Secret Agent Man's 3 Ways To Become a Better Actor

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Photo Source: Steve Weigl

I recently took a meeting with a young actor who just moved out from Chicago. The kid was greener than fresh spinach, and he had a lot of questions. I did my best to answer them without yawning, but then he hit me with a curve ball. “What’s the trick to succeeding as an actor?” It was a good question, so I gave it some thought and came up with the perfect answer:

“The key to acting is to be ready for an opportunity that may never come.”

The kid didn’t get it, but what do you expect? He’s from Chicago, a town that has mastered the art of screwing up a perfectly good hot dog.

Opportunities are a rare thing in this business, and they tend to show up when you least expect it. That’s why you need to be prepared. You have to be the best actor you can be so you can take advantage of unexpected chances.

This sounds like common sense, but sadly, most actors end up mired in the business side of their careers. They spend their time searching for the right headshot, signing up for workshops, trying to network with agents, and anything else that might birth an opportunity. That’s all good, but if you want to succeed, you need to have balance. And that means working on your craft.

Putting aside natural ability, there are three ways to become a better actor. The first is the most obvious. Get in class. There is no substitute for studying with the right teacher. Even experienced actors flex their muscles in class because they know that’s the best way to stay focused.

You’ll also learn a ton by watching the other students. That’s why you never want be the best actor in your class. It makes more sense to surround yourself with performers who challenge and inspire you.

Second, if you want to be a great actor, you have to act! It’s really that simple. Granted, you can’t book a challenging guest-star role every week, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to do your own thing.

Back in the day when yours truly was in film school, we had to take out loans to finance our student films. But now we live in a world where anyone can afford to create their own short or Web series. You can even shoot an entire movie on your phone!

Putting up a live performance is cheap too. All you need is a team of like-minded actors who will share the expense and workload.

I have clients who organize weekly script readings. Others ask me to provide them with sides so they can practice their audition skills. I’m sure you can come up with even more ideas.

And finally, if you want to improve as an actor, you have to watch good acting. There are many ways to do this without spending too much money.

Cable television is experiencing a golden age that’s forcing the networks to raise their game. So watch those shows in an active manner. Study the performances. Who knows? One day, you might be working with some of those people.

Depending where you go, theater can be expensive, but there are plenty of discount services that sell tickets on the cheap. Some theater companies even have pay-what-you-can nights.

Thanks to services like Netflix, almost every movie in the world is available for your viewing pleasure. So stay tuned because next week, I’m going to provide you with a list of forgotten performances that will definitely inspire you to raise your game.

(And seriously, if you’re from Chicago, what’s up with those hot dogs?)

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Secret Agent Man
Secret Agent Man is a Los Angeles–based talent agent and our resident tell-all columnist. Writing anonymously, he dishes out the candid and honest industry insight all actors need to hear.
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