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What does an Actor do is a question that is both simple and incredibly complex in answer.

On the surface, an Actor performs. Through their appearance, words, and actions, they transform into someone else. For moviegoers, an Actor entertains.

In the eyes of a Director, an Actor works in service of storytelling. Like the scenery, music, and other cinematic elements, function to convincingly tell a narrative.

And for someone like an Acting Coach, an Actor has the job of uncovering emotional truth. Whether that is discovered when you finally kill a man-eating shark or decide to do away with a magical ring with hypnotic qualities, it always comes down to the truth of the moment.

Then there’s what an Actor themselves may consider as their work. So if you are considering this vocation, we’re here to help you discern all that goes into how an Actor may approach this career and what you can expect along the way!

Responsibilities of an Actor

What does an Actor do largely coincides with what is typically thought of as their specific responsibility during a production.

The job of a Cinematographer is to capture what happens on set, and the job of the Costume Designer is to create the wardrobe of each character that suits the world of the narrative. The job of the Actor is equally as clear: to convincingly bring to life the figure in the script that they have been cast to play.

This specific responsibility is carried out in multiple ways:

  • What the Actor says (dialogue).
  • How the Actor delivers their dialogue.
  • How the Actor expresses what they say and feel through their face and body gestures.
  • How the Actor moves through the space of the scene.

For every performance, the responsibility of an Actor is to believably portray their character in service of telling the greater narrative.

What is an Actor?

Anna Keizer

An Actor is someone who performs the part of a character in a narrative. That narrative can be told through many different types of mediums: film, television, plays, commercials, web series, and so on. Some Actors may also concentrate specifically on their vocal contributions to a piece, such as those who do voice work for audio books or animated films and television.

Qualifications of an Actor

When it comes to what does an Actor do, how much do qualifications like educational background or prior experience matter?

Prestigious schools around the world attract aspiring Actors. Many spend years and thousands of dollars learning about the craft and techniques of acting. Some of those many may go on to have successful careers.

But while a solid education can absolutely help someone become a competent Actor, no single school or acting institution is required to be one. All to say, some Actors find that going to school for acting or theatrical performance is a benefit, while others might forego it and instead start auditioning or working on projects right at the outset of their careers.

The same goes for prior experience. To be clear, a lengthy resume of work could be beneficial in terms of getting a Casting Director to take note. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that the Actor is a sure thing who is going to get the part.

Consider the number of Actors who have even won Oscars for their very first film role! Consider Timothy Hutton winning for Ordinary People or Jennifer Hudson winning for Dreamgirls.

That’s not to say that either of them hadn’t had prior performance experience, but it all goes to show that qualifications in terms of prior acting roles is not required for success in this industry.

A formal education and prior experience can absolutely benefit any Actor, but no overt qualifications such as a degree or robust resume are needed.

Skills of an Actor

Just like qualifications, the skills that an Actor has can potentially be helpful in their career… or make no difference at all.

Time and again, people warn Actors not to embellish their resumes. If you speak fluent French, great. But if your scope of the language is a simple “merci,” don’t add it.

Many Actors scour their brains to think of what they can add to their resume in the hopes of looking like a more attractive person to cast. But unless there’s a very specific need for someone who knows how to swordfight or ride a horse or speak fluent French, it won’t do much for an Actor.

Moreover, if someone is a great fit for a role, they might get cast anyway and simply learn the necessary skill ahead of the shoot. It’s rare that it’s the skill itself that decides who gets a role.

If you already have a legitimate skill or an interest in learning a particular one, go for it. Add it to your resume or get competent enough to do so in the future. But don’t get too hung up on needing particular skills in your pursuit of the craft.

Specific skills can be helpful in informing someone’s performance, but the accumulation of them should never be an Actor’s primary goal.

Career of an Actor

When it comes to the day-to-day life of someone in the entertainment industry, acting itself might comprise little of what does an Actor do.

Of course, when part of a production, the majority of the day might be spent on set. But the career of an Actor encompasses far more than just acting.

It’s going to auditions. Making self-tapes. Taking classes. Networking with Directors and Producers. And maybe even learning some new skills!

But then there’s also the waiting. Waiting for a callback. Waiting for the next gig. Even waiting while on set.

If you want to pursue this career – this highly fulfilling but also highly frustrating career – it’s important to realize that it’s an unpredictable profession no matter how successful you become. It’s unpredictable in terms of when you get work, how much you make, and what roles you’ll be able to perform.

For these reasons, it might also mean doing other kinds of work outside of performance to fill your days and make sure you can pay your bills.

Unless you decide to strictly self-direct or self-produce all of your project – and you have the financial resources to do so – there must be a level of peace and acceptance that goes with this incredibly unique career.

The career of an Actor involves far more than just performance. Along with the efforts an Actor might make to get gigs, they should also be prepared for periods of little work or financial compensation from it.

What do Actors do on set?

Anna Keizer

Almost without fail, every other person who is part of a film, television show, or other filmed type of storytelling is behind the camera. In fact, it’s often considered a huge mistake if someone like the boom operator is accidently caught on camera.

This makes the Actors a part of the filmmaking process entirely unto their own, as their entire job is done on camera! That’s often why Actors become the most famous association with any given movie. Audiences come to identify a film or show with the Actors because that’s who we see and laugh, cry, rage, or otherwise sympathize with.

On set, it is the job of the Actors to convincingly perform the role of the character whom they were cast as to effectively tell the story of the script.

What does an Actor do on a daily basis?

Anna Keizer

What an Actor does from day to day depends entirely on their professional schedule. Are they in the middle of shooting a film or television show? Then they will be on set to shoot their scenes for the bulk of the day.

Do they not have any ongoing projects? Then they may spend the day auditioning or making self-tapes to book that next gig. They might also be rehearsing scenes with other Actors or going to an acting class to improve their craft.

Some Actors double as Screenwriters in order to create material for themselves. So in some cases, an Actor might be working on a screenplay when they’re not actively acting or working on their acting skills.

Given that the world of acting is an unstable one at best, many, many Actors also have other jobs outside of entertainment to provide them with financial security. So even Actors who are quite busy may have plenty of days where their schedule is devoted to non-acting responsibilities.

Representation for an Actor

Given how challenging the pursuit of being a working Actor can be, it never hurts to have someone in your corner. Enter the Agent. Or Manager. Or both.

An Agent functions to actively find work for an Actor. A Manager serves primarily to help guide an Actor’s career. And there’s a good bit of overlap between the two.

Though opportunities exist for Actors to find their own auditions and send out self-tapes, don’t make this career any harder on yourself if you don’t have to.

That’s not to say finding an Agent or Manager in itself isn’t a challenge, but if you find someone who believes in your talent and potential, it can absolutely be worth it to partner with them for the sake of your career.

Unlike schooling or specific skills, representation for an Actor is almost always a must for someone in the industry. Given their connections and ability to facilitate auditions and other acting opportunities, an Agent or Manager can be an incredible asset for any Actor.

Salary of an Actor

Now we’re getting into tricky waters. It’s true that A-list Actors can earn millions of dollars from a single role – and maybe even one that requires only a few days of their time! But if your pursuit of this career hedges on making that kind of a paycheck, consider carefully this life.

The truth is that very few Actors make an annual salary year in and year out that it enough to financially support them.

Unfortunately, the compensation that Actors get is often far below their needs, especially in high cost-of-living cities such as Los Angeles and New York City. This fact circles back to the need to get work outside of performance to make ends meet.

That being said, if an Actor manages to book a lucrative gig like a nationally televised commercial or a high-profile feature film – even if they’re a minor character in it – that paycheck and the residuals that go with it can keep them financially afloat for a while.

But that’s never a guarantee. Nor is any other part of the acting life. And remember when we were discussing Agents and Managers? Most of them take at least a 10-percent cut of whatever you make, so don’t forget to figure that into your budget.

How financially stable an Actor will change from year to year, and it depends on multiple factors like the number of gigs they book, their cost-of-living expenses, and other people they may need to pay like Agents and Managers.

Determining the annual salary of an Actor is nearly impossible to discern, as it can greatly fluctuate because of multiple factors. But to be part of his field is to accept the inconsistencies in what you might make from it.

Path to Becoming an Actor

What does an Actor do is somewhat of a circular question. What they do depends on what they are willing to do to be a working professional.

Are you willing to make self-tapes? Are you willing to take acting classes? Are you willing to fully commit to this career that often is fraught with frustration and disappointment?

That’s not to say that there aren’t peaks with the valleys. The thrill of finding out you booked the role. The rush of hearing an audience clap for you. The satisfaction of being able to express yourself as an artist.

Though there’s no single path to becoming an Actor, every path requires a tremendous amount of commitment and hard work to reach success. What you do in the pursuit of becoming an Actor will largely determine what you get to do as a successful professional in the future.

Everyone’s path to becoming an Actor will differ from their peers. But what is shared between those who reach success is being proactive and having a unflappable work ethic that doesn’t give up in the face of the rejections and disappointments that go hand-in-hand with pursuing this craft.

In Conclusion

What does an Actor do? The short answer is that they perform. They make us believe they are someone else. They help us to sit back and enjoy the story of a movie, television show, or play.

But to be a working Actor who gets consistent work and a regular paycheck, Actors do far, far more. They work on their craft. They seek out other creatives with whom they can collaborate. They look for professionals who can help in representing them and finding work. And for many, they supplement their careers with other means in support of their passion.

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