Monday, November 19, 2012

What You Need to Be an Actor

We have been over this before, but I keep getting email from people who don't seem to understand what it takes to be successful as a professional actor.

Part of the problem is misunderstanding.  Among things that aspiring actors believe that are not true are:

1. Getting a good agent will get your career going.
2. Going to a good acting school with famous alumni will get  your career going.
3. Getting a break will get your career going.

The thing is that agents do not make actors.  Agents make money from people who are already actors. Secondly, just going to school will not help. You have to complete the entire program. And you have to use your time at school as a time of networking so that the people you work with and meet there will want to help you.  Tens of thousands of 'actors' graduate university and professional acting schools every year.  Only a small number of them get professional roles.  Certainly fewer than 1 in 10.   Third,  what is a break anyway?  Some beginners with overly evaluated ability think if they can just get an audition, they will be hired and their career will be on the way.  Sorry, not true.  Often it takes many auditions before an actor gets a role. My alumni newsletter had an item in it about a graduate of the theatre program who "after ten years" got a big role on Broadway.  Ten years is a relatively short while.  I know an actor who has been in NYC for 35 years and has yet to earn a living as an actor. Agents do not make actors. A break is when someone who can really help your career sees you and decides to help you.  But you still have to get the roles, they don't just hand them to you.

Underlying all the misunderstanding of these three ideas is lack of knowledge about the acting industry in general.  Even if you have been in a few plays, it doesn't mean you are marketable as an actor.  Even if you have successfully completed the two or three year course of study at a well-known acting conservatory doesn't mean you are a marketable actor .  And just getting an audition doesn't mean you are going to get a part.  The number of hurdles you have to leap over is infinite.

To be an actor you  need much more than experience, training and a break.  First of all you need Charisma.  This is a special kind of charm that allows you to command the attention of a group of people and develop a following.  It comes from many things including your look and your personality.  All casting is done first by look. If you don't look like the part you most likely won't even get a reading for it.  You don't have to be drop-dead gorgeous either.  You just need to have an interesting look that draws people's attention to you.  Many famous actors and actresses were quite homely, but they  caught people's attention.  Here look is connected to personality.  An actor has to be outgoing and friendly and courageous.  He has to be able to meet strangers and fit right in.  An actor has to be able to make others like him.  If you do not have an interesting look, you can work on that by experimenting with hair styles and colors and use the gym to reshape your body.  And there are Charm schools where people can learn to be relaxed and comfortable in all occasions.

If you want to be an actor, then there is much  you need to do besides getting an agent, going to acting school and getting a break.  You have to be what the industry is looking for and be able to get the roles.


  1. Hi Doc, is there anything you think actors can do to make themselves more "marketable" as you called it, while still remaining true to their essence?

  2. Hey Doc
    Thanks for taking the time :-)
    Your comment about ten years waiting fo a break got me thinking about my own situation. I was contemplating returning to acting where I had found some success earlier but allowed personal matters to interrupt what seemed at the time to have the makings of a promising career. What I'm getting at is starting late probably won't Orkney as one is likely to be dead before an opportunity presents itself. What do you say Doc?

  3. ....sorry to spam but Orkney should be work haha