Level Up Your TV Career With This Guide to Getting Guest Star Roles

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Photo Source: “Abbott Elementary” Credit: ABC/Gilles Mingasson

Anyone who watched Jon Bernthal and Bob Odenkirk battle it out on “The Bear” or remembers Reese Witherspoon’s run as Rachel’s sister on “Friends” knows the power of a great guest star. Not quite a lead but not quite a cameo, this vital role often plays a pivotal part in an aspiring TV actor’s career trajectory. Here, we’ll explore what exactly defines a guest star and how you can start booking these gigs yourself. 

What is a guest star role?

A guest star is not a member of the main cast but is heavily involved in a specific storyline; they often appear in just one episode but can pop up in more scenes throughout a show’s season or series. Even with comparatively limited screen-time, these roles can come with complex arcs and consequences. Think of long-lost family members unveiling hidden secrets (like Evan Peters on the MCU’s “WandaVision”) or a new love interest who throws a wrench into our main character’s journey (much like Amy Adams’ in early seasons of “The Office”). 

Becoming a guest star is a step up from co-star parts, which are day players who usually have minimal to no dialogue. It can also be a ticket to long-term success if you leave a memorable enough impression. Emily Bett Rickards, for example, was originally hired for a one-episode guest appearance on the DC Comics series, “Arrow.” Her chemistry with series lead Stephen Amell proved so potent that producers bumped her to a principal role for all seven seasons. 

Similarly, Sean Gunn appeared in the pilot episode of “Gilmore Girls” as a DSL installer with a few lines. After the series got picked up, showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino re-cast Gunn as fan-favorite Kirk Gleason, a recurring character for seven seasons (plus a Netflix revival).

How much money do guest stars make?

Danny DeVito on “Friends”

Danny DeVito, Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox, and Jennifer Anniston on “Friends” Courtesy NBC

The range of compensation for guest-star roles is quite wide, depending on factors like the television network or streaming service, the series’ budget, the complexity of the role, and the actor’s level of notoriety.

If you’re a member of SAG-AFTRA, you’re guaranteed the union minimum. SAG classifies guest stars as a “major role performer,”  which makes a minimum of $5,951 a week on half-hour programs and $9,522 a week on hour-long programs. Secret Agent Man, a rep with years of industry experience, says, “The rate here is negotiable. Some established actors can command $3,000 for one day of work, while less experienced clients might go for $1,500.”

What experience do you need to land guest-star roles?

Kid Cudi and Andy Samberg on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”

Kid Cudi and Andy Samberg on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” Courtesy NBC

Guest-star roles have a significant impact on the storyline, which means they are usually reserved for well-known or experienced actors. However, aspiring actors with lesser recognition can still find their way into these coveted roles. There's no one-size-fits-all formula, but there are ways to increase your chances of becoming a guest star. These include:

Building a robust acting résumé: Get started with student films, shorts, and indie productions—anything you can add to a high-quality demo reel. (Working as an extra will also give you set experience and opportunities to network.) Your reel will serve as a calling card when moving up to guest-star roles. It allows casting directors to assess your talent and suitability for their projects.

Continuously honing your skills: Sign up for training, workshops, and acting classes. These experiences not only equip you with the necessary tools and techniques but also demonstrate your dedication as an actor. If your ultimate goal is to appear on TV, prioritize training that teaches acting for the camera

Learning how to audition: Sharpen your audition skills to stand out during casting calls. Auditions can put a spotlight on your versatility, adaptability, and unique qualities. 

Looking for casting calls: If your résumé is in great shape and you’re ready to move to the next level of your career, browse Backstage’s TV listings for projects specifically looking for guest stars. 

Networking within the industry: Attending industry events, film festivals, and workshops on top of joining acting organizations can help you establish valuable connections that may lead to guest-star auditions. 

Finding an agent or manager: Representation through an agent or manager opens doors to exclusive opportunities and auditions that might otherwise be inaccessible. If you’re just starting out, seek out agencies that work with beginners

For more casting information, you can always check out our news page for the latest opportunities.