There’s no getting away from it: the majority of people who want to be professional actors never will be. Why? Not because of lack of talent, but rather because they don’t have the right attitude.
You see, there are plenty of people out there with the raw talent to become successful actors (with the right teachers and plenty of hard work). But far too many of them think talent is all it takes.
The truth is, to succeed as a professional actor, you need to view it as a career. That means you need to develop the mindset of a working actor, just as much as your other skills. But what exactly does it take to think like a professional working actor?
Be easy to work with
The writer Neil Gaiman once gave some really useful advice on the key to being a successful freelancer (which is ultimately what most actors are):
“The work is good, they’re easy to get along with, and they deliver the work on time.”
These three pillars of freelancing apply perfectly to acting. If you can do good work, are pleasant to the people around you and are reliable, people will want to work with you again and again. This is the key to building a career: not just getting opportunities, but convincing people who give them to you to do so again in future.
Always, always, always listen
If you want to work successfully with directors and other actors, you have to get into the habit of listening. As important as it is to have your own ideas about your character, acting is an act of collaboration: you have to be able to take on board other people’s ideas.
This doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything your director and co-stars say, but you do have to take in their opinions and give them consideration. Remember, the director is the ultimate authority, so although it’s usually okay to suggest alternatives, never forget that their decision is final. Nothing will get you blacklisted from working with a director again faster than a failure to listen to their instructions.
Accept that you have to work at it
Too many people think making it as an actor is all about getting that “one big break” and then you’re set for life. This pretty much never happens. Instead, building an acting career is about landing a series of small breaks, working really hard to impress the people who give you a chance, then some of these will lead to slightly bigger breaks and so on.
It takes most people years of hard work and incremental steps up the acting ladder to get to the point where acting can be a secure source of income. If you’re not prepared to keep believing in yourself and working at your craft and chasing down opportunities year after year, then this really isn’t the industry for you.
Get comfortable with rejection
There’s no getting away from it, as an actor you are going to get rejected – a lot. Most actors spend far more time auditioning for roles than they do actually acting, it’s just the nature of the business. No matter how good you are, or how perfect you think a part is for you, you can’t control what is in the casting director’s head.
Learning how to deal with rejection as an actor means you won’t be crushed every time you fail to get a role and you won’t have some kind of embarrassing meltdown which will put agents and casting directors off working with you in future. You have to develop a thick skin and understand that it’s not personal.
Take rejection well and there’s every chance the same person saying no now will remember you for the future when they have a role they think you’ll be perfect for.
Keep a grip on your ego
For actors, it is absolutely vital to achieve the right balance of confidence and humility. Without a healthy dose of confidence, you’re never going to be able to put yourself forwards for auditions or get up and perform. However, it’s equally important not to get carried away with yourself and develop a huge ego.
Nothing puts other people off from working with an actor faster than the realisation that they’re dealing with a diva. The key is to remember that you’re not indispensable. No matter how good you are, if you make life miserable for people around you, they will find someone else to replace you or, at the very least, be extremely unlikely to work with you again in future.
Always be polite and respectful and remember that, even if you’re the star, you’re still just one cog in the machine and everyone else involved in the production deserves your respect.
Never stop learning
Perhaps the most important lesson you need to absorb is that you will never know everything about acting. If you want to build a sustainable career, you always need to remain open to learning new things. Now, that may mean continuing to take acting classes to learn new skills or polish your existing ones, but as often as not, you’ll be learning from the people you work with.
Every single audition you attend and job you work is an opportunity to learn something new. Approach your career with that attitude and you will become a better actor and better professional all the time. Listen to the advice people give you, take on board feedback and never underestimate the power of simply watching how other people work. The best way to learn to succeed is to emulate those who already have, so whenever you are around other actors, make sure to watch how they behave and see what you can learn from them.
The more open you are to learning new things, the quicker you will develop as an actor and the faster you will learn how to fit in in this industry. Keep that in mind and you will be well on your way to long-term success as a professional actor.
Learn how to make it as a working actor
If you want to succeed as a working actor you need to put just as much effort into learning the right attitude and business skills as you do into learning how to act to a professional standard.
The Brian Timoney Actors’ Studio’s 1-Year Ultimate Acting Programme offers more than just world-class method acting tuition, we also have a heavy focus on the business of acting. What this means is we teach you how to get yourself out there and find regular paid acting work so you can build a real career as an actor. You will also learn exactly what directors, agents, casting directors and other industry insiders expect from a professional actor, so you can make the right impression from day one.