Top tips for building a successful acting career

Building a successful acting career – the reality of our situation

Building a successful acting career is tough because our industry is tough – tougher than most – and for every actor out there, there are a thousand just like them vying for roles. That is the reality of the industry we’ve decided to make a career out of.

But, it’s not the only reality.

It’s also extremely rewarding, collaborative, inspiring, inclusive and fulfilling.

The Covid-19 pandemic has obviously had an extremely negative effect on the entire world, but some industries have struggled more than others. Our industry – films, TV, theatre, concerts – has been amongst one of the hardest hit.

There are theatres, music venues and cinemas that may never reopen under their current ownership. They may eventually be sold along the line and brought back to life, but that remains to be seen.

There are, however, millions of artists around the world, still trying to make something of themselves – and to make something for others.

Humans are resilient by nature, and those of us in the creative industries are perhaps some of the most resilient. It takes a stomach of iron and a heart of fire to do what we do. To run the marathon and not sprint to the finish line.

And that’s exactly how you should be viewing your acting career; as a marathon.

Work hard and lay the groundwork early

Acting is hard work
Acting is hard work

The old Hollywood adage is that success in this industry is a combination of talent (and yes, sometimes looks – but this is less of a contentious issue these days), hard work and a whole lot of luck.

A lot of people tend to have a preconceived notion that luck plays a much larger role than we’re led to believe. And this may lead some people to maybe thinking that it’s okay not to work at 120% all the time, and only switch up gear when luck knocks at their door and they’ve “made it”.

But by that point, it’s likely already too late.

We’ve previously talked about the importance of creating your own work as an actor. Being able to stand on your own two feet as an actor and say “I created this”, is an extremely empowering feeling – even more so when you’re able to let it out into the world. But it’s also proof to not only everyone out there – but also to yourself – that you can do this. That you’re capable of being the actor you believe you can be, and the actor that you want the world to see you for.

If you’re capable of creating your own work early on in life, it’s one of the most beneficial ways of laying the groundwork necessary for a long and fruitful career. It shows that you’re willing to work hard and do whatever it takes (within reason!) to turn your dream into a reality.

What a lot of actors tend to get wrong when they start out, is that they forget this is a career – or don’t even realize it.

They don’t think of auditions as job interviews, they think of them as an actor, an artist, walking into a room to maybe get a role they’d like to play, and work with other creatives they might enjoy working with for a period of time.

We also tend to spend a lot of time idolizing other famous actors and daydreaming about what it would one day be like to work alongside that actor (or directors), even if it’s just a small role.

While it’s perfectly normal and fine to dream about the actors, writers and directors you could one day meet and hope to work with – it’s important to remind yourself that this is your career, not anyone else’s.

Hold on to those dreams within your greater dream (Getting a bit Inception here). They’re fuel for your fire. Instead of seeing them as daydreams, turn them into goals. Think of it like this, you want to have lists to work your way through. Lists are a powerful tool for any actor.

Have a list of your favourite actors who are so far and away in your mind, the greatest actors who could never be touched – and pick the ones you want to work with.

Now pick a handful of actors who are still establishing themselves and might be easier to work with – but you’re still equally a fan of.

Now do the same for directors or writers.

And what you’ll have, is a list of people you might just be able to achieve working with one day. Start with smaller, more achievable goals and when you’re capable (and you’ll know when), reach out to the bigger fish.

Be sure to keep your eyes and ears open always, listen and learn from those that came before you, and take what advice they can offer.

Check out such videos as ‘Emmy Nominated Actors Teach You How to Make it in Hollywood’.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge on Why—and How—Actors Should Create Their Own Work

Hollywood Reporter roundtable talks are amazing videos with a wealth of knowledge:
Actors Roundtable: Adam Driver, Shia LaBeouf, Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks, Jamie Foxx

Drama Actresses Roundtable: Janelle Monáe, Jennifer Aniston, Zendaya, & More

Actors Roundtable: Chadwick Boseman, Timothée Chalamet, Mahershala Ali, Viggo Mortensen, & More

Read books by actors, such as The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide, by Jenna Fischer or Greenlights, by Matthew McConaughey.

Listen to podcasts such as Speak L.A. or In the Envelope: The Actor’s Podcast.

Becoming successful as an actor
Work hard to become successful as an actor

Be honest with yourself about why you’re building a successful acting career

Our reasons for building a successful acting career may differ from person to person, but you need to remember that it’s your art. Your acting.

Whatever your reason, you have to believe in it wholeheartedly, because that is what’s going to carry you through building a successful acting career.

Some people may say “You’re doing this for the wrong reasons”, and you may disagree with that. But remember, it’s always important to take a moment and gain a new perspective. Our reasons for doing what we want to do may actually change throughout our career – and that’s fine – just make sure you’re always honest with yourself about exactly what it is.

Find what drives you to do what you love, because when you’re having a particularly bad day or a bad week, you haven’t had an audition in a while, you’re starting to question everything – you need something to refocus your attention on and bring you back to centre.

Start planning. Start plotting.

Planning your acting career is very important
Planning your acting career is very important

Something that will start to help you is plotting what you want to achieve, and how you should go about it. Start treating auditions as job interviews, as in whenever you walk into that room, send a self-tape or do a zoom audition, you’re there and present to do a job – not to get one.

It doesn’t mean that the chances of you booking those jobs increases dramatically, but the odds are, you’ll start to feel a lot better about yourself and your chances when you’re done in that room – even if you don’t book it.

It’s also important to not be continuously weighed down by the jobs you missed out on, or question why you didn’t get a role and why they didn’t send you an email back detailing everything you might have done wrong. There are a million reasons. Obviously, some of these things can be explained away with maybe possibly needing further training in some areas – while others are as simple as, maybe you weren’t the right build, or the right height, or the right kind of accent.

Understand that once you’re in this, and you’ve committed to it for life, the odds are that you’re going to go through a lot of auditions, and you can’t be thinking about the previous 10 while trying to focus on the next one. Because that next one may be the one.

A really helpful outlook is to view the early stages of your acting career like that of a film/tv director. They often – once somewhat established – have a slate of projects that span a year to several years in advance. But they’re constantly working to plan these projects, shoot, wrap and then just move on to the next without delay. This is how we should be as actors – before we get our break. And even after that, it’s a good way to work as well.

Always have something you’re working on as an actor. Whether it’s writing a new project, shooting monologues or short scenes, or taking care of the business side. Do at the very least one thing for your career each day.

If you don’t have a showreel, either start piecing together footage you already have and learn to edit using programs such as Adobe Premiere Pro or DaVinci Resolve. If you don’t have footage, start looking for businesses that can offer you showreel packages, or if you have your own equipment or know people who do and can pull in some favours, start writing and shooting your own. But be practical! You’re not shooting a short film! You’re building a successful acting career!

Headshots are perhaps the single most important resource when you’re being submitted for jobs, because before anything else, casting directors will look at your main headshot first and decide whether or not you’re someone who would be suitable for the role.

Make sure your headshots are up to date and reflect your current look. If you grow your hair, shave your head, get a tattoo etc, you MUST update your headshots, because casting directors select you for an audition based on your headshots and if you look different, not only does this affect your chances of getting the role it can be bad for your reputation and you may not be chosen to audition in future.

It’s always important to remember that in this business, you and your talent are the products you’re selling. Be kind to yourself. And don’t try to be someone you’re not. Whatever is unique about you, is why people want to book you for a job.

It’s also worthwhile catching up with your agents when possible, although not too frequently. Agents usually aren’t paid until you secure a job, so their time is best spent chasing down leads for you and building the framework that will bring you and other actors on their books more opportunities. Having honest discussions with them and asking for their professional opinions about what they think could help boost your profile and get you seen for more jobs is a very useful way to have an understanding of what you’ll need to work on. It also shows them that you’re proactive and engaged in the business!

A number of our courses will give you the resources necessary to build a foundation for your acting career – such as headshots and showreel scenes. Be sure to check out the full list of courses at The Reel Scene.
Also for flexible, continuous and online training, head to The Actors Gym.

You have everything within you

Short Film production at The Reel Scene
Short Film production at The Reel Scene

It would be remiss to say that this industry isn’t hard. It’s extremely hard, and it’s one of the most competitive.

Building a successful acting career is tough. And yet, we all love it so much.

Nothing compares to being on stage, or on set, or even in an audition room. Being able to create a character from scratch or from the source material. Working with other creatives and collaborators. Bringing a story to life and giving it up to the world to watch.

It takes a lot out of us. It’s an incredibly demanding and arduous process.
Which is why you always have to be honest with yourself. You always have to be working hard for yourself and those that are backing you. You need to believe in yourself 120%, without faltering.

Don’t be afraid to really show the world what your art means to you and what you can provide.

Don’t be afraid to declare your intentions. Say with pride and confidence that one day you want to play this character, or work with this actor or that director. Be specific and be present.

The only determining factors for any of us to make it in this industry is the hard work and passion we bring to a project – and the ability to stay sound of mind and body all throughout.

As the great American writer, Dale Carnegie, once said “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.

If we believe wholeheartedly in ourselves and our careers – then it becomes a lot easier for others to believe in us as well.

Once you feel with every fibre of yourself that you’re doing what you’re supposed to do. That you deserve and have earned your right to be here, to be heard and to let your art be seen, then nothing can hold you back.

Stop doubting. Start believing. Pave the way for your own success story.

Interested in acting training? Check out The Reel Scene in-person acting classes and courses. If you’re not able to travel to London, check out our online acting training school The Actors Gym