How To Become An Actor Or Actress
Easily one of the most common questions I get from readers from all over the world is "how do I become an actor or actress?". I've noticed over the years that people that want to act professionally in film and television have quite a few stages they all seem to go through before they "make the leap" into acting. To best answer the question, I suppose I'll break the stages down one by one.
Stage One: Acknowledging The Dream
I know there are a ton of people that say they "always knew" they wanted to be an actor or actress. I suppose I don't doubt them out of hand, but I will say that making that decision, for real, as an adult is a huge difference than wanting something as a child. I think it's kind of a cliche anymore, and for the most part it feels to me more like justification than any real sense of deep rooted purpose. Now, if that is or is not you, don't get mad at me here! Even if it's not a sincerely felt purpose, I completely understand where it's coming from. It's TERRIFYING to say out loud to everyone that cares about you and your future that you want to become an actor or actress.
How To Overcome The Fear
This is a tough one and I think for most people, is the "deal breaker" right out of the gate. I'll tell you right now that there will be no shortage of well meaning people telling you that you can't make it, it's a bad idea, you'll ruin your future and so on and so on. Just know they're doing it because either a: they really care about you, or b: they're assholes.
Ignore them either way!
Generally, in life, the naysayers always outweigh the people that will give you the benefit of the doubt. I think it's just human nature to not embrace risk taking. If you're reading this though, you've got a great headstart on the naysayers, because you're taking the steps to learn what it really means to become a professional actor or actress.
Now, the assholes will always be assholes, there's not much you can do about them, but the people that care about you just want to know that YOU know what you're doing. Being armed with information is a great first step in calming their fears AND yours at the same time. Making well informed decisions is the mark of a responsible person and no matter what anyone says, all choices in life involve risk.
But, I'll tell you what, I've never once in my life heard someone say "man, if only I'd taken that factory job instead of taking a chance and following my dreams."
Stage Two: Taking The Plunge
Generally, there's two kinds here, the first kinda bums around whatever town they happen to be living in and gives a half-hearted attempt at acting. I say generally here because, truth be told, if the person in the first group is constructively working on their acting career, it doesn't matter where they are. The thing is, most people that stay local aren't doing that (not through any fault) they simply don't know what to do.
Anyways,the other kind REALLY takes the plunge, packs up their stuff and heads for Hollywood or New York. It's the second group I'm really talking to here...first of all, congratulations, you just overcame a huge obstacle that's stopped millions of people from following their dreams.
It's scary, but you did it!
When most actors or actresses get into town, it's usually a pretty thrilling and exhilarating time. You're in a huge new dynamic city where everything is strange and new and exciting. There's a HUGE learning curve here and this second stage kills off most wannabe's pretty quickly. It can be expensive, it can be daunting and you'll quickly realize that you're not going to get "discovered" just walking down the street.
So, if you don't turn tail and run at this point, you start learning. I see a lot of people head out looking for headshots, but it's premature at this point. The trouble I think is that most of the people that are willing to come this far already think they are capable as actors. I hate to say it, but the truth is most of them are wrong. Even if you've studied acting in college, chances are good that you'll need to really refine those skills on some level at one of the acting schools around town.
It's actually a good thing to do that though. You'll meet people and you'll be doing exactly what you need to do, which is to work on your chops and get out of your comfort zone.
Stage Three: Reality Sets In
This is probably the toughest part of pursuing an acting career to overcome. I think most actors and actresses get lost here because they don't really understand what is expected of them and what they should be doing to further their careers in a meaningful sense. What usually happens is that the aspiring actor or actress finds a job and a little stability, they start going out and partying, getting boyfriends or girlfriends, and end up kind of domesticating themselves.
Acting professionally is especially tough because in life I think most people are used to at least some small measure of progress or success in the endeavors they undertake. If you take a test, you get a grade, if you apply for a job, you'll get one sooner or later, and so on. But, acting doesn't work that way. And in the absence of feedback, I think people will gravitate towards the most familiar thing they can find, which is structure....a job, a girlfriend and hanging out with friends.
The problem here is that they usually stop working on their acting and they kind of coast at whatever level they managed to get to before they lost focus.
When The Going Gets Tough...
The tough regroup and stay focused on their goal. I'm not saying you have to be some kind of hermit here, but you have to be disciplined enough to remember what you're there for and keep your mind on what you're trying to do. The actors and actresses that you're up against have years and years of experience acting professionally, most of them since they were children. If you want to compete with them, you have to work twice as hard to make your mark.
The familiar distractions of life can and will pull you away from your goal if you aren't dedicated and consciously sticking with your training and learning. When you discover just how hard it really is to find acting work, you will have two choices. You can either a: make believe, or b: work harder. If you work harder and have the fortitude to keep going when it looks pointless, you'll be on the right path to success.
Stage Four: Reality Gets A Little (Or A Lot) Tougher
Don't let me scare you here! But, I have to tell you, this business is tough! Even if you've managed to stay true to your training and you haven't lost sight of your goals and you have been consistent and diligent, the work is going to be hard to come by. There are actors with years of professional acting experience on major network television shows and movies that are out of work and having a lot of trouble finding work.
Often, at this point, someone you know might land a great role on a television show or you'll see others that don't seem "worthy" getting accolades and booking enviable roles. It can be tough when that ISN'T happening to you. Just try to remember, that the truth of the matter is you will hear "no" far more often than you hear "yes" in this business. I knew of a woman who went on auditions four or five times a week for TWO YEARS before she landed her first role.
Even the toughest of the tough usually quit trying at this point.
So, Keep Going!
This is where your conviction will be tested the hardest. The self-doubt, the voices of all the naysayers will never be louder than during this stage in your career. It can be really scary as the years keep going by and you're not getting the kind of work you want, but the trick here is to KEEP AT IT. Keep training, keep refining, keep working at your craft and stay focused on what you are doing.
There is light at the end of the tunnel, but the faith in yourself and your dream will have to be incredibly strong to keep at it through this difficult time.
Stage Five: The One You've Been Waiting For
Here's the reward that most people that didn't grow up in the industry don't get to see. That moment when you not only book that pivotal role, but when you get there, your years of training and work pay off.
People take notice. Think Brad Pitt in Thelma And Louise here. If you've stuck it out this long, this moment might not even seem special at the time, but when you look back on it, you'll say "that was it, that was when my life changed."
Welcome To The Dream
In this business, your success depends on how well you can overcome obstacles and objections. If you overcome them consistently time and again, people will notice. They will appreciate it and they will want to work with you.
The trick here is to realize what most actors and actresses miss when they ask "how to become an actor or actress". What they don't realize then, but what they'll see now is that this business of acting is about GIVING, not RECEIVING. When you take all of the time and energy and resources you put into becoming an actor worth hiring, you give more than you get in return by getting the job.
You bring a great performance.
You bring professionalism.
You save time and money.
Only then will the others that have also sacrificed and worked to become the directors and producers and casting people and your fellow actors welcome you to the fold. But, once you're there, the world is your oyster.
It's not easy, but it's really simple.
If you want to learn more about how to get started in acting for film or tv, be sure to check out Acting For Film And Television.
As always, if you have any questions or thoughts, or would just like to share some of your successes, please feel free to drop me a line. I actually answer them.
Best of Luck out there and remember, you can't fail if you don't quit.