Going into an audition can be intimidating enough without feeling like you’re the oldest one in the room. In the acting world, it’s easy to feel like everyone around you has been performing since they were 12 years old (because many of them have!). But that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to share the stage or screen.
If you’re going to become an actor later in life, you’ll need both a touch of humility and a lot of confidence—along with patience, hope, and persistence. This in-depth guide to getting into acting at 30, 40, and beyond will walk you through everything you need to know, from finding auditions to landing an agent.
- Is it too late to become an actor?
- Where do I start if I’ve never acted before?
- What types of auditions and opportunities exist for older actors?
- Do I have to move?
- Do I need an agent to become an actor?
- What tech skills do I need to make it as an older actor?
- What’s the difference between starting to act at a young age vs. now?
- Who are some actors who started later in life?
Ageism can be a problem. Ageism remains a roadblock for actors hoping to break into the biz later in life. In 2022, the executive director of Age Inclusion in Media, David Gittins, called ageism in Hollywood “the worst” he’s ever seen. This phenomenon also carries a gender bias: A 2021 report by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that women often have a shelf life as actors that ends at age 50, while men usually continue to land roles past the same age.
But there are still opportunities for older actors. As L.A-based acting coach Sara Mornell said, “Nothing is impossible.” Actors need to believe that, she told Backstage, because she “would never want anyone to look back and regret not trying.”
Becca McCracken, managing director for Vagabond School of the Arts and former casting director, doesn’t believe there is an age that’s too old. In fact, she says, “those that are able to work later into their lives find themselves in a much smaller pool of talent than when they were younger. With experience and acting chops, there are still plenty of opportunities in theater, TV, film, and commercials for the older actor.” In other words, there’s no age limit. Acting coaches will gladly take you on as a client and help shape you into what it is you’re hoping to become.
VP of casting for Walt Disney Television Jessica Daniels says, “Sixty years old now doesn’t look like 60 years old did 20 or 30 years ago, and people are living longer, and so just by virtue of that, I think that we’re all adapting.”
“I definitely think, specifically in television, we are breaking a lot more barriers,” she adds. “I think that there is so much more room for not only a diversity and inclusivity of experience, but I do think that there’s an audience that does want to see not only beloved actors that we’ve loved for years, but also just wants to see this experience, wants to see these stories being told.”
The increase in film and TV production means more opportunities for actors of all ages. About casting fan favorite 54-year-old Amanda Clark-Stoner for “The Traitors,” Olivia Ahmed says “Casting older people is much more fulfilling. They just haven’t been given a chance in reality TV and I think it is going to come full circle.”
“I believe there is a place for everyone in this business,” acting coach Matt Newton told us. “Type and talent are obviously important but, more than anything, it’s important to follow your dreams and do what makes you happy.
“Learn the skills, educate yourself about the business, and surround yourself with people who will help you on that journey and support you,” he said. “It can be a wonderful, rewarding career.”
As discussed in our comprehensive guide to becoming an actor, follow these steps to get started:
1. Seek acting training. While there are no formal educational requirements for actors, formal training via local acting classes or with an acting coach is a good place to start.
2. Build experience. At some point, you’re going to have to step out of the classroom and onto the stage. Building experience is essential for an early-career actor, even if you just land roles as an extra, act in commercials, or participate in smaller local theater productions at the beginning of your journey.
3. Prepare your headshot, acting résumé, and demo reel. Casting directors often require you to submit these materials before they will consider you for roles. The experience you build in smaller roles early in your career will be crucial to building up your résumé and helping you create a demo reel. Just be sure that your headshots and demo reel reflect your true look and age—go filter-free. Headshot photographer Marc Cartwright says that when retouching, actors need to keep their realistic age in mind. “Skin has texture, even the smoothest of skin,” he says. “[And] skin gets more texture as we age.” A character’s age is one of the most important factors in selecting actors for a project, so make sure your skin looks realistic and authentic to your age range.
4. Submit to auditions and casting calls. Early in your career, you’ll find these through word of mouth and online casting platforms such as Backstage.
5. Keep updating your résumé and reel as you gain experience. As you audition and land more roles, you’ll acquire better footage for your reel—and better parts to list on your résumé. Consider these materials to be documents that live and grow alongside your career.
6. Get signed by an agent. The experience you gain can help you impress an acting agent and get representation. With an agent in your corner, you’ll have access to bigger projects and meatier roles. And while it’s true that not all actors need an agent, having one can open doors for you that would otherwise remain closed.
While the entertainment industry often emphasizes youth, there are still many ways that older actors can break into the biz. Simply set your five-year age range on our casting database to see what opportunities are available for actors your age.
Film and TV: Many movies and films need older actors for roles. One great way to get your foot in the door is to audition for independent and student films, which offer the chance to showcase your talent without the pressure of going up against hundreds of other aspiring actors. Check with your local college or university to see what’s available.
Background and extra work: Don’t be too good to work behind the scenes or as an extra, either. You can still network and learn a lot from your peers. Sometimes it’s worth it to observe what others are doing—and take away a few pointers (even if those tips include what not to do).
Commercials: You can also get your face onscreen by auditioning for commercials, particularly those advertising products aimed at your age demographic.
Voice acting: From cartoons to audiobooks, voice work abounds for aspiring actors of all ages. If you have a unique voice that shows your age, all the better.
Theater: Finally, plays and musicals often need older actors to play certain roles. Beyond our casting database, look for opportunities in the community-theater scene. But keep in mind that theater can be especially tough for older actors for a variety of reasons. “Most actors in theater have spent a lifetime pursuing their craft so are going to have much stronger ‘chops’ and are better able to navigate the sometimes grueling process of rehearsal, tech, and run of a show,” says McCracken. “It is also usually a much longer commitment.”
Content creation: If you struggle to land gigs as an older actor, you can always make your own content. “Actors I have worked with who are in their fifties and sixties do feel like ageism is a challenge they face,” McCracken says, adding that as a result, many “are beginning to create work that have vigor to tell stories more interesting to them. I think this is very exciting.” Create opportunities by writing your own project or finding like-minded friends who want to write parts for each other.
While NYC, L.A., and Atlanta offer some of the best markets for working actors today, don’t book the U-Haul just yet. There are likely more opportunities in your neck of the woods than you think. If you’re in one of the major acting cities, you shouldn’t have a problem finding auditions. If you’re in a smaller city, the audition scene might not be necessarily thriving but could be more fruitful for your personal journey.
While you don’t need an agent to get started as an actor at any age, you will likely need one if you hope for silver star status.
Actor Amy Russ recommended that you view your job for the next year or two of your life as learning how to audition so you can learn how to book. Her advice is learning to audition before anything else—with that practice will come work. “Get cast in a stage play or student film,” she told Backstage. “Then get cast in another and another. There is no education like the act of doing something. Make mistakes, make friends, keep up your training, and keep auditioning.”
Russ also suggested looking for opportunities with an agent or casting director’s office. “You’ll gain invaluable insider knowledge of how the industry works,” she said. “During this process, you’ll discover where you fit in the industry, what your type really is, and how to be calm under pressure.”
She noted, “You’ll begin to build relationships with people in the business, develop an audition process that works for you, and learn what it’s like to work on a stage or a set. You’ll also earn the trust of casting directors and other industry folk.”
How do I get an acting agent? As outlined in our guide to getting an acting agent, the steps to acquiring representation are:
1. Commit to acting. Even if you still have a day job, you need to be able to make time to audition regularly and hone your craft.
2. Have your materials prepared. You’ll need headshots and a résumé at a bare minimum, but having a demo reel and an active social media presence can be a big help as well.
3. Research agencies. Start by reaching out to SAG-AFTRA to obtain a list of union franchised agencies, then do your research to find agencies that will be suitable for you.
4. Submit to agencies. Once you’ve narrowed down a list of agencies that might be a good fit, start submitting. Be sure to include a personalized cover letter along with your acting résumé, headshot, and demo reel (if you have one). Be sure to follow the submission guidelines for each agency exactly.
5. Meet with acting agents. Any agent who’s interested in representing you will likely want to meet in person. Be prepared not only to ask questions about the agent but also to do a cold read at the meeting.
6. Maintain the relationship. Maintaining a good relationship with your agent is a two-way street. Be sure to answer their calls and emails promptly, communicate with them about scheduling conflicts or challenges, and keep them updated about your goals and auditions you’ve attended.
With everyone putting out web series left and right and YouTube sensations becoming a dime a dozen, actors of all ages need to have at least some basic tech skills to be in the running. These include:
Video conferencing: You’ll likely need to know how to use video conferencing platforms such as Google Meet, Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom for virtual coaching and audition sessions. “Use your time wisely beforehand to figure out how [it] works,” advised acting coach Marci Liroff. “Test your sound. Test your internet connection to make sure our video call will be smooth and not freeze every few seconds.”
Self-taping: Most casting directors rely on self-taped auditions, so make sure that yours are strong enough to get you seen. “A very simple and clear-taped audition is all we need,” Liroff said.
Actor website: The actor website is a digital summary of your professional work, skills, and capabilities as an actor. It’s a great way to show off your talents, connect you to jobs, and market yourself as an actor.
Social media: Spend the time to update your social media pages, ensuring they represent your professional persona and aspirations. “Social media is so important,” said casting director Benton Whitley. It’s “what sells you,” he said. “I see you way more online than I ever see you in person, so that online presence is so important.”
If these tech skills are beyond your current capabilities, check out classes online at Skillshare or the AARP, or in person at Goodwill, the library, or local schools.
Experience: Actors who start young have the luxury of time to refine their skills, make connections, and slowly build their acting résumé. They might even attend acting college. Older actors may be able to draw on their experiences accumulated over the years to bring a unique emotional depth to their performances.
Role type: Younger actors usually have access to a greater diversity and number of lead roles, while older actors may be chosen more often for character parts and supporting roles.
Networks: Younger actors may be more adept at navigating the ins and outs of social media platforms, while older actors might already have established relationships through their life experiences and networks that can help them get a leg up in the industry.
Fulfillment: Since actors starting later in life may have had years working in another field or raising a family, they may have a better understanding of their artistic goals rather than being driven by external goals.
Featureflash Photo Agency/s_bukley/Ga Fullner
Many of today’s beloved actors weren’t household names back in their teens or twenties, including Steve Carell, Jenna Fischer, Bryan Cranston, Kathy Bates, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Jane Lynch, Alan Rickman, Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman, and Lucille Ball. If they’d thrown in the towel because they thought they were too “old” to become an actor, we would have lost out on a talented crop of performers.
Here’s how just a few of the many actors who started late with no experience made their path to stardom:
- Brendan Gleeson: Gleeson was a schoolteacher in Ireland before beginning his acting career in his mid 30s and taking on iconic roles such as Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” and Winston Churchill in “Into the Storm”—the latter of which earned him an Emmy.
- John Mahoney: Before turning to acting in his late 30s, Mahoney worked in the medical field. At age 53, he took on the role of gauche recliner lover Martin Crane in “Frasier,” which made him a household name.
- Terry Crews: After pursuing a career on the football field, Crews began acting in his 30s and became the iconic performer we know today.
- Kathryn Joosten: Following the death of her mother, Joosten listened to her heart and began performing at a local theater at age 42. By the time she was nearly 60, she landed a career-making role on “The West Wing.” She went on to win two Emmys for her guest actor role as nosey Karen McCluskey on “Desperate Housewives.” Of starting acting later in life, she said, “Some people in Hollywood think of me as a model for dramatic mid-life transitions—from suburban housewife to Emmy-winning actress. But I never plotted out a master plan for following my dreams.”
- Wanda Sykes: Although she may be best-known for her comedy, Sykes also boasts a flourishing acting career that didn’t begin until her work with “The Chris Rock Show” in her mid 30s.