Why do you need a bio? What’s the purpose? How do you format it? These are all common questions actors ask.
A bio is a summary of the highlights of your career—your training, credits, and something about you personally, i.e. what you do when you are not acting. It tells the industry in sentence form—unlike the columns in your resume—what roles you can play and how to cast you.
You can read about why you need a professionally written bio readily available here.
Here are some guidelines for writing the best bio possible.
1. Make it short and sweet. Being direct in your bio is better than flowery or overly imaginative language.
2. Write it in third person. This is not an autobiography, it's a bio. Use subjects like—she/he, your name (Gwyn), your professional address (Mrs. Gilliss), etc.
3. Avoid the cloying justification. For example, “I knew I wanted to be an actor at age 5 when I saw a magical production of Peter Pan.” Tell us what you've done not why you do what you do.
4. Don't make "lists." Describe or elaborate your skills, training, and experience in sentence form.
5. Include personal experiences and special skills. Put these in the last paragraph. These skills might help you get a job. For example, you could write, “Fluent in French and Italian, Gwyn studied cooking at the Cordon Bleu in Marseille, and painting in Florence!” or “An advanced Yogini, she teaches yoga and meditation.” Or “As a pop singer, her new CD with original music/lyrics is coming out soon!”
6. Write in “pyramid” style. Put the most important information at the top, working down to the less critical info by the fourth paragraph.
Here are some examples of potential opening statements. If they read no further, this will be what they remember about you.
Weak example: A sunny blonde, Gwyn hails from the Midwest and is happy to be in the Big Apple.
Strong example: Classically trained, Gwyn has played roles from Shakespeare to Tennesee Williams, working in major American repertory theaters, on and Off-Broadway, as well as in dozens of contract/recurring roles for daytime and primetime TV.
Here is how the four paragraphs in your bio should be structured.
Paragraph 1: Recent roles/Strongest credits. (Theater if you’re in New York and film/TV if you’re in L.A.) Try to use recognizable plays and roles, not just “showcases.” If you’re just starting out, you can include “representative” roles. Those parts from Shakespeare or Chekov done at school outweigh showcases of unknown writers Off-Off-Broadway.
Paragraph 2: Training. Don’t be afraid to name drop master teachers or prestigious drama schools, as well as directors you’ve studied with. If you’ve worked with “greats,” they will assume you will be great!
Paragraph 3: Recent work. (Switch what you included in paragraph one.) Include Indie films and appearances on primetime or daytime TV or include all major stage credits from Off-Off-Broadway to Broadway. Your credits tell them how to cast you and what roles you are consistently hired to play. Don’t include extra work—it's not considered a professional credit if you’re standing in the background.
Paragraph 4: Personal Life. Here, write about your interests, skills, travel, languages, or musical instruments—anything that makes you memorable. Elaborate don’t just list.
Here are some examples of closing statements. You want to leave them with a powerful professional memory of you.
Weak example: “I want to thank my cat, my roommate Diana, and my Mom for believing in me.” (This gives the impression that you’re still a beginner. Save the gratitude for your acceptance speech at the Oscars).
Strong example: “Looking forward to working in the next Emmy Award USA series or in any feature opposite Johnny Depp!” (Industry professionals will remember you as an actor who knows where you’re going!)
Let your bio jumpstart your career even when you’re not there to audition!
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As the founder and executive director of The Actors's Market, Gwyn Gilliss provides free monthly info seminars, agent/casting director interview tele-seminars, weekly marketing tips, as well as many coaching programs to help actors break into both the NY and L.A. industries. Gwyn has tremendous success with her private career coaching clients. More than 90 percent get agent representation launching their careers with performances in feature films, Broadway productions, and Emmy-award-winning primetime TV series, such as "The Good Wife," "White Collar," "Grey's Anatomy," "NCIS," "House," "Law & Order," "30 Rock," "Criminal Minds."
Email her to request a free 15-minute career session: firstname.lastname@example.org.