A Beginners’ Guide to Becoming a Professional Actor from Scratch
By Brian Timoney
Dear Aspiring Actor If you’re stuck in a 9-to-5 job that doesn’t set your world alight…and you’ve always dreamed of becoming a professional actor…this report is written for you. I know, today, you might think your acting dream is impossible. Maybe you lack the confidence, or experience. Or perhaps you’re surrounded by negativity. You’ve got friends, family or co-workers raining on your parade. Some because they don’t want to see you disappointed, and some because they resent anyone who wants to better themselves. It happens. So, whatever mind games are holding you back, I’m here to tell you that your dream is not impossible. New actors break into the industry every single day. In fact – contrary to myth – casting directors are actively looking for new faces. New talent. Their jobs depend on it. So if you have the talent, and the mind for this, you can have the acting career. It’s there. Yours for the taking. Of course, that begs the question:
“Why Do So Many Actors Fail?”
And the answer is – mostly, they go about it the wrong way.
There are 3 things that make a difference: training, strategy and attitude:
- You need the right training…to reach the level of skill that the industry demands.
- You need the right strategy…a plan, to launch and develop your career.
- And you need the right attitude…the mindset to achieve your goal.
Most failed actors come up short on at least one of these essentials.
…They don’t train. They just dabble, with occasional workshops and classes.
…They don’t follow a career plan. They just wing it, and hope for the best.
…Or their attitude sucks. They become their own worst enemy.
So even if they have talent…which many failed actors do…they still end up flipping burgers and thinking life’s unfair.
The Attitude Test
Someone like me can help you to develop the skills you need, and show you the strategies that will launch your career. But attitude? That’s down to you.
So before we go any further, be honest…do you have these qualities?
Failed actors love to play the victim. Walk into any coffee shop in any theatre district, and you’ll hear someone moaning that there are no decent parts…or there’s not enough funding…or their talent isn’t appreciated.
Time to get real here. These people will never succeed.
To make it, you have to take full responsibility for every single thing that happens in your career.
If you don’t get the big part you wanted, don’t blame the director – just focus on doing a better job when the next opportunity comes. Same if you get a bad review. Don’t blame the critic – look closer to home.
Sure, there will be times when someone else’s stupidity stands in your way! But if things go wrong and your first thought is “Who can I blame for this?”, you’re never going to improve.
It’s your career. Own it.
Even with the right guidance, it’s a competitive world. You have to be totally committed to the end goal. And many actors are not.
In fact, some people reading this will abandon their dreams right here, on this page!
They’ll realise it’s not for the faint-hearted. So they’ll bottle it, and give themselves a handy excuse. Like:
…“I’m too old to change things now.”
…“I’m too young and inexperienced.”
…“I’m the wrong body shape.”
…“My face won’t fit.”
…“It’s not the right time…maybe next year.”
I’ve heard all this and more, a thousand times. They’re all excuses, and believe me, they’re all pointless.
Anyone who thinks this way should steer clear of acting. Not because they lack confidence – but because they won’t see it through.
Acting is a lifelong learning curve. It’s not like a driving test, where you learn once and “that’s it”. You should be constantly working on your mind and body – your instrument. Improving your physical fitness, developing your technique…and adding new technical skills, so you can apply for a wider range of roles.
And self-development goes beyond the process of acting.
Successful actors are avid readers. They want to know about everything. About life. About people. About the world. Because the more they understand, the more they can bring to a performance.
It’s a mindset that says “I can always do better, I can always learn more”.
Does that sound like you?
No denying it, some people turn to acting for the wrong reasons. They’re not interested in exploring their talent, or delivering authentic performances. They’re in it for the glory – it’s a passport to fame and fortune.
Well, here’s a wake-up call:
The glamorous side of the acting world is the tip of the iceberg that we get to see. Don’t think for one minute that it’s all red carpets, awards, yachts and groupies! Even the top actors…the ones who’ve fought their way to riches…put in the hard yards every day.
Acting is not for the work shy.
An Open Mind
Broadly, there are 2 types of training for actors. Traditional training, that you’ll get in a typical UK drama school. And Method Acting – the technique that’s favoured by Hollywood’s elite.
Traditional acting means “faking it”! Going through the motions, and pretending to be your character.
Method Acting is different. It means sharing your character’s emotional journey. Feeling pain when they feel pain. Joy when they feel joy.
It’s an authentic process, that’s devastatingly effective. Since 2000, 70% of Best Actor Oscars have gone to Method Actors.
But here’s the thing.
The Method will make you a much better actor. But to embrace it, you need an open mind. You need to be ready to explore the depths of your memory, and bring some painful moments into the light. It’s the only way to bring raw emotion to the stage or screen.
Some actors are open-minded and ready to “go there”. But some would rather hide from themselves and pretend at acting.
Which one are you?
If you’ve genuinely got the right attitude, you’re already ahead of the pack.
So next, you’re going to need a strategy. A plan, to get you trained and fast-track your career.
If you and I ever work together, this is something we’ll cover in detail. But for now, let me show you the 7 fundamental steps that will help you launch your career…
…Without 3 years of drama school and a massive student debt.
These are the same steps that I followed 20 years ago. Back then, I was stuck in a job I hated – working in a bank. These steps changed my life completely.
I hope they’ll do the same for you…
The 7 Steps to Acting Success
- Start living a full life
We talked about self-development as a vital attitude. Well that starts now. Start taking an active interest in the world around you.
This is a vital first step. Because if you’ve settled into a life of routine, your energy levels will be low. And that will limit your range of emotions.
That’s okay for an office worker. (In some companies, I guess it’s encouraged!)
But as an actor, you’ll need to be full of life, energy, emotion and expression.
So my advice: start doing things you’ve never done before:
- Go to a new restaurant and eat food you’ve never eaten
- Take some dance classes
- Start running or going to the gym
- Go see a show – or hit a comedy club
- Get out and about
- Make new friends
It doesn’t matter how you do it. But start raising your energy…and you’ll allow yourself to feel more and express more.
I can’t tell how important this is. So many people come to acting because they’re in a rut, and they want to feel again. That’s no bad thing, of course. But remember, you need something to offer in your work – and that comes from within. From your energy and life experience.
So do more. And you’ll have more to offer characters.
- Study screen and theatre work
It stands to reason, every actor should be a student of acting – both on stage and screen.
We’re lucky that we live in the film age. We can watch, and learn from, the best actors in the world. So watch the best that film and TV have to offer. Absorb the stories, study the actors, and dissect the process.
But don’t just shut yourself away in a darkened room with box sets! Read plays, too. And go to the theatre whenever you can.
When I was an aspiring actor, I’d get discounted theatres tickets and see everything I could. Even if your goal is to be a film actor, you MUST study theatre.
Why? Because all the best film actors started out on stage. Ask Meryl Streep or Al Pacino. They’ll tell you, the stage is where you learn the fundamentals of your craft. Then, you adapt those skills to the small screen.
Trust me – it’s the best way to get outstanding results.
- Join an amateur group
When I first thought about acting, I decided to test the water with an am-dram group. It was a great experience. I just got on stage and started acting.
I was light years away from the finished article! But straight away, I was finding my feet in front of an audience…getting comfortable in my own skin…and picking up some useful Dos and Don’ts.
You should give it a try.
A word of warning though: don’t stay in one of these groups for too long! Do a show or two, then get out. Otherwise, you’ll develop bad habits that will be hard to remove later on.
You also risk getting sucked into the am-dram culture. Some of them are quite political, so often more concerned with their message than the quality of their acting. Others are highly sociable, so you’ll make friends and won’t want to leave! Suddenly, your acting ambition has been compromised.
- Train professionally
No two ways here. If you want to be taken seriously as an actor, you must train with professionals. One of the first things an agent or casting director will ask is “Where did you train?”.
If you’ve just done a few classes or workshops, they won’t give you the time of day.
I see so many aspiring actors fail because they think they’re the one special person who can slip through with no training.
No – they’re deluded.
Put yourself in the casting director’s shoes. Their careers…their bills, their mortgages…all depend on one thing: their ability to find the right actor for the right job. They won’t risk it with an amateur. (Why would they? They’re surrounded by trained professionals!)
Bottom line: if you’ve done the odd class with a non-recognised training body, they will consider you an amateur. No matter what you think.
To be taken seriously, you need to study for at least a year with a recognised – and well-respected – acting school.
Work and study at the same time
For many aspiring actors, the biggest problem is making the transition. If you’re 18, and still living at home, 3 years at drama school might be doable. But if you’re 20 or 30 something…or older…you can’t just pack in the 9 to 5. You’ve got bills and responsibilities.
The good news is, there are recognised part-time courses now that allow you to work and study. This is how I made the leap from employee to actor, and I can honestly say I couldn’t have done it any other way.
In fact, I’ve designed the courses at my studio the same way. It’s a part-time commitment, because that flexibility gives me much better students to work with.
Study Method Acting
We touched on The Method earlier. You should study it inside out, if you want to move people with real, gritty, believable performances.
I discovered The Method after I’d completed my training. Until then, I felt something was missing. Like there was another level that I wasn’t hitting. The Method changed all that for me. It changed my acting, and my career.
Oddly though, most drama schools here in the UK only pay lip service to The Method – if they cover it at all. There’s an old guard of luvvies here that feel it’s “too American”, and not the done thing on these shores.
“No emotion please, we’re British!”
But as an upcoming actor, you should know – the tide is turning. If you want to work in the States, The Method is the norm. And here at home, many directors have come to realise, Method Actors give the most authentic performances. Especially in TV and film, where it’s all about the close-up.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to choose your training. But look at the Oscars, and you’ll see…ignoring The Method would be a very costly mistake.
Auditioning for acting school
This might be daunting, but it has to be done. For any course that lasts a year or more, you’ll have to audition. You’ll be asked to prepare one or two audition monologues – a speech from a play, that you perform by yourself in front of a panel.
The panel will assess you – and if they feel you have potential, they might award you a place. Just be mindful, it can be highly competitive. So find a good monologue that you like – and start practicing now!
- Get an agent
Once you’ve completed your training, you’re ready to start approaching agents.
Please don’t get ahead of yourself, and make the approach too soon. It’s a small industry, where a small number of people can open doors. If you present something to an agent that isn’t up to scratch, they won’t give you a second chance.
Besides, if you wait till your training is over, you’ll have a springboard…
Most acting schools stage a graduation showcase, when students get to perform in front of agents and casting directors. This is your first chance to impress – you’ve got a captive audience!
An outstanding student might secure an agent straight away. But if no-one grabs you on the night, don’t despair…just strike while the iron is hot.
Follow up, starting the next day. Build a database of contacts. If you’re good, and persistent, you’ll have representation soon.
- Never let the grass grow
So you’ve graduated, and landed an agent… congratulations!
And welcome to the industry.
Now the work really begins. Don’t sit back and rely on your agent to get you work – you should be busy out there, hustling yourself!
Work begets work, so make sure influential people see you in your latest stage or screen role. Even if one role only leads you to a smaller part, it’s another chance to be seen…and another chance to be cast.
And, if you find yourself in between roles, try producing your own work. A play. A short film. A showcase. Anything that shows off your talents, that you can show to decision makers.
- Imagine the actor you want to become
Start with a clear vision: what kind of actor do you want to be? What kind of films or plays do you want to be in? What type of characters do you want to play? Which actors do you want to work with?
This might seem like daydreaming! But it’s nothing of the sort. What you’re really doing is setting the course of your journey.
How can you expect to achieve something, if you don’t know what it is?
Get clear about it. Write it down. Then every day, do something to make it a reality.
These 7 steps should give you an outline plan for the future. You know what to do next, and what to aim for.
One more thing: as soon as you’ve decided that you’re going to become a professional actor, think of your 9-to-5 job as a means to an end. It ceases to be your main job. It just pays the bills for now.
Channel your energy into your acting. Because that’s your future.
To your success!
About Brian Timoney
Brian Timoney is one of the world’s leading Method Acting coaches. Brian has worked in the industry for over 20 years, in every major acting medium including TV, Film, Radio and Theatre.
He’s worked as an actor, director, producer and acting coach. He has first-hand experience of every part of the industry, and knows how to create stand-out performances.
Brian has worked with hundreds of actors over the years, as well as leading UK film directors Ken Loach and Danny Boyle. Brian appeared on BBC2’s “Murder Most Famous” teaching The Method to TV Actors Sherrie Hewson (Coronation Street/ Emmerdale) and Angela Griffin (Coronation Street/ Holby City).
Brian regularly appears in the media. As well as TV appearances on BBC and Channel 4, he’s been featured in The Metro, The Stage, The Evening Standard, The Sunday Express and MovieScope magazine. He’s a go-to expert for commentary on acting and movie news – including the Oscars.
Every year, Brian selects a small team of students to join his 12-month Ultimate Acting Programme: https://www.briantimoneyacting.co.uk/ultimate