Want to be a famous movie or TV star?
How to become a famous actor
Acting holds great allure for many people, offering a chance to explore different aspects of themselves and in a multitude of settings. From the images on our screens, it may seem glamorous and fun but it’s important to understand that in order to get opportunities with substance those talented professionals have had to work hard at their craft. Raw talent or a hint of aptitude is not enough to “make it” and sustain a career as an actor. Acting classes, personal insight and development, and a depth of character that includes core values such as diligence, openness, resilience, ability to take criticism (humility), sensitivity and vision are traits common to most hugely successful actors.
Skills to cultivate to become a competent actor
Acting requires certain skills: the ability to feel and visibly express those feelings, to empathize, to understand others and walk in their shoes, to memorise large tracts of text, to adapt to changing circumstances and generously accommodate the needs of colleagues during dialogue. Quick-wittedness and the ability to “think on your feet” is also a helpful skill. Acting may require linguistic diversity – such as being able to speak in different accents, or with a voice that can span a range of ages.
A lot of the work of becoming an actor is done in private, though the support of peers at a good acting school can be invaluable. It can be a very inward journey. Testing skills and putting them to work in small productions such as short films and plays is an essential way to improve your skills and grow in competency.
Understanding scripts and analysing the writer’s intent is also vital, and this can be helped along by literature classes, participation in book clubs and advanced reading groups.
Acting classes, are, of course, vital to skill development and building professional confidence. It is also important to understand some of the technical aspects of filming for TV and cinema, such as camera positioning, sound requirements and so forth. Even an exceptionally talented performer will miss out on further opportunities if they have a reputation for consistently messing up the shot or sound, thereby being branded as “hard to work with”. On a big film set this can mean additional costs incurred and the producer is unlikely to be very happy about that.
Five tips for wanna-be professional actors
If you are serious about taking on acting as a profession, not just as a fun hobby, then the following five hints will help guide you to achieve your dream, so that when a big opportunity comes, you are ready to do it justice.
1. Learn the craft of acting
Think you are “a natural”? You may be, but chances are, you are not the exception to the rule. Besides, natural talent will only get you so far, and you are up against others with similar talents but possibly a greater professional diligence. If you really want to be a famous actor then you, like everyone else, will need to become a master of the craft. To do this, you will need to explore different styles of acting, various techniques and find the method or methods that work best for you, or for the script or character you are given next.
The learning never ends – even established actors continue to explore new techniques and expose themselves to new ways of learning and developing characters.
2. Understand the sacrifices an acting career requires
If you have ever worked on a film set as a runner or extra then you will know that the days can be long, and there is lots of time sitting around being quite bored. Acting is not a nine-to-five job and sometimes you may need to work through the night, in the pouring rain or freezing cold, or wake up before dawn to be on set for sunrise. Before you get on set, there’s a load of work that has already been done – learning scripts, attending wardrobe fittings, meetings with the cast and directors and so forth.
Once shooting begins it can be two, three, four months before you get to go home. While you are at home, you may also be quite annoying to be around, as you try to learn lines or explore new ways of being to help you understand a new character. Oh, and the pay is terrible to begin with and very uncertain. You may not know when your next pay cheque will arrive.
In short, being a working actor can be tough on relationships, friendships and your bank balance. It takes a certain level of commitment to choose the craft over loved ones, or to put some aspects of your life on hold while you work towards your acting dream.
3. The good guy wins
Acting is a long haul game. In fact, all aspects of film and TV production are long haul games. What that means is everyone involved in creating the finished story has had to be extremely good, hard-working, professional and diligent for a prolonged period of time whether that be in sound, lighting, production, directing, camera operation or acting.
If you want to have a successful career as an as actor you have to take a longer view, and approach each new person you meet as a new relationship to nurture (or at least not sabotage) over the coming years. Be nice to people! The gaffer you meet on your first show might end up being the cinematographer on a major film you are desperate to be part of in 15 years’ time. Don’t annoy them today: you might want their help in years to come.
Rude people and prima donnas don’t get called back to work on the next ad or short film, and that means there may not BE a next short film, ad, or TV show for you.
4. Give yourself up
Being an actor does not mean “putting it on”, or “pretending” to be someone else: a good actor BECOMES the character with authenticity. You are not trying to “trick” people, or convince the viewer that you are that character. The line between the character and you dissolves. For that magic to occur you need a thorough understanding of who you are in the first place, so you can recognise when “you” might be interfering with an accurate expression of the character you are portraying.
You can call it ego, or id, or any number of things. The ability to give yourself up, or let yourself go, is the mark of a truly brave and capable actor. “You” might never raise your voice to a child, swing your hips when you walk, or think murderous thoughts. The character you are playing, however, may do all of those things and more. You need to be able to remove your normal filters, and put yourself aside to allow the other to come to light.
It takes courage, self-awareness, and sensitivity. That’s why acting classes can be so powerful: it’s in class that you learn tools and tricks to help wind back the filters and explore unfamiliar territory within your own soul, safely.
5. Be accessible to the right people: casting directors, agents, filmmakers
What does that mean? It means that if most of the castings for the big TV and film jobs are in Sydney, Melbourne, LA, Montreal, New York, Mumbai, etc, then you need to be able to get along to them. If you don’t put yourself in the right place, then the work is very unlikely to come to you. Sure, from time to time major movies are filmed in smaller locations, and there can be some local casting calls, but chances are the leads have already been set and it’ll just be extras or secondary characters they are looking for. Want a lead role? Put yourself in the path of a good opportunity by basing yourself in the right place. Don’t wait for some imagined talent scout to hunt you down. It won’t happen.
Becoming a famous actor will not happen overnight. In fact, it may never happen. You can do the work, master your craft, and still find that recognition eludes you. After years of patient, diligent, quality work and commitment, success may slip through your fingers. If acting is a true calling, however, none of that will matter. You will have created a fascinating journey for yourself and be satisfied with the inner growth that has occurred as a result of your commitment. You’ll have found ways of earning a living that cover your rent and food costs that possibly sit outside of the theatrical world, and will be reasonably content.
One thing is certain, though, if you never try then you will never know whether life as a famous actor was possible for you.
Screenwise is not only leading the Sydney Acting Schools in both performance and program content, it is, and will continue to be at the forefront of acting education nationally and internationally offering the very best the industry has to offer. For more information visit: