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How to Become a Professional Actor or Actress

Updated on July 16, 2019
Kenna McHugh profile image

Kenna wrote and directed several plays, taught acting for kids. She is a former talent scout, and at times directs or performs.

Stars Changes
Stars Changes

Actors and Acting

We all know that actors perform on stage and in front of the cameras rather than behind the scenes. But it's important to know about the jobs that actors do -- especially as some very famous ones have become writers, producers, and directors (and combinations thereof).

It is becoming quite commonplace for actors to take on multiple roles in the film business. They are behind and in front of the camera. Some good examples are Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Leonard DeCaprio, Brad Pitt, Angeline Jolie, Charlize Theron, Tina Fey, and Jody Foster.

But, we can never forget that actors are professional liars as well. They bring the unimaginable to the front and make it real.

But, we can never forget that actors are professional liars as well. They bring the unimaginable to the front and make it real.

Prime examples of these "Renaissance people" also include stars such as Johnny Depp, John Travolta, Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman, Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, George Clooney, and Ryan Gosling.

Actors entertain and communicate with the audience through their interpretation of dramatic roles.

Laurence Olivier "On Acting"

Being an actor requires you hone your craft, so you know what do to at an audition and when you land a role on stage, television, or film. Landing commercial takes the same skill as landing a leading or speaking role on stage. Each medium is different in technique, but they rival with being an amateur or being a professional.

Laurence Olivier, one of the most profound actors in this century, wrote a brilliant book called On Acting. He defines his journey and shares his journey from the first audition to the role of producer and director.

Olivier's book gave me invaluable suggestions and professional secrets I use and share with actors I teach and direct. You read his book and follow what he says and does, you will not fail as, an actor.

"The actor creates his own universe, then peoples it -- a giant puppet master. The trick is to make the audience feel that they are observing reality, and this isn't easy, because to convey the work that has been placed in your mouth to a great number of people you have to exaggerate subtly, ever so slightly highlight. Lead the audience the nose to the thought."

— Laurence Olivier, "On Acting"

Movie Extras to Movie Stars

Only a small number of actors achieve a tremendous amount of recognition in motion pictures. Some actors start as "extras" (the people in the background of the film) with no lines to deliver, while others are cast in supporting roles or as walk-ons. A "feature extra" may be used for the same film over and over again, with no lines but lots of camera time.

Stunt people take on the more dangerous work, performing such stunts as driving cars in chase scenes, falling from buildings and other high places, or "fighting" in place of the principal actors.

Stunt actor is where a professional stunt person is hired to be an actor in a scene that requires a full camera shot of him or her. They get paid more and are in the film credits as a character in the movie.

How Much Money They Make
How Much Money They Make

Agents for Actors

You need to build your resume before a decent agent will see you and consider representing you. That is the problem of breaking into the film business.

Most acting jobs come through an agent. Beginners and lesser-known actors and actresses, if they are non-union, register themselves, for a slight fee, with several casting directors, who invite them to auditions, which lead to acting roles.

Later in the article, I will tell you how to build your resume and land jobs based on your talent and previous work.

Acting in Feature Films

Although a few actors and actresses find parts in feature films straight out of drama school, most spend many years supporting themselves by working at jobs inside or outside the industry.

To learn the ropes, some actors and actresses have gotten jobs at talent agencies or casting companies. Here they learn the process of setting up auditions and casting for commercials, film, and television.

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Collider

What kind of actor or actress do you want to be?

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Acting Classes

Taking any old acting class is not the way to do it. You need to do your homework, ask around for opinions you can trust and check the teacher's working student ratio. How many of his or her students get paid work? The class is full, but two out ten students are making a living as actors. Five out of ten students working is a better ratio.

Make sure you feel comfortable with the teacher and know he or she will help your career. Make sure you attend the classes and do your homework, so the teacher knows you are serious about becoming a successful actor and will work with you in earnest.

Be a Competent Actor

Success, for the most part, does not happen overnight. "Being discovered" is a fantasy that happened for a few movie stars over the centuries of theater and film. Still, they proved themselves, took classes and maintained professionalism.

Being a professional is where you start. There is a valuable booklet called The Way to Happiness. The booklet contains 21 percepts that help people live a happy life by following the precepts. One percept, which applies to be professional, is "Be Competent." The common sense guide explains how to succeed in what you do. I tell my students and friends to follow this guide.

They read it, follow the advice, and achieve their desired goals. That is my final advice to you, be competent as an actor, and you will succeed.

© 2016 Kenna McHugh

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