How To Become an Actor
What Exactly Does an Actor Do?
An Actor portrays a characters in a film, using their physical presence or voice. It involves researching every aspect of the character, memorizing dialogue the Screenwriter has written, and developing their own emotional life so it can be authentic on screen. Beyond the stress of working, many Actors must do promotional events and media tours and constantly audition for their next job.
There are two types of ‘typical days’ for an Actor: one where they are on set or preparing for a role and the other involving getting work. Depending on the actual day and success level of an Actor, they may be doing taped auditions simultaneously while working on set. Usually, there are long stints between work, where an Actor auditions for roles.
Overall, it’s important to make sure that the ‘Actor’ lifestyle doesn’t take over a personal life. Some Actors will spend their entire week cooped up in their apartment, learning lines or just not wanting to connect with the outside world until their meeting/audition is complete. They may be waiting around for that hopeful phone call from an Agent/Manager about a potential callback/offer.
Sebastian Gregory, an award-winning Actor who has been the lead in multiple independent films says, “On a normal to busy day, I wake up early and do some writing. I find this clears my head before any audition I may have later in the day. Depending on the audition and role, I’ll usually do some research online or watch some YouTube clips of artists/Actors who inspire me. This all helps get me in the right headspace. I’ll always work on the scene the night before and try to read the script for most meetings I am about to go in for. However, as we all know, sometimes we can have very limited time to do so. I think it’s very important to still maintain a normal and healthy lifestyle and not take all of this too seriously to the point where it may cause stress and ruin your day, and sometimes, even your week. It took me many years to learn how to achieve this.”
Working as an Actor involves bringing to life emotionally intense scenes, both on set and in auditions. It’s important to find balance and a method that supports a consistent quality of work but also lets an individual keep their sanity.
An Actor is usually the last person signed onto a film project and the first person to finish work. They participate in many different projects within a year and are usually cast through auditions. An audition consists of reading sides for a scene and performing for a Casting Director and/or Casting Associate, Producer, and Director. Sometimes first-time Actors will be cast as leads of a film while other Actors make a career of playing small roles. Usually, Actors will start with smaller parts and work their way up to larger ones but the parts available to play are always dependent on what movies are currently casting.
Due to the competition inherent in working as an Actor, getting the right Agent can make or break a career. Gregory tells us how an Actor can build their career, “from signing up for drama classes to taking headshots and trying to sign with an Agent. Signing with an Agent can be hard if you have not done any work. A useful way to get in the door with a Manager or Agent is to have a showreel. I know people who have chosen a few scenes from different films and taped them in a studio. This is a good way for Agents/Managers to get a feel for you in front of the camera.
Once you have representation and are going to regular casting auditions, it’s important to remember it may take a while before being cast in something. There are many things casting is looking for in a role. Don’t get down on yourself if you haven’t booked something in the first month or two.”
Gregory first signed with his Agent through playing music. He then started going out on regular auditions, mainly for TV commercials. After booking a couple of gigs and gaining some familiarity of what it’s like to be on set, he was cast in TV shows and feature films.
Education & Training
Honing’s one’s craft as an Actor is a crucial part of the process but it is different for everyone. Gregory states, “Some of the best Actors/Actresses never did any training, education or classes, while others did. I think it’s important to find what makes you happy and confident in excelling in your craft as an Actor. For me, I never felt at home in drama classes. I am self-taught in most things I set out to accomplish. Trial and error have been the best experience I could have ever had.”
Other Actors will attend conservatory programs, work in repertory theater companies, create their own plays, and rehearse with people they respect. Acting Coaches are commonly hired and will work with Actors even after they’ve become very successful. The entire learning process is an individual journey and it’s important for anyone looking to become an Actor to take time and discover what works best for them.
What skills do you need to be an Actor?
The experience and special skills required for an Actor vary depending on the role they will be performing. For example, if someone is supposed to portray an expert swordsman they need to have those skills. Often, the ability to perform a unique skill will help an Actor land a role. Gregory adds, “You need to feel confident in front of a camera and have a strong work ethic. The days can be very early and very long when working.”
The stamina required to work twelve-hour plus days, doing the same emotionally draining scene repeatedly does not come easy. Sometimes it can take over thirty takes before the correct shot is achieved. Then the Actors must play the same scene again but with the camera sitting at a different angle. Therefore, the best prior experience for becoming an Actor is to act. This can include taking regular classes, participating in workshops, and rehearsing with fellow Actors.
Actors’ personalities come in all shapes and sizes. Gregory says, “I know a lot of Actors who have ‘over the top’ personalities. They almost need to have their presence known every time they walk into a room! This may help them in front of the camera, as they are clearly not shy. But I also know a lot of Actors who are the complete opposite. I’m quite a shy and quiet person when I meet people. This doesn’t affect me one bit when it comes to being in front of the camera or going on casting calls.”
For Actors like Gregory, auditioning and doing interviews are like playing another character. He embodies an extroverted personality because it’s good to feel confident when speaking with Casting Directors, Producers, and Directors. Thus, while there is no set personality type essential for success as an Actor, they must know how to engage and open up when it’s time to perform.
When an Actor is working on set, they are subject to be called day or night, at any time of the week. There are union rules about turnarounds for the next day; however, that often only results in a fee that’s paid to be overridden. When it comes to working between jobs, Gregory says, “My preparation mainly consists of work at home, unless I decide to work with someone on a scene. Also, a lot of the time, casting may not be taking meetings in the current city I am in, which leads me to put down a self-tape. I make sure I take my camera and a little portable lighting setup whenever I travel so I can put down a tape when need be.
Auditions can come through at any time, including weekends. It’s important to be able to manage your time, as sometimes you can have more than one audition and sometimes two or three will be requested in one day.” What may seem like a lull from a bird’s eye view is actually a long period of work, doing multiple auditions to get a job that will ultimately dictate every aspect of an Actor’s life.
Actors work quite extensively with their Agents and Managers. They speak with them at least once or twice a week by phone and constantly through email. Otherwise, when on set, the Actor’s main points of contact are the 1st Assistant Director, Director and any PAs. The Makeup, Costume and Sound departments will also work closely with the Actors to get them ready for their scenes.
The career trajectory for an Actor varies widely. There isn’t a cookie-cutter path to making it and even getting the “big break” can come in a myriad of ways. Gregory notes, “Constantly going on auditions and staying busy is important. If you’re not staying busy and inspired, it’s easy to lose your ‘mojo’. I find if I’m not busy, it’s easy to not work on my craft and keep focused. Then I’ll go in for a casting call and feel a little rusty.”
Unfortunately, having a bad audition can knock an Actor out of the running for a role. Therefore, they must consistently hone their craft like an athlete staying in shape. After an Actor has acquired lots of success in their career, they will begin to get direct bookings where they no longer need to audition. Productions will make an offer to the Actor and they will decide whether to do the role. This only happens to ‘bankable’ stars, individuals who will guarantee a revenue return for production. As many Actors advance in their careers, they will create their own production companies to generate work that they want to do, and take more agency in the creative process.
How Much Does an Actor make?
How much an Actor receives for his or her work will depend on several factors. Non-union Actors will earn less than union Actors. Payment rates also depend on the level of work being done: someone with less than five lines will receive less pay than the star of the show. SAG daily minimum ranges from $125 per day to $500 per day depending on budget level, but of course, in the case of the biggest stars, pay rates can get much, much higher.
Unions, Groups & Associations
There are a variety of online resources for Actors. In terms of professional organizations, it varies from region to region, since acting is an in-person experience. Local theater companies are a great avenue to check out. There is also MasterClass, an online resource where industry professionals conduct online classes for students.
The main union is the Screen Actors Guild or SAG. They mostly handle negotiating base rates for Actors.
Gregory says to get auditions “there are plenty of online casting websites for Actors that cost a small/medium fee. It all depends on what city you are in, but if you do a little research, you will find some. These usually consist of you uploading a headshot, resume, and possibly a showreel. It’s a great way to start working without an Agent, as you’ll submit yourself for roles. Then it’s up to casting to review your profile and determine whether or not they want to audition you.” Some of the main online resources Gregory mentions in the Los Angeles area are LA Casting and Actors Access.
- Take an acting class.
- Read plays and screenplays.
- Watch movies.
- Practice memorizing lines.
- Watch people in their daily lives to study their behavior.
- Take a movement or dance class.
- Take a voice class.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Acting is all about having fun and doing it because a person enjoys it. If they’re not having fun then they’re not going to go far. That stagnation will show up in their work and translate into the audience’s experience! Also, be patient. Ninety-nine percent of actors don’t book roles overnight. It takes time and hard work.
Casting Directors and other industry professionals need to get to know an Actor’s work to trust them with their projects. When an Actor steps on set, they hold the entire production’s world in their hands. It’s an invigorating feeling that should be cherished.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“What about personal relationships when filming?
Many people ask this question, but they mean it in a voyeuristic way. The real question is, how do you maintain the connections with those you care about, especially when you’re far away, devoting your life to becoming someone else? It’s easy to fall into a character and forgo outside communication. This is an easy way to lose touch with a support network.
If an Actor loses their friends and family, then when they’re not working or suffering from an audition that went badly, life can be very tough. It’s important to find relationships that will respect an Actor’s lifestyle and time commitments and for the Actor to remember their loved ones and reach out, even when consumed by a role. It only takes a moment when they’re on set to maintain the relationship.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“People arrive in Los Angeles with stars in their eyes, thinking this is ‘their’ time. After three months of not booking a gig, they pack up and leave. It’s great to be positive and confident in yourself but success doesn’t usually happen overnight. Some Actors will work for over seven years before they land their big break. It’s important to be in it for the work and not the external success. That will come in its own time. People shouldn’t get down on themselves for it not happening right away.”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“What was a memorable production you worked on?
Shooting in Vain was a great production because the Producers, Director, and Crew had everything planned out. Often, people are scrambling on set which can be distracting when trying to get into character. The frantic energy can be felt in the room and translates onto the screen.
For an Actor to do their best work, they need a supportive environment to relax into so the character inside can come alive. Many young productions like student films and even large studio movies suffer from this anxiety and lack of planning. It can usually be seen in the final product.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“Fun. Hard work, having fun and not taking everything too seriously are the most important aspects of success. If you’re not having fun, enjoying the ride but still putting the work in, then people aren’t going to enjoy being around you.”
Sebastian Gregory is an Australian actor and musician based in Los Angeles. He formed the band MENACE in 2003 with other young musicians and after a short time playing covers at clubs and pubs, they commenced writing and recording their own tunes. This led to television appearances and some of the best support gigs in Melbourne clubs. After being together for three years and at still only fifteen and sixteen years old, they were taken to London in 2006 by Polydor Records (UK) to showcase to execs, EMI publishing and New Musical Express magazine. A recording contract was offered but was declined by management and the band.
Sebastian secured his first feature film, Acolytes, in early 2007. In mid-2008, he had a co-lead in the feature Accidents Happen which starred Oscar winner Geena Davis & Harrison Gilbertson (Best Young Actor at the 2010 AFIs). He then went straight into his second feature in a leading role in Beautiful, for which he was nominated for Best Young Actor at the 2009 AFI awards. In late 2007, he featured in the children’s television drama, The Elephant Princess, playing the co-lead role of JB, the funny sidekick and comedic relief and the drummer in the cast band. This won the 2009 Best TV Children’s Drama at the 2009 AFI awards. In 2012, he made his second appearance on the beloved Australian soap opera Neighbours. In 2017, Sebastian starred in American Satan alongside Booboo Stewart, Denise Richards, and Drake Bell. You can hear more from Sebastian in this interview he did with Popcorn Talk to promote the film.