How to Become a Film and Television Actor

Many aspiring actors dream of a career in Hollywood. While it is a dream, it could become a reality with time, training, dedication, passion, and patience. Following are ten steps that can start you on the path to becoming a film or television actor. If your goal is to become a theater actor, not all of these steps will apply to you. However, all of these steps are good to keep in mind no matter what type of acting you decide to pursue.

Tips to Become a Theatre Actor
© The Balance, 2018

Learn How to Act

Acting is first and foremost a craft. The best Hollywood actors understand this. Most have distinguished credentials from leading drama schools, vast experience, and many continue to work with coaches and mentors to improve their expertise. These actors understand that there is always room to learn, and they may never reach absolute perfection.

Similarly, aspiring actors should take a wide variety of acting classes. Work with many styles and with as many different groups of people that they can find. Try it all. From Shakespeare to comedy, from improv to cinema vérité, the more you know, the more well-rounded and versatile you will be. You will also be better prepared for any roles that come your way.

Go Where the Work Is

If you hope to work in film and/or television as an actor, you must go where the work is. That does not restrict you to living in Los Angeles or New York. After all, there are plenty of acting jobs in Vancouver, Montreal, Chicago, Miami, and Baltimore, for example.

New York and Los Angeles are where most of the casting directors work and live. Many of the shows that are shot in Canada or cities within the United States are still cast in Los Angeles or New York. So, even though you don't necessarily need to move to either of the two cities, they are where most of the action is and where you stand the best chance of being cast in a role.

Be Willing to Do What it Takes

This does not refer to the casting couch, but you must be willing to do what it takes for the sake of your craft. You might ultimately have to sacrifice certain aspects of your life to ensure that you will have success as a working Hollywood actor, such as a relationship or friendships along the way. You might find it difficult to maintain some connections if you must travel or devote all of your time to a role. Acting is not a 9-to-5 job by any stretch, and the life is not for everyone.

Initially, acting can be a 14- to 20-hour day commitment in all types of conditions and, at least initially, for not much money. Even actors who make millions of dollars per picture still must work to earn their keep. They are on location for months at a time, and every day they commit themselves both emotionally and physically to their roles. Hollywood stars have trainers, psychologists, plastic surgeons, nutritionists, and divorce attorneys to assist them partly because of the toll that their profession takes on their life.

Commit Yourself

Acting is not about your ego. If you want to look cool or maintain a certain image, then acting might not be for you. The best actors are those who are willing to let themselves be 100 percent consumed by the role they are playing. They physically become the person they portray.

Be Nice

Hollywood and many other professions is about helping those you know because they might one day be in a position to help you in return. So, treat others as you would like to be treated, from agents' assistants to fellow cast members to whomever you meet in Hollywood. An assistant that you treated poorly two years ago might one day become a casting director, film producer, or talent agent. They will remember who helped them on their way up the ladder.

Focus on the Craft, Not the Agent

Agents are a necessary evil, but they do not make or break you as an actor. Nor is a powerful agent a guarantee of success. Hard work and some luck is. Moreover, the happiest actors are the working actors because no matter what the pay, every experience is valuable. So, spend less time seeking out an agent and more time seeking out acting opportunities. From small plays to student films, you may be surprised how many seemingly insignificant opportunities can be catalysts to your entire career.

Beware, if an agent makes you pay for their services up front, run. Legitimate talent agents only get paid when their clients get jobs. What incentive do they have to find you a job if you have already given them their share in advance? No matter what they try to tell you, or however they try to validate charging you up front (e.g., personalized service, guaranteed jobs, headshots, or training), do not, under any circumstances, pay these individuals a cent.

Try Improv

Regardless of your opinion of improvisation theater, it is one skill that most actors can count on in a time of need. Improv skills are particularly useful for theater actors who might work with another actor who freezes midway through their lines. Improv is also one of the few styles of acting where you have absolute freedom to discover where your talent lies and where your repertoire could use some work.

Break Through Your Range

For years, Clint Eastwood epitomized the tough guy, Meg Ryan, the cutesy, girl next door. Even Tom Hanks was once the goofy, nice guy. These actors made their name playing certain roles because they found a niche that worked for them. Later, they were able to reach beyond their initial range.

Initially, it's somewhat important to find a range that works for you. It helps people (casting directors) know who you are and, often when starting out, it is your range that gets you paid work.

To move beyond your initial range, continue to learn new facets of your abilities from voice characterization to acting techniques. Everything you learn in the acting realm will be put to use someday.

Be Persistent

There is one general rule in Hollywood—talent won't get you there, but persistence just might. If you are a dog with a bone, then Hollywood is the town for you. Those who are gritty and unrelenting will have a much greater chance of success than the Juilliard-trained actor who waits in his apartment for an opportunity to come knocking. You have to get out there, pound the streets, meet people, and let them know what you are doing. It is essential to your success.

Have Patience

Rare is the true overnight success. Some actors seem completely unknown one day only to dominate the limelight the next. But the reality is that years of hard work and preparation brought them to that light. Hollywood is a strange town. There are actors who have been working for decades when, suddenly, they land a role that brings them fame.

Patience is not a virtue in Hollywood, it is imperative to keep from going insane. Be patient and you will enjoy the process of rising to stardom that much more, even if you never end up getting there.