10 Habits That Can Improve a Young Actor’s Career

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Photo Source: Photo by Alexis Brown on Unsplash

The majority of career advice I got when I was a young actor was unhelpful. Mostly, it came from people who were more concerned with fame than the actual experience of being an artist. Yes, auditions and meetings are important, but what is more important in the long run is what you’re bringing in the door with you. 

Here are a few very good habits to develop that can change the way you’re perceived in the professional world.  

1. Dedicate a little time each day to listening.
I’ve been an actor for almost 40 years. I’ve been blessed to work with very famous actors and I’ve taught acting for over a decade. I’m here to tell you, you’ll never advance as an actor artistically or professionally until you become an excellent listener. It’s a skill and it can be learned, but it takes daily practice. The goal is simple: To allow yourself to be genuinely changed, moved from one point to another, by whoever or whatever is in front of you. 

2. Read books, not scripts.
When I was starting out, reading books was considered a cool thing for young actors to do. We actually used to trade them with each other. I consider myself lucky because those tattered paperbacks enabled me to understand character. When you step inside the fictional world of a book, it’s full immersion into the life and mind of a different person. You’re exercising the precise creative muscle you use to act with. It deepens your imagination.

3. Work with new teachers. 
Staying with a trusted teacher is great as long as you’re still growing. When you hit a plateau, it’s time to find someone who’ll challenge you. By working with someone new and working well, you’re getting good practice for a career in acting. After all, working actors face new challenges and new vocabulary at each gig. 

4. Watch TV, film, and theater as a student of acting and not as a fan.
Many giants in the acting business will readily confess to stealing from other greats. When you see a moment that blows you away, stop and rewind, if you can, and watch it again. Ask yourself what the actor is doing that makes the scene so good. Store it for later and make it your own.   

5. Watch the news.
Believe it or not, all works of art including TV, movies, and theater are some sort of reflection of what was happening in the world at the moment they were created. You don’t have to be an authority on every aspect of current events, but it will be helpful to at least be aware of what’s happening. 

6. Turn off your phone. 
I know. We all love our phones. They fill those awkward moments and kill time when we’re waiting in a line, but 90% of what you’re looking at is useless information. Believe it or not, boredom is not such a terrible thing. Boredom creates daydreaming, which generates imaginative thinking. It can also cause you to engage more freely with the real world. All those things can make you braver and that’s a good thing.  

7. Form opinions.
Your opinion is your calling card. It’s your take on the role, the scene, etc. Start out by forming opinions about what’s happening around you in the world, music, theater, and movies. You’ll become a more interesting artist.  

8. Make conversation with strangers. 
Characters are usually based on real people from all walks of life. Most of us tend to only know people who are similar to us. If you find yourself in a situation to safely make a little conversation with someone outside your circle of experience, do it. That said, be careful, use your instincts, and never risk your safety.

9. Separate yourself from jealousy.
This is a huge and very important lesson. Never compare your career with others, especially not actors you personally know. Jealousy can stop you dead in your tracks and keep you stuck for years! Stay hyper-vigilant. Don’t fall victim to this sneaky, highly destructive disease. The truth is everyone’s path is unique. Find yours. 

10. Find a hobby, sport, or cause to explore.
In order to advance as an actor; your acting must have life. The only way to achieve this is to do a little living and then bring that life into your acting. Find pursuits, campaigns, and sanctuaries that have nothing to do with the business. At first, it will seem as if you’re walking in the wrong direction. You’re not. When a fully realized human being walks into that agent’s office or audition room, it’s easy to spot and highly attractive. 

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Author Headshot
David Dean Bottrell
David Dean Bottrell is the author of “WORKING ACTOR: Breaking In, Making a Living, and Making a Life in the Fabulous Trenches of Show Business” (Random House). A veteran bi-coastal actor, his many credits include guest star roles on “FBI: Most Wanted,” “Blacklist,” “Modern Family,” “NCIS,” “Criminal Minds,” “Law & Order: SUV,” “Mad Men,” “True Blood,” “Ugly Betty,” “Boston Legal,” and “Rectify.” His theater work includes stints at the Long Wharf and Second Stage. WorkingActorTheBook.com.
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