5 Ways to Break into Acting Later in Life

So after all these years you have decided you want to be an actor. You are ready to quit your office job, get some great headshots, start auditioning, and give acting a shot. Or maybe you used to be an actor, and are re-entering the business after some years off. So where do you start? How do you jump into this crazy business later in life? How do you enter a marketplace that is rapidly changing, where it’s much easier to get an agent if you are young and hot? How do you make a living as an actor when you are up against all of these people who have been in the business for 20 years already and starred on dozens of network TV shows?

I get questions every day from people of all ages who want to break into the business. They want to know where they fit into the market, and how to make this dream a reality. For these actors, I think the first question you have to ask yourself is, “Do I want to make a living doing this?” or “Do I want to do this as a hobby?” If you want to make a living at it, it’s going to be much more difficult (but not impossible), as a lot of these high paying union jobs will go to more experienced actors, who have proven themselves already in the acting world, have a current résumé and training, and are really going after it every day. If you want to do it as a hobby, however, there are many opportunities out there, whether you are in a major market like L.A. or NYC, or you live somewhere else.

In my book “10 Steps to Breaking into Acting,” I discuss the current market trends, the opportunities, and the important steps actors need to take to break in, no matter what age you are. Here are a few examples below:

1. Explore non-union auditions. There are tons of opportunities for older actors in the non-union world such as student films, plays, readings, short films, etc. Some pay, some don’t. If you don’t have an agent, this is a great résumé builder, and also great for “real world” experience. Create a profile on Backstage, and submit every day for anything that fits your type. There are tons of projects that are constantly looking for talented, older, non-union actors, as they are hard to find! If you are outside of a major market, community theater and dinner theater are great options for older actors.

2. Take a good acting class. Nothing fuels the creative fire like a good acting class. Not only do you get to work your acting muscles on a regular basis, but you are spending time with other actors, networking, and learning from each other. It’s a great support system, and every actor needs it. It’s a chance to play, challenge yourself, make mistakes, and develop your skills. If you don’t have any good classes around, get a bunch of friends together and work on scenes each week. Find scripts online for your type and tape yourself doing scenes. Do anything and everything you can to get experience and knowledge.

3. Consider commercials. With commercials, it’s less about your résumé, and more about type. For older actors with a great headshot, a marketable “look,” and good business sense, finding a commercial agent may be a good leg in to the TV and film world if you are in NYC or L.A. Ad agencies are always looking to appeal to different demographics, and are constantly looking for “real person” actors to fill their spots. If you make a lot of money doing it, it will be much easier to jump over into TV and film. If you are considering going this route, take a good improv class, as it is an essential skill for commercial auditioning.

4. Self-produce. Frustrated by the lack of parts written for people your age? Create your own! Get a group of older actors together and write an original series. Use it for your demo reel, and show people how marketable you are. A demo reel is a great marketing tool, and will give casting directors a sense of how you are on screen.

5. Attend workshops. If you have a unique look or a special skill, attending casting director workshops may be the way to go. Don’t go spending tons of money thinking this will be your big break! If you are going to do these, be smart, do your research, and see what type of show you are right for, and pay to meet that casting director. Sometimes they are looking for something very specific (proficiency in another language), and many casting directors are known to have found older actors that way, who ended up coming in and booking a co-star role on a network TV show. If you get a few of these on your résumé, maybe it’s time to get an agent and make this more than just a hobby!

I believe there is a place for everyone in this business. Type and talent are obviously important, but more than anything, it’s important to follow your dreams and do what makes you happy. Treat acting as a fun hobby until it becomes more than that. Learn the skills, educate yourself about the business, and surround yourself with people who will help you on that journey and support you. It can be a wonderful, rewarding career!

Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!

Matt Newton
Matt Newton is one of the most sought-after on-camera acting coaches in New York City. His clients include Tony winners, Emmy award winners, Golden Globe nominees, and well-known actors from film and TV.

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