to get noticed, and I will do my best to offer you advice, based on the behavior I’ve observed in actors.
-You Have To Decide: Theatre or Film?
I know actors love to say that they can do both, and many established actors, such as Patrick Stewart and Bryan Cranston, have been able to do so. But if you’re starting out, trying to break in, it’s important to market yourself.
Now I get it: you love to do theatre. Theatre is “real acting,” theatre gives actors the freedom to really create a performance, theatre is how you got all your training, blah blah blah. Putting emotion aside, let’s look at this from a purely business standpoint: theatre requires rehearsals and a much bigger time commitment, will play to an ultimately smaller audience, and has a smaller track record of propelling actors to stardom. Your IMDb page is much more important than your resume.
In the amount of time that you may spend rehearsing a play and then performing it for the extent of its run in a small theatre somewhere, you could have shot two or three short films that would then have a longer lifespan at screenings or being shown online. It also looks unattractive to casting directors when they ask you your availability and you say “Well, I’m in rehearsals for a play the next four weeks straight every evening at 6pm, and then when the play premieres I’ll spend the next two weeks booked solid.”
I’m not saying “Don’t ever do theatre again;” but if film acting is your goal, then it should be your priority, and you should treat this as a business decision, which leads to the next point:
-Treat This Like a Job, Not a Hobby
You really have to understand that “It isn’t personal; it’s strictly business.” The best actors are the ones who get that. They show up at an audition, try it out, and understand that’s the best they can do. If they are cast, you give them a script, they show up with their lines memorized and choices made, and they treat it like work. That’s it.
The worst are actors that expect the directors to hold their hands, guide them through everything, and shower them with praise. Or show up a set with a “I’m here to have fun” attitude. Or reply to castings late or show up on set too late.
This also means that, in the modern market, you HAVE to have a reel, a website, and do your part to promote the film when it premieres. In a business where actors get recast all the time, the last thing you want is to make the production feel that you’re unknown and will basically bring zero promotion.
-Choose a Survival Job That Doesn’t Interfere With Your Acting, Which Is Your Real Job
This is tough. I know it’s tough. It’s one of the main problems that every single artist faces in some way. But the bottom-line is that you don’t want the following to happen:
“Okay, we may have a role for you in our film. Here’s a list of our shoot dates. What your availability?”
“Well, I work my job from nine to five, six days a week.”
“Oh. Yeah, never mind.”
Again, we all need to survive. But you can’t make it seem like your survival job is your priority. Then it’s doing just as much harm as good.
-Don’t Be Something You’re Not
I really, really hate it when actors walk around saying “I’m a producer.” Then they show you the films they’ve produced and they’re all starring vehicles for themselves filmed in their own apartment.
Now I’m not saying it’s wrong to want to create your own content; in fact I encourage you to do so if you’re in need of reel material. But hire professionals to do it for you. Don’t pretend you’re a writer or director when it ain’t so.
-Don’t Ever Think You’re “Too Good” For a Role
The only exceptions I’m allotting for here are cases of roles with just plain gratuitous nudity, or student films made so ineptly that they might as well not have been made at all. But here’s the thing: if you’re a good actor and you keep working, you should eventually be getting offered better roles than those anyway. There has to come a point in time where if you’ve done four or five student films, you move on and don’t do anymore. It’s all about progression. YOU have to know what you want. The issue isn’t whether or not it’s worth your time. The issue is YOU not knowing exactly where to go or what to do next.
So once you get past bad student films or shady projects and are being offered legitimate roles, there will be times where you don’t care for a script. First off, it’s important to remember that great films are often made from scripts that may not have seemed like much on paper, and that you are not a writer, nor were you invited to offer criticism.
Here is a conversation I once had with an actor:
“I was offered a lead, paying role in a film. I turned it down.”
“Was there nudity?”
“No. I just didn’t like the storyline of the script.”
“Um–with all due respect. you’re a fulltime bartender whose done a few short films. You don’t have the luxury to wait for the next great PT Anderson screenplay.”
Look, I get it. Everyone who’s an artist wants to prove to the world how good they are. You want to be remembered for playing dignified roles of depth, as opposed to being the voice of Papa Smurf, or a spokesperson for McDonald’s, or a supporting role in a low-brow sitcom. But that is not your choice, at least not at the start of the game. Here is a quote by the great Grace Randolph, host of BEYOND THE TRAILER and this generation’s Roger Ebert. She absolutely hits the nail right on the head. I believe this quote should be put on posters and hung up in acting schools:
“When you think of all the actors, all the members of SAG, who never make it or get to practice their craft on that broad of a level, any actor should consider themselves lucky to get a role that becomes iconic or beloved by audiences, be it Obi Wan Kenobi or Ross on FRIENDS. Acting is one of the most difficult professions out there because you need to be ‘picked.’ Someone needs to pick them; they have no power over whether or not they make it. If they get picked, that’s their contribution to the world of entertainment and they should be proud of it. So you really have to ask yourself why are you becoming an actor. And if you aren’t becoming an actor to entertain people and give them joy, don’t go into mainstream entertainment, because that’s the purpose of mainstream entertainment. Stick to theatre.”
This is basically what I’ve been saying from the start. To sum it up one final time: He or she who bartends five days a week is not likely to get noticed for many roles. He or she who dedicates four weeks to rehearsals of a play that will then run another two weeks while only being seen by so many people is very likely to miss out on multiple film roles that would have had wider audiences. If you want to make it as an actor, you need to work it! That means seeking out roles, being willing to do background work, and networking.
Every year should bring new things to your IMDb page, which is infinitely more important than your resume. If all you have to show for one year of work is one student film, a play no one saw, and several failed auditions, then you might as well have spent that year just bartending every day.
I hope this has been helpful. Remember, all artists need to grow, and my goal here was only to get you to best propel that growth. That’s what it’s all about.