The Ultimate Guide to Getting Cast in a Movie or TV Show

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There’s no single path to becoming an actor. In fact, it’s much harder than it looks—but that doesn’t mean you can’t create a fulfilling career. While some people work for years as background and supporting players before landing a major role, others have been “discovered” by being in the right place at the right time. Deep down, though, they all have one thing in common: hard work. 

With so many possible routes to take, how does one even begin their journey to getting cast? In this guide, you’ll find everything you need to know about establishing yourself within the entertainment industry so you can grow as an actor and achieve your dreams.

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Phase 1: How to Get Started

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When you’re a beginner, the most challenging hurdle can be just that—beginning. But, even if you have little to no experience in the field, there are numerous steps to take as you prepare to pursue your passion. Acting and the audition process have been portrayed in pop culture as cutthroat processes that pit actors against each other. But, as producer and casting director Heidi Levitt wrote, actors need to be kind to one another. “You need each other’s support, and sharing information and insight is not the only kind of support you need. You need kindness—it’s a necessity to succeed in the long run.”

Together, actors can create a community of support and, inevitably, success. Oh, and the following tips can’t hurt, either.

How to Find Background Work

Many of the biggest names in showbiz today started out as background actors. (Just look to Matthew McConaughey and Adrien Brody in “Angels in the Outfield” for proof!) But how can you land your first background role? In most scenarios, productions will put out calls (keep an eye on our list here) for a specific look, age, or type when it comes to background work. Often called “look-sees,” these auditions differ from the average, as they are meant to confirm whether or not the given actor meets the outlined visual criteria (as opposed to acting skill). Thus, you have to be sure you fit the bill.

Casting director Melanie Forchetti has a vital tip to help you prep. “I’d recommend taking improv classes, which are a good idea for any role, so you’re able to take direction and think on your feet in the moment,” she wrote. Sounds like great advice for any audition!

How to Find Commercial Auditions

While Backstage always offers an array of open commercial casting calls, auditioning for this medium differs somewhat from television and film auditions. As acting coach Cathryn Hartt said, when auditioning for commercials, you need to be high-energy and appear likable, paying close attention to your personality and your “look.” “Always be positive. Even if you are doing a serious pitch, it should be inspiring, not depressing and down,” she explained. “Lack of energy and positive light in a commercial translates to boring or not liking the product.”

You’ll also want to brush up on your comedic timing. “Commercial timing is actually basic comedic timing: make a face...then talk,” she added. “Be quiet when you are making the face so that it is actually a clean beat. Then say the next phrase… When you actually do this technique, it doesn’t look like you are taking those beats. It just puts a little pop in your performance that makes us love you.” If you keep this in mind, you will find yourself on the right track for acing your next audition.

Who are the best casting directors to know?

It’s no easy feat to impress a casting director. But which CDs should you know about as you make your way through the audition process? Here are some of the big names in the industry right now:

  • Victoria Thomas (“The Last of Us,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Watchmen,” “Insecure,” “The Last of Us”)
  • John Papsidera (“The Dark Knight,” “Inception,” “Memento,” “Wednesday”)
  • Meredith Tucker (“Defending Jacob,” “Ray Donovan,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “The White Lotus”)
  • Francine Maisler (“Tree of Life,” “Tropic Thunder,” “Hancock,” “Succession”)
  • Nina Gold and Robert Sterne (“Game of Thrones,” “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” “The Crown”)
  • Wendy O’Brien (“Sons of Anarchy,” “Fear the Walking Dead,” “Teen Wolf,” “Abbott Elementary”)
  • Avy Kaufman (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Life of Pi,” “Let Me In,” “Billions”)

Where can you find casting calls outside New York or Los Angeles?

Have your headshot and résumé ready but don’t know where to look for casting calls outside of the main hubs, like New York City and Los Angeles? Our various roundups will help you pinpoint alternative hot spots throughout the U.S. and beyond:

Phase 2: How to Be a Working Actor

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How to Find an Agent

While creating a demo reel and joining SAG-AFTRA are important steps on any actor’s journey toward success, there’s one asset that could make or break your next steps into the acting world: an agent.

But how does one go about getting an acting agent? While finding representation isn’t as easy as one might hope, it’s worth the effort to find someone who’s genuinely invested in your career and will advocate for you when the right roles come along. Here are some key steps you must take to find the agent who’s right for you:

  • Commit to acting and honing your craft, with the intention of auditioning regularly.
  • Prep the necessary materials (e.g., headshots, résumé, etc.) and establish a social media presence.
  • Research agencies and submit your info to those who might be the right fit.
  • Meet in person with agents who express interest in representing you. Come prepared with relevant questions.
  • Maintain the relationship you’ve built with your agent by communicating regularly.

How to Audition for Netflix or Another Major Streamer

There’s a lot that goes into preparing for an audition. From what to wear and memorizing your lines, to calming your nerves and making a self-tape, there are myriad factors that come into play, and no two auditions are the same. Auditioning for programs on the leading streaming services can have especially high stakes since their success might mean a long-term commitment and sudden stardom—something every actor dreams about, but for which they can never fully prepare. 

Luckily, we can help you lay the groundwork for such an opportunity. Check out our guides on how to audition for these major streamers:

Phase 3: How to Be a Star

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How to Land a Role in a Major Project

While there’s plenty of advice to guide you on your journey to becoming an actor, you have to know how to weed out what will or will not work. A-list actors might know a thing or two about how to reach your destination: as Jessie Buckley once told us, “If you stop falling down and picking yourself back up, then I don’t think you’re really taking risks. You have to be willing to put your heart out there. You’ve got to jump off the cliff.” 

When you’re ready to take that leap, check out our extensive array of guides on how to get cast on the latest big-name projects in Hollywood. From Netflix to HBO, we’ll help you land a role on your favorite TV obsession:

How to Land a Lead Role

First and foremost, you need to find an agent. Beyond that, you’ll need to work on your presentation. Charisma is essential.

Defined by presence, enthusiasm, and confidence, charisma is a combination of social and emotional skills that give someone a compelling attractiveness or charm—and it’s something that all successful actors embody. So, how can one learn to be more charismatic? As acting coach Craig Wallace told us, charismatic people pay attention. 

“They aren’t formulating their next sentence; they’re too busy absorbing yours,” Wallace noted. “They make you feel validated and worthy and you want to be around them as much as possible.” To put this into practice, try Wallace’s exercise: “Pick a day and commit to listening well and deeply to everyone you come in contact with. Try to keep all of your energy flowing outward to them and your mind clear of any opinions or judgments.” In doing so, you’ll be able to hone both your professional craft and your people skills, setting you up for nothing by success!

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