There are a lot of things you need to know as an actor. Here are five lessons that can help early in your acting career.
1. Know your “type.”
Sure, in school you learned how to play a vast repertoire of roles—you were encouraged to stretch, to challenge yourself, to grow. Out in the real world, it is unlikely that you will be cast to play too far beyond your natural age, height, weight, etc. It’s important to have a clear sense of who you are when you walk into a room, and how that affects the breadth of roles that are right for you.
While vital statistics may seem straightforward, navigating the intricacies of type can take work. Don’t be afraid to have soul-searching, candid conversations with friends, teachers, agents, and casting directors. Let them know you want their honest takes, then make sure your headshot reflects what you’ve learned. You may very well have the talent to play roles outside your type, but you will first need to build a body of work in roles written for actors who look like you.
2. The first year is the hardest.
If you thought college was hard, wait until you hit the real world during your first year as an actor. Many early-career actors say, “I knew it was going to be hard; I just didn’t know it was going to be this hard!” This business is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of hard work and belief in yourself to even feel like you’ve got a hold of the bottom rung of the ladder. Patience and resilience are skills you can work on every day.
3. You need to work at it every day.
To get through those first difficult years, you have to put work in every day. If you don’t create time in your schedule on a regular basis, you’ll always be able to convince yourself that you can do those mailings, make those calls, and read those trades “soon.” Start by scheduling one hour every day to work at your business—because it is a business! Any day that you’ve done at least one thing for your career is a good day. This includes auditioning, doing mailings, working out, eating healthy, and also seeing plays, movies, and TV shows. Your job is to learn the business. Don’t assume that having an “it” factor is enough. The business is learnable, and it’s up to you to learn it.
4. Agents, casting directors, producers, and directors are not the enemy.
The manager, agent, casting director system is set up so that many, many people have vetted you before you get in front of the person who can actually offer you a job: the director, producer, or both. They all really want you to be good, because it makes their job easier. Remember: if you nail it in the room, everyone in that system looks good.
The director will trust the casting director to present new talent. The casting director will trust your agent to pitch new actors. Your agent will look to the school where you trained for new talent each year. There is truly nothing more exciting in an audition room than when someone new comes in and knocks it out of the park. Your job is to be that person. When you are, you make everybody look good—especially yourself. It may take a while to absorb, so keep reminding yourself that you’re in the right place, in front of the right people, and doing the right work.
5. Being a good person is just as important as being a good actor.
There are often several actors, who are all exceptional, being considered for the same role. Make yourself stand out from the pack by being a delight to work with. Are you someone the casting director wants to be in a rehearsal room with for a month? On a movie set for six months? At work on a TV series for seven years? It takes time to build a reputation. The way to do so is by treating everyone with respect while trying your best to do good work.
It takes persistence to have a life in this business. If you are going to spend your life as an actor, the first few difficult years will ultimately feel like a drop in the bucket.
Be on time. Be professional. Do the work. Be thankful. And keep giving it everything you’ve got.
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and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.