How much time do actors actually spend working? Before securing a regular gig, an actor gets few chances to actually use their craft. Outside of time spent at auditions, gigs can be short and sparse and complemented by the occasional class. But how about on the other side of success? If an actor is playing a regular on a series or a principal on a big-budget feature, how many hours do they actually put in? The answer will surprise you. With television shows, episodes are often shot back to back, all day, for weeks. For Hollywood films, special effects and makeup has become a huge part of creating characters. This can add long setup times where actors have to get into costume.
Acting is not for the faint of heart. Here are nine actors discussing how much time they put getting into character and rehearsing, plus the raw time on spent set, and how the many hours affect their performance.
Lela Loren, “Power”
“Before you get on a series, you’re lucky if you’re getting to act four or five times a year for a very short amount of time, doing guest star [spots] or something like that. As an artist, you have to go through months and months and months where you might get to do a scene in an acting class you’ve taken to keep your instrument sharp. To get on a show where you’re acting day in and day out for many, many hours—15–16 hours sometimes—it hones your endurance, your ability to memorize, your ability to follow your instincts, because you don’t have time to fret about your choices afterward. You’re already on to the next scene.”
Kristen Bell, “Veronica Mars”
“I was a little bit stunned at how difficult it is to shoot a show like this. Because it really is a huge undertaking to have a stylized film aspect like noir and be out doing a lot of location [shoots], having a lot of night shoots. It was a real undertaking [involving] … 16 or 17 hour days.”
Shameik Moore, “The Get Down”
“[W]e were on set for 18 hours sometimes. There was a lot of those kind of days—but that’s a whole different story. It’s fun, depending on your mindset. Like, I could take that time and start learning things on set, when most actors aren’t on that…. For me, with my goals, I was able to take advantage of the extra time, watching them butt heads and figure out the formula, [because] I’m a part of the formula.”
Jennifer Beals, “Proof”
“[T]he hours are very long; it’s 16-hour days pretty much every day, but by the end I was ready for 10 or 13 more. I was saying to Rob [Bragin], our show’s creator, “Let’s just do the rest of the episodes now!” The ways I’m like my character is that I enjoy work. I like the day-to-day aspect of preparing and the physicality of it.... You can’t pace yourself; you have to dive into every moment as fully as possible.”
Rob Kazinsky, “Second Chance”
“Once you have your character down and the writing down and everything is good and going and flowing, you just have to try to stay alive. It’s 16 hours a day, six days a week, and then press on the weekends. It’s exhausting to a level that I’d never thought [about]. I’ve done several movies that are tent pole studio movies that have humongous budgets and incredible pressures, but I’ve never worked as hard as I have on this. It’s just relentless. It’s maintaining that kind of consistency of character and energy and optimism when you’ve literally had three hours of sleep in four months. That’s the real skill in this show.”
Doug Jones, “The Shape of Water”
“[Make-up for the amphibian man] was only three hours. But that's three hours on set when the makeup artists are applying the pieces to the actor…. So once you're done with that makeup process, you still are looking at a 10- to 12-hour shoot day…. And then you're looking at a tear-down period…. [T]he amphibian man that I played was a quick one because it went on in only three hours. It was less glued-down makeup and more suit. Therefore, it came off faster. So we got that off in about 40 minutes.”
Jaimie Alexander, “Blindspot”
“If I do the full body [of Jane’s tattoos], it’s about seven and a half hours in makeup…. I learn a fight almost every other day on this show. I have a great stunt double, [whom] I’ve worked with for close to 10 years. Her name’s Ky Furneaux. She’s a female Bear Grylls—she’s a survival expert, she’s Australian. We train together and she teaches me to fight. We tag in and out so that we don’t wear ourselves out.”
Sofia Boutella, “Climax”
“Every day, I did not know what I was going to film, and I just appreciated working with [filmmaker Gaspar Noé] so much…. Every day, I came to set, we figured out where we wanted to go, he grabbed the camera and shot every single shot himself, and maneuvering the camera, we shot eight to 10-minute scenes each day that we rehearsed for about four hours, and that’s fascinating.”
Jharrel Jerome, “When They See Us”
“These guys were falsely jailed for years. They were put in prison at 14, 15, 16. They were so young. It’s never easy to dive into that kind of character, to sit inside of a jail cell for eight hours on set, because it starts to feel like a real jail cell. Then you really start to feel like, how can this man have gone through this [while] innocent? Having all that in the back of my head during this project definitely fueled me and pushed me to get there with Ava and the rest of the cast and crew. It was the hardest thing I’ve probably ever done as an actor and as a person.”
Ready to get to work? Check out Backstage’s TV audition listings!