How to Have a Long Acting Career

Expectations can be the bane of anyone’s career—expecting roles to be offered to you a few months after graduation or the completion of your acting training. Or expecting that if you put in the time to self-submit and go to auditions, someone will hire you for a starring role and you’ll be discovered! Or that as soon as you get an agent, major auditions and roles will be offered. It doesn’t work that way.

Successful people—actors included—need to take some major steps to get work and progress in their careers. The real key is having a clear understanding of how things work and what steps will make you the most successful.

In meeting, interviewing, coaching, and mentoring thousands of actors in two decades, here are six truths I’ve discovered about having a long-term career:

1. Although BFAs, MFAs, and PHDs are useful for a teaching career, they’re not as important as talent and professional training. The real advantage of college is not just acting training, but opening your mind to different cultures, languages, literature, history, sciences—subjects that will help you become a better actor and develop a deeper understanding of people and the roles you’ll eventually play.

2. Talent and training are not as important as looks (what makes you distinct and exotic) and personality—especially on camera. Top professionals most often hire the one unique person who stands out from the crowd, not the actor who’s like everyone else or a clone of a current star. Be yourself and promote your uniqueness—your brand and your strongest suit for getting work.

3. Looks and personality are not as important as the desire to be successful, having patience, and being persistent, which usually leads you to get good training. Still, in most interviews, those actors who can be themselves, schmooze, charm, entertain, and connect are always in the top one percent of those who get cast. Industry professionals are not just waiting for you to walk in the door and be brilliant in your audition. They want a real person who’s going to be fun or challenging to work with.

4. Developing relationships with the industry (casting directors, writers, directors, agents, etc.) is far more important to your success than degrees, talent, training, looks, and personality. People hire those they know and like. So when interviewing or auditioning, make the connection and follow up. Each audition should be an opportunity to build your personal network. It’s the next step in attaining your final goal: getting cast and working with top professionals. It shouldn’t be a one-off.

5. Marketing yourself consistently will always be more successful than any of the above. That doesn’t just mean sending out postcards or connecting on social media. It means being active daily and meeting, working with, and developing new contacts. It means creating marketing tools—email campaigns, newsletters, press releases, invitations to performances showing your work, talking about your work, and reminding professionals that you’re available and are highly respected for your craft and talent. Even after booking a major role, you need to keep marketing. Everyone is marketable. There is a role and a market for anyone who makes the effort to train, have great tools, meets and develops friendships, and really loves their work. People want to work with passionate as well as talented actors, but they have to get to know you. That’s marketing.

6. Having a mentor, coach, or guide will speed the process of marketing yourself. Why? Knowing what to send, what to say, and when and how to say it will save you months, years even, of doing the wrong thing. You want the industry to know you’re a valuable asset to their project, but you don't want the reputation of an annoying actor. There’s a fine line in marketing. You need to know the difference and a marketing expert can clarify that for you. A Coach/Mentor can help design your campaigns and oversee what you need to create. There’s a 90 percent chance you’ll get representation and work sooner if someone’s in your corner helping you to get there. Hire a Mentor who knows how the business works, knows industry professionals, and knows how you specifically can break into the market. Then, you’ve succeeded in all the right steps and you can expect that your career will take off. It will!

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Gwyn Gilliss
Having been selected by over 100 east and west coast agents, managers, and casting directors as the “foremost marketing coach for actors,” Gwyn has also had a successful acting career in all medias. She studied at Carnegie Mellon, and was an Emmy Award-nominated Daytime/Primetime TV actress with over a dozen contract and recurring roles. Favorites include: “All My Children” (ABC),“The Lucy Arnaz Show” (CBS), and “Woman of Valor” (NBC, Emmy Award).