How to Become a Film and Television Actor

Many aspiring actors dream of having a career in Hollywood, and with time, training, dedication, passion, and patience, that vision can become a reality. If you want to become a successful film or television actor, there are some deliberate steps you can take to start making your way down that path.

Learn How to Act

The best Hollywood actors understand that acting is a craft. Regardless of credentials, many of these seasoned performers continue to work with coaches and mentors to hone their craft because they know there is always room to grow. As an aspiring actor, you can take a cue and sign up for a wide variety of acting classes. Work with as many styles and different groups as possible—try it all. From Shakespeare to comedy, and improv to cinema vérité, the more you know, the more well-rounded and versatile you will be to take on any roles that come your way.

Go Where the Work Is

New York and Los Angeles are where most of the casting directors work, live, and cast many of the shows shot in the U.S. and Canada. Recently, however, Atlanta has emerged as one of the hotspots for film and television gigs, primarily fueled by the opening of Tyler Perry Studios—one of the largest film production studios in the U.S.

Georgia is also known for providing lucrative tax incentives for filmmakers, so many choose to cast their work in the state. Although you don't necessarily need to move to those cities, you stand the best chance of being cast in a role if you're there.

To help you find casting directors, and vice versa, an acting agency is the ideal conduit. Here are the top acting agencies that can help lead you to a career in film, TV, and commercials.

Commit Yourself

The best actors are those who are willing to invest their time and let themselves be 100% consumed by the role they are playing, both physically and emotionally. This sort of dedication can take its toll on relationships, however. It’s hard enough to maintain connections if you’re devoting all your time and energy to your passion; it's even harder if that passion requires you to shoot on location for months at a time and be on set for up to 20 hours a day.

Don't Burn Bridges

Getting ahead in Hollywood is all about developing relationships and sowing seeds. You should always strive to be personable because you never know who might be able to help you down the road. An assistant you worked with years ago, for instance, might become a casting director, film producer, or talent agent someday. You can bet they'll remember who was nice to them along the way. It's never a good idea to burn bridges.

Be Persistent

There is one general rule in Hollywood: Talent won't get you there, but persistence just might. Actors who are gritty and unrelenting likely have a better chance of success than the Juilliard-trained actor who waits in their apartment for an opportunity to come knocking. There is a lengthy list of actors who worked less-than-ideal day jobs until they got full time acting gigs.

It took Harrison Ford more than a decade working as a carpenter—which is how he recaptured the attention of George Lucas, who had previously cast him in "American Graffiti"—before he landed his breakthrough role as Han Solo in "Star Wars." John Hamm waited tables as he took on smaller parts and went on many auditions before he earned fame as Don Draper at "Mad Men."

Break Through Your Range

For years, Clint Eastwood epitomized the tough guy; Meg Ryan was the cutesy, girl next door; and Tom Hanks was the goofy, nice guy. These actors made their name playing specific roles because they found a niche that worked for them. Later, they were able to reach beyond their initial range. Finding your range is essential when you're getting your start. It shows casting directors what you’re capable of as an actor.

It's just as important to move beyond your initial range by continuing to learn new acting techniques. Doing improvisation can help extend your range. It is one of the few forms of acting where you have the absolute freedom to discover where your talent lies and where your repertoire could use some work.

Seek out as many acting opportunities as you can. From small plays to student films, you may be surprised how many seemingly insignificant opportunities can be catalysts to your entire career.

Have Patience

True overnight success stories in Hollywood are rare. It may seem like an actor or actress is entirely unknown one day and basking in the limelight the next, but the reality is that years of hard work and preparation earned them the accolades. Be patient—you never know when your break is going to come. At least three stars of "Orange Is the New Black" can attest to this notion:

  • Uzo Aduba, who plays Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren
  • Datscha Polanco, who acts as Dayanara "Daya" Diaz
  • Diane Guerrero, who portrayed Maritza Ramos

All three actresses nearly gave up acting entirely before being cast in the award-winning series. Aduba was the closest to moving on. In the September 2016 issue of Essence, she related how she landed her role 45-minutes after deciding to stop acting. Meanwhile, Polanco kept working another full-time job during the filming of the first season, unsure of how things were going to pan out.

And then there's the story of Chrissy Metz, who plays the role of Kate Pearson in "This Is Us." Frustrated by fruitless efforts to land significant roles, she nearly moved back to Florida before getting cast in the critically acclaimed NBC series. Living on unemployment at the time, she famously had less than a dollar in her bank account. Her patience ended up paying off, and with enough persistence, yours can too.