How to Become an Actor


Getting Started in the Business of Acting

It seems that many who aspire to the profession of acting forget that indeed it is just that –a profession. As we have interviewed and researched those who have had some success in this business, it has become increasingly obvious that the idea of becoming an actor and acquiring the trappings of fame and fortune is a misguided notion for the vast majority of aspirants. This fantasy of being a “star” is quite alluring and has compelled many star-struck youth to board the proverbial bus to Hollywood with a dream but often little else.

The reality is that “The Business” is one that is extraordinarily challenging and requires great commitment and sacrifice. It helps to have a sober view of one’s self and a non-deluded appraisal of not only one’s stamina, but one’s ability to be released of the firm grasp of ego and to allow a perhaps unimagined vulnerability and ease in front of a camera or an audience.


The Difference Between the Stage and Screen

For the purposes of this article we will primarily focus upon a career in film and television. Before delving into the specifics of this industry, which is primarily headquartered in Los Angeles, it is important to illustrate the general distinctions between that of theatre and film/TV performance.

In talking with professionals in TV and film, especially those who are behind the scenes, it becomes quite clear that the most valued of actors are those who got their start onstage and were educated at a university or conservatory. As Rebecca Graves, a union costumer in film and television, succinctly puts it, “Actors who have a background in theatre are always my favorite; they not only are more often prepared, they also tend to have an understanding and respect of all aspects of production. For example, whenever the day is over it always seems that those who have a background in theater are the ones whose wardrobe is picked up, folded, and put on hangers as opposed to left in piles strewn about the floor. I cannot tell you how much we appreciate such gestures. Word does get around and the ‘high maintenance’ types are always remembered for their behavior and attitude around that…”

It always makes a positive impression when one is aware and attentive to the needs of other professionals on set. It is important to keep in mind that everyone has a “part” to play in the success of a film or a stage play, and each is essential and no more deserving of respect. It seems many actors forget this.


Big Is Not Always Better…

In a nutshell, here is how these two main mediums of acting can be differentiated: When one is performing on stage it is necessary that all audience members, including those in the back row, hear and see your performance. As such, it is incumbent upon the performer to “project” so he or she can be heard, while at the same time, retaining a sense of realism and truth to the performance. Sometimes gestures need to be more broad, and one’s position on stage is always placed so that as many audience members as possible can see the performer’s actions and gestures clearly. The trick is to simultaneously keep all of this in mind while also being convincing and “organic” in the performance.

Conversely, those who are performing for the camera need to keep in mind that every gesture or facial expression is magnified exponentially, so it is absolutely essential that the film and television actor remember and take to heart the adage that “less is more.” An excellent book on this subject was written many years ago by legendary actor Michael Caine, entitled Acting in Film. Backstage Magazine also has an excellent encapsulation on the subject available here: “Differences between Stage and Film Acting.”