It has come to my attention that this fine publication has quite a substantial following overseas. It warms my heart to hear that actors from all corners of the world are reading my words. And despite their cultural differences, they all seem to have the same question: “Do you have any advice for a foreign actor who wants to work in the United States?”
I find it amusing that Americans romanticize cities like London and Paris, but so many of the actors who live there are more interested in coming here. What does that say about the entertainment industry in this country? Well, it says we’re the biggest and the best and we pay the most. Our movies and TV shows are exported all over the globe. We create stars. This is Hollywood!
So, assuming President Trump doesn’t shut down all our borders, I’d like to give my foreign readers some advice on how to approach a career in the U.S. (And I’m not going to discuss visas or immigration issues, because I’m not an attorney and you can find that information elsewhere.)
First of all, you can’t be “fresh off the acting boat” when you get here and step off the boat into America. The early days of your career should start at home. That means signing with an agent where you live. That person will help you find the right teachers, get your first credits, and when the fateful day arrives, he or she might even introduce you to some industry types here in the States.
There’s something else you should do, and this is the same advice I give New York performers who are thinking about moving to L.A.: Build up a body of work before you come. It will make all the difference in the world if you have a decent reel packed in your bag when you land on our shores. This is fairly easy to pull off if you live in London or Sydney, because they have a ton of work there and everyone speaks English. But there are films and TV shows everywhere, and if you happen to live in a land where English is not the mother tongue, simply spend the money to have your reel subtitled. An actor I know from Berlin did this and his demo came out great!
Now let’s talk about your accent. In my opinion, there’s too much emphasis on accent elimination when the focus should be on accent reduction. Sure, being able to do a perfect American accent (whatever that is) will increase your options, but it seems foolish to completely remove the one thing that singles you out. I’ve had several Brits and Aussies walk into auditions with their natural accents and win the roles, even though the parts were never written to be foreign.
So by all means, work on knocking your accent down a notch, especially if you have an incomprehensible cockney dialect or if you sound like Pepé Le Pew. But it would be a mistake to think of your natural accent as a liability when it might be the most effective weapon in your acting arsenal.
Please give my best to Lady Liberty when you arrive in New York Harbor. And if anyone gives you crap on Ellis Island, just say you know Secret Agent Man. That should do the trick.
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