Acting is a business that is not for the faint of heart. It takes a weird combination of sensitivity and a thick skin, delicately mixed with artistry, playfulness, discipline and relentless perseverance. But acting is a career that you can also pursue at any age. (Betty White, anyone?) Whether you are just getting into the business as a mature adult or starting out fresh out of drama school, keep in mind this is for the long haul.
Here’s how to be a successful actor at any age:
1. Know your sweet spot.
One of the pitfalls of pursuing an acting career, is that most of the time actors just want to work! And when you’re hustling to pay the bills, this can make a lot of sense. But trying to pursue work in every area of the business and pitching for any job that comes along can leave you feeling exhausted and frustrated, and ultimately not booking much of anything. Know what you are REALLY good at, where you shine, what you like to do, and where you can just clean-up! This may include things like voiceovers, modeling, theatre, commercials and indie films. Focus your efforts on up to 3 areas and put all of your energy there.
2. Get clear on your brand.
This goes hand in hand with knowing your sweet-spot or what your ‘money maker’ is. You can’t play anything and everything – really. The person who regularly gets cast as a doctor or therapist is not likely to be cast as the villain or dumb-but-likable neighbor as well. All of these are great characters and important to the overall story telling, but also very specific. Get super clear on where you fit in and target your marketing materials accordingly.
3. Reassess every couple of years.
What worked for you last year, may not work for you this year. People change, age range changes and experience changes. Not only that, but the industry itself is changing at a rapid pace. Every couple of years, reassess your promotional material, your branding, where your career is at and where you want it to go. Also take a close look at the direction the industry is moving in and see where you fit in. It may be time to reshoot headshots, find new reps and forge new connections.
4. Just be really really good.
Competition in the entertainment industry , as in most fields, is tougher that it has ever been. Good news: most of what we do today is centered online and this has removed traditional barriers. Bad news: most of what we do today is centered online and this has removed traditional barriers. I’m kind of kidding when I say that but it’s also true. High usage of the internet and social media has leveled the playing field and opened up avenues to connect that use to be quite difficult. And with so much information and so many resources out there (like this website!), actors of all levels are stepping up their game big time. Get into classes constantly, rehearse regularly and really know what’s going on in the biz. If you don’t someone else will.
5. Stay super flexible.
Success in the entertainment industry is ridiculously inconvenient. As someone who came into the industry at a young age, I was taught very early the “life can change with a phone call”. That was the mantra I lived by, and it still holds true. Although today it’s much more likely to be a text message, email or Facebook DM. (and yes, I DO book from Facebook, regularly. For more on this see How To Optimize Your Facebook Profile to Book More Work ) You’re most likely to get a booking the minute you pack to leave town on a family vacation, when you have tickets to a major sporting event or tickets to that concert you’ve waited a year to see. (Sigh….) It’s a choice, always a choice. Sometimes you may choose the booking and other times an actual personal life. Whatever you do, stay flexible and stay open. Trust me, it helps!
6. Have the best materials you possibly can.
You are going to need footage, experience, training, headshots, slick online profiles and a professional acting résumé. Always be working on these keep them up to date, and have the best materials you possibly can for where you are at in your career right now. Take on the projects you need to, to build your resume and collect more materials in order to book bigger jobs, advance your career and get more work.
Read What is An Actor’s Headshot: Commercial vs Theatrical and What to Wear for Headshots
7. Hustle, hustle, hustle.
Keep in mind this is called “show business” – so it’s equal parts business and show. Don’t rely on your reps, wishing and hoping to be discovered or checking your inbox for that big break. Be sure to regularly connect with people who can hire you and to put yourself out there. Build up some savvy business smarts and do what needs to be done to keep booking work.
8. Ignore people who tell you, you can’t.
Seriously….. this path isn’t for everyone. And not even for most people. If someone is hell-bent on telling you how bad the odds are or questioning your abilities or commitment, consider what this does to your overall mindset and confidence. Consider just changing the subject and move on.
9. F#@k sacrifice!
Sacrifice implies that you are giving up something and getting nothing in return. Probably the worst advice I ever got was that I “had to sacrifice for my career”. That led me into a pattern for a period of time of being prepared to work for nothing and questioning my worth…. because ‘I needed to sacrifice for my craft’. Trade time, trade money, make calculated decisions, learn more, hustle big time and by all means WORK HARD! But sacrifice is a long road to nowhere but disappointment.
Has your acting career changed with age or with time?
One of the many amazing things about this industry is that you can literally do it forever! Which of the tips above did you find helpful? And do you have any tips of your own to share with other actors? Head to the comments and tell me about it, then tweet this, post it, pin it and share this post if it helped you!