France is among the world’s greatest locations for actors, due in part to generous government subsidies for acting schools and productions. If you want to become an actor, there are few better places to do so.
Because of the country’s artistic heritage—France is regarded as the birthplace of cinema, thanks to the French inventors of the motion picture, the Lumiere Brothers—there is a longstanding tradition of excellence within the French acting industry, particularly in film. French actors who managed to break into Hollywood and international cinema include Jean Reno (“Léon: The Professional,” “The Pink Panther”), Vincent Cassel (“Westworld,” “Ocean’s Twelve”), Marion Cotillard, Juliette Binoche, Isabelle Huppert, and many more. The country has also produced its fair share of talents behind the camera: renowned French directors include Agnés Varda, Jean-Luc Godard, and François Truffaut.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the steps to make your dream of becoming a working actor a reality. From landing an acting agent to finding the right acting classes, here’s how to become an actor in France.
- How do I start an acting career in France?
- Where can I find acting classes and schools in France?
- How do I find acting auditions in France?
- What materials do I need for an acting audition?
- Which cities in France are best for actors?
- How do I get an acting agent in France?
- What are the best acting agencies for early-career actors in France?
In short, here’s the traditional way of starting an acting career in France:
- Attending drama school or getting acting experience by getting cast
- Continually reading and studying the craft of acting
- Auditioning for everything that piques your interest
- Gaining credits on shorts, student films, and independent features
- Understanding what genres and character types you want to play and are best able to portray
- Getting an agent
More recently actors have started leveraging content creation on social media to build a following, develop their tastes, and sharpen their performance skills on their own without relying on other creatives to cast them in their projects.
Of course, anyone can start the journey to becoming a working actor in France, but few reach the goal: a steady and sustainable flow of acting work. But to build a successful career in the traditional performance sectors, diligence, a focus on craft, and audition skills will serve you well.
Opportunities to study the craft of acting in France are plentiful. The French drama school system is divided into two categories: private and state-funded. You may think that private schooling means higher-quality education, like in the U.S., but many state-funded schools in France are quite rigorous due to their stringent selection processes.
Famous schools such as Conservatoire National Supérieur d’art Dramatique (CNSAD) in Paris and the National Theater of Strasbourg (TNS) are completely subsidized via France’s Ministry of Culture. Both are regarded as amongst the best in the country. Founded in 1784, CNSAD is the oldest acting school in mainland Europe. Thanks to its illustrious cultural pedigree, actors not only learn the craft but also gain intimate knowledge about France’s heritage. This emphasis on culture is evident in the first-year course that offers training in fencing, mime, and the history of theater. However, admittance competition is stiff. CNSAD only admits 2–3% of applicants or around 30 actors per year.
TNS is much newer than CNSAD with its creation in 1954. Its uniqueness stems from being the only national theater with a school attached. The close relationship between the theater and the education system translates into courses that really gear actors for the public stage. TNS’s ethos is that actors must not only learn the craft but must become one with the theater.
Cours Florent, which is privately run, is probably the most renowned of all the acting schools. Aside from its prestige, the school offers comprehensive courses in music, drama, and dance. Courses are taught in either French or English. Because of its stature, course variety and language flexibility, there are few better schools worldwide, let alone France. Cours Florent also boasts an alumnus with the likes of Diane Kruger, Sophie Marceau, and Guillaume Canet.
Overall, there are three key factors to consider when choosing an acting school:
Course variety: Do you solely want to become a film actor? Or theater? Or do you also want to try your hand at dance, music, and directing? In France, schools will vary wildly in terms of what their courses entail. No matter your preference, there will be a course out there for you, but you must take time to research the options before applying.
Aside from the traditional school system, each Parisian arrondissement will have an establishment called a conservatoire. These are smaller art schools funded by the government, which are great if you’ve just arrived in the city and/or looking for an intimate, local community to learn the craft.
While there are other opportunities to study the craft of acting throughout the country, Paris is the epicenter of acting opportunities in France. Don’t live in Paris? You may want to reconsider relocating if you want easy access to castings and top-tier training in France.
Cost: School tuition fees are critical to consider as actors’ financial circumstances heavily vary. Most young actors pursuing private education will require additional funding and may not be able to enroll at certain institutions as a result. The alternative is state-funded schooling, which doesn’t skimp on quality admittance is much more challenging.
Prestige: As mentioned earlier, French schools are some of the oldest in the world. Coupled with a rich artistic culture, it’s no surprise that “prestige” is a meaningful factor in choosing a school in France. A school’s alumnus also adds to its prestige as it serves as a predictive roadmap of where you could end up as an actor. It will also often boost your acting credibility for any potential agents looking to sign fresh-faced talent.
With a strong film industry, a population of 67 million people, and many large cities, France offers many options for finding auditions including casting websites, social media, general research, and networking.
Casting directors in France like to pursue many avenues to find talent. One of the few reasons to still own a Facebook account as an actor is for casting. There are a plethora of groups specifically catered for auditions. One of the biggest ones is “Casting Enfants,” which has over 34,000 members on Facebook and is intended for actors up to the age of 25. Here, you can even find auditions for large French productions.
Websites such as Backstage.com provide young actors with casting opportunities throughout the U.S., EU, and the U.K.
To add a more personal touch to your search, try following renowned casting directors on social media like Instagram and Twitter. You can find out not only about what they’re casting, but also what their tastes are. If you’re watching a project you can see yourself on, find the film on IMDb, find the casting director, and search them online. Casting directors often work within specific mediums and genres, so you’ll be able to keep your finger on the pulse of what they’re up to—plus the type of work that you love!
A great example of this is veteran casting director Elsa Pharaon, who regularly posts open castings on her Instagram feed. While she has expanded her auditioning process online, she is well regarded for her street casting. She is a keen practitioner of the “wild casting” method in which casting directors find talent in urban environments. These include public transport, communal spaces, and of course, streets.
These casting directors look for atypical faces, interesting gaits, and eclectic personas that will transfer well to screen. There’s a strong culture of street casting in France but it’s not something you should prepare for as casting directors are pursuing “raw” talent. Instead, venture out into the city as much as you can. Who knows who you may bump into?
It’s always advisable to bring certain essential materials for an acting audition, even if not requested. These are typically headshots and a résumé. They allow casting directors to learn a bit more about you as an actor. However, in France, casting directors lean towards a minimalist approach. Oftentimes, they just want to see you. There’s a heavy emphasis on improvisation and the emittance of your inner personality.
This is where the acting culture in France really differs.
At auditions, it’s not uncommon to be asked questions about your life story, your love life, your personal adventures—anything that can unravel the DNA of you as a person, not just the actor.
The best cities for actors in France include Lyon, Marseille, and Strasbourg—and, of course, Paris. To determine whether a city is actor-friendly you should look at a few factors: Work opportunities, cost of living, and overall life satisfaction. France boasts quite a metropolitan population with a number of large cities, but considering those three factors, what city tops the list? Paris, of course.
France isn’t like the American film industry where you could live in either Los Angeles, New York City, or potentially Atlanta, and still have a decent chance of making it. In France, the majority of the big casting opportunities are in Paris. However, there are a few other cities where it’s possible to start a career in performance:
- Lyon: The second-largest French city with an effervescent young arts scene. One could describe Lyon as a mini-Paris, so you can expect to still find some acting opportunities here. There also is a new film school called Cinéfabrique, so if you were not able to relocate to Paris, there is a bubbling film community there.
- Marseille: The largest city of the South. Many big productions often shoot here for the gritty urban vistas. Netflix crime drama “Marseille” was shot here and productions like these can offer locals smaller roles.
- Strasbourg: A smaller city of just under 300,000, acting opportunities are not abundant, but the city does boast a very well-renowned drama school in the National Theater of Strasbourg.
Luckily, it’s not just the feature film industry that requires actors in France. The short film industry is a genuine industry of its own and isn’t a mere stepping stone like in other countries. Again, you can thank government funding for this.
The proximity to other major acting hubs like London are also worth considering. This guide will help you dig deeper into the U.K. acting market.
The fundamental process behind getting an agent in France is simple: Fill your acting résumé with credits, get your name out there, and get agents interested in you and your work.
Many people put the horse before the cart when it comes to acquiring an agent, and look to get one before they have any tangible proof of their capabilities. Acting isn’t purely a meritocracy where the cream always rises to the top, but, usually, if you’re able to showcase your performance talents and position yourself in the right place, you’ll be found.
In Paris, agents either go to school end-of-year showcases or watch student shorts. Short films in France are a lot more well respected and many can often rival Hollywood in terms of production value. Many independent shorts have budgets in excess of €25,000, and agents are watching these kinds of shorts.
CANAL+, one of the biggest distributors in France, has a dedicated short film channel, which screens many shorts on TV. (This widens the reach of young actors exponentially as one of the many limitations of typical shorts is the lack of distribution.)
Another way to get an agent’s attention? “Start by joining the right class, get to know everyone, and grow to a certain skill level. When the class widely acknowledges you are an excellent actor, it happens,” says Backstage Expert Ryan Williams. “A large number of my students are constantly working on commercials, as series regulars on TV shows, and even booking supporting roles in feature films. They end up with great agents.”
It’s not necessary to have an agent, especially if you’re starting out, as early-career actors haven’t accumulated a strong list of acting credits. But, if you did want to pursue agencies, France boasts many boutique agencies that would be willing to take on actors new to the industry.
A small boutique casting agency started in 2010. Led by three agents (Mathilde Mayet, Laurence Joyard and Olivia Mortier), their ethos is about nurturing talent through a human touch.
A mid-sized agency that also represents authors, directors, and other performers. They do however have an under-16 division, which is great for younger actors.
YOANN DE BIRAGUE & ASSOCIÉS
The agency is run by Yoann de Birague, a theatrical director and producer. He’s the head agent, so it’s quite a small outfit. Their roster leans more towards theater than film.
A rare instance of a Southern-based agency. The hybrid company was started by two agents in 2018. They also offer bespoke filming locations.
CHRISTINE LANCELLE AGENCY
Solely representing actors, they are the only agency who meets that criteria on this list. The definition of a boutique with only around 100 actors represented.
France is a land of great opportunity when it comes to acting. As a cultural epicenter for the arts, you will be hard-pressed to live in a better country geared towards seeing you succeed. While we have laid out the steps, like many creative careers, blueprints can only take you so far. The road to becoming an actor in France involves much hard work, savvy networking, and of course, a sprinkle of luck. Hopefully, this guide will provide you with enough fuel to start your journey!