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What It Takes to Be the Lead

Photo Source: Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Acting is about taking the lead. Booking a co-star or guest-star once a year doesn’t feed the soul of an actor. Casting, producers, writers, and directors want people with momentum on their sets. Don’t wait to show up until someone gives you the part. Work for it now.

Start with your goal in mind. I want to be a lead in a film or a television series. Where do I begin? What is this going to take? How do I get there? Everyone’s path is different. You must be prepared to step up to the plate at a moment’s notice. Being the lead is all about making contributions. When you shoulder a project, you’ll need to come prepared with your energy, passion, and talent. Here are some guideposts to keep you moving in the right direction.

Finding your voice.
If you want to be a lead, have something to say. You cannot be an empty vessel waiting for others to tell you what to do. Listen to who you are and what you want. Find your voice, why you act, what your gifts are, and how to bring them forward. This is the root of true success in this business. If you know who you are, it will show.

Cultivate your passion and enthusiasm for what you do.
Love what you do. Feed and encourage this part of your talent. Once you have the role, you want to show up on set ready, willing and able to get the most out of the day. We train actors to bring every part of themselves to set: Their hearts, their empathy, their grit. What drives you to act keeps you moving forward day after day.

Develop your personal acting technique.
Find out what works for you. Understanding what’s on the page allows you to live in the moment. We work to get actors past their egos and limitations to tap into vulnerabilities, emotional truth, and see the moment for what it is. You want to be free and able to respond to whatever comes your way. When that part of your technique is solid, you can take bigger risks.

READ: How to Become an Actor

Bring your technical expertise to the game.
You are now ready to step in front of the camera. The pictures we create tell a story through a series of integrated shots and understanding the parameters of each set up will elevate your performance through the lens. For example, is the close up about how I’m affecting the actor across from me or how I’m being affected? A director’s vision is mapped out in pictures. The actor/director relationship is vital to a project’s success.

Develop trust.
A skilled on-camera actor understands when a moment is truly working through them. They know how to listen and move on camera. Trust where you are and you will get absolutely everything you need out of each take. If you’re self-conscious or caught up in the dialogue, you rarely get to this level of work.

Don’t run around being afraid. It takes guts to put yourself out there and do what you do. Acting is an opportunity to learn to trust yourself and other people. Reach out and connect. Revealing the truth of who you are and what you want to say is such a beautiful opportunity.

Every once in awhile, an actor does something that stays with us forever. It’s the work fully realized. It comes from really owning what your responsibilities are as an artist, knowing the work, and bringing the creativity to allow it to shine. When the stakes are that high, you begin to work your process on a completely different level: that of a pro.

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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.

Paolo Pagliacolo
Paolo Pagliacolo has worked on both sides of the camera as an actor, filmmaker, and writer. Bringing his experience and expertise in television and film into the classroom, Paolo has managed to create an environment for his actors where they not only thrive creatively but also understand the technical requirements of bringing a role to life for the camera.
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Jen Krater
For 20 years, Jen Krater has been teaching actors interested in carrying leads in film and television. Her process encourages and allows actors to find and reconnect with their own voice as an artist. Combining that strong artistic identity with the technical expertise of the camera makes her one of the most sought out acting coaches in NYC and LA.
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