Actor Career Guide

What is an actor?

An actor is a professional entertainer who is responsible for portraying different characters in movies, plays, television, and more. This requires a person to express a wide range of emotions on cue to represent their character’s personality and feelings. These professionals are found reading lines and studying scripts to prepare for recordings or live performances. It is essential for actors to be comfortable with acting in front of others and with their fellow costars.  

A key part of their job is memorizing certain phrases and actions to follow the script while portraying their character. Some will participate in recorded content, while others will need to perform live in front of an audience. Movie and television actors will have more time to rehearse scenes to make sure the scene goes perfectly, while live actors may need to improvise if something goes wrong during a live performance.

Qualifications and eligibility

There are certain characteristics every actor must possess to be successful. Here are some of the requirements to make it big in the acting industry:

  • You must project a loud voice and be able to speak clearly
  • You must take acting classes or attend an acting camp
  • You must have a good memory to remember scripts
  • You must have physical stamina to be able to work long days
  • You may need prior experience to work in bigger movies, plays, TV, and more
  • It is recommended to have a bachelor’s degree in theater, drama, or acting

These individuals must also be animative and creative. They should be able to let their intuition guide them as they bring their character to life. Keeping up with new creative ways will allow actors to pick up more serious roles as they continue their acting career. They may be required to have good physical coordination to perform different movements that are typically choreographed with other actors, dancers, and support technicians.

Work environment

Actors can work in a variety of locations and environments depending on the work they are doing. They are typically found rehearsing and acting in filming studios, theaters, theme parks, and other art venues. Some examples include:  

  • Many work at production studios to film movies or television shows
  • Many theaters are open for them to perform live in front of an audience
  • You’ll also find these professionals in amusement parks dressed up as different characters to interact with fans

Actors typically work in different environments as they move from project to project for their work. Most job opportunities found in acting are indoors, however, some may have to perform outside for some performances or specific scenes for movies. It is also common for actors to move around for their job. Some production studios require them to travel abroad during filming, so they can accurately depict the storyline’s setting. No matter what you are looking for, these individuals can usually find different opportunities that will fit their geographical wants and needs. 

Typical work hours

As you might have assumed, the typical work hours for an actor can vary greatly. Depending on the job, they can work as little as 20 hours a week to 80 hours a week. Those who do live performances usually have a more consistent schedule once rehearsals begin to die down, however, movie and television actors usually have long work weeks to meet specific set and production deadlines.  

Actors typically have to sign up for different castings to get hired for a specific role, so it is important for people to look for openings that will fit their schedule. Some positions will require you to work as much as 15 hours a day to rehearse and film a show on time. This can be a big physical undertaking for anyone who isn’t used to spending an extended period of time on their feet, so it is essential to understand the requirements the job may ask of you. 

Types of actors

There are many different types of acting and actors, so it is essential to understand which roles you would best succeed in. They may fall under the following four categories:

Personality Actor

Personality actors use their own personalities to bring a character to life. These types of actors usually play similar roles throughout their careers because they will play characters that align with certain characteristics of their own. 

Character Actor

A character actor is willing to change their entire personality to play a certain character. This requires the actor to be animated and creative as they usually play unique, strange, or colorful characters in supporting roles.  

Chameleon Actor

Chameleon actors play such distinctive roles that you usually don’t even recognize the actor. Their personality and looks are completely transformed to match the character’s description so well that they just “blend” into that character like a chameleon.  

Non-Expert Actor

A non-expert actor is a non-professional actor who is used to adding realism to stories. 

There are also many different types of acting roles as well. Background actors are known as “extras” and are found in the background of the scene, usually out of focus. These professionals usually don’t have lines and are there to make a scene come alive. Co-star actors have a few lines and usually only appear in one or two scenes. While recurring roles are characters who are found consistently throughout the story, and a series regular is one of the main characters seen most often throughout a series. 

Income potential

An actor’s salary range will vary greatly depending on your geographic location, education, and the type of roles you have played before: 

  • projects the average annual income for an actor to be $59,217 with a range from $39,313 to $84,214. 
  • An actor’s salary can vary greatly depending on the state you work in. ZipRecruiter estimates Washington, Maryland, and New York to be the highest paying states for acting from $70,840-$73,704. Georgia and Louisiana offer the lowest paying salaries between $48,917-$49,788. 
  • Indeed ranks the average actor salary at $25,764 with Los Angeles and New York being the top paying cities for Actors in the United States.

Keep in mind that these salaries can vary greatly depending on their role, experience, and whether or not they are working full-time. Most individuals start off with a smaller salary due to their lack of experience and small network. As they begin to play bigger roles, popular directors will be able to spot them out for specific roles. People who land jobs in Hollywood and Broadway earn much higher salaries with an income ranging from $1,000-$10,000 per week. Actors typically need to build strong connections with different screenwriters and directors to make it in these bigger industries.    

Since they play different roles in multiple different settings, the estimated annual earnings are volatile and mainly depend on how successful your show or movie does in the theater. 

Position trends

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 32% market growth for actors from 2020 to 2030, which is significantly faster than the average for all occupations. The increased popularity of streaming services and other online platforms is expected to create a bigger demand for these professionals over the next few years. 

Steps to becoming an actor

1. Begin acting classes

While it is tempting to begin your acting career by moving to bigger cities like Los Angeles and New York City to gain traction, it is important for actors to focus on improving their talent. While those cities provide many job opportunities for big actors, it is a competitive job market those that are just beginning their careers. That is why the first step is to start taking local acting classes. There are several different workshops and camps you can attend that will improve certain aspects of acting that you may struggle with.

Here are some of the different types of acting classes available to aspiring individuals:

  • Acting Technique Classes – This is the most common acting class that actors take. This class provides an actor’s foundation in the acting world by being taught different ways to better their technique and skill. Common techniques like Meisner Technique and Method Acting will be taught in these classes.
  • Audition Technique Classes – Once you become familiar with the different acting techniques, it will be important to enroll in an audition technique class. This class will help actors become more comfortable auditioning for potential roles in the future.
  • Scene Study Classes – These classes allow students to watch and analyze all kinds of scenes for play, television, and film. Students will be given certain material to memorize, rehearse, and eventually act out for the class. 
  • Cold Reading Classes – This class will help actors dive deeper into the auditioning process by learning how to cold read. Cold reading requires you to deliver a script with little to no preparation. This class will teach students to quickly read, analyze and memorize the text, while properly delivering their lines in an animated way.  
  • Improvisation Classes – This class will teach you the skill of improv. While improv isn’t required for some acting, it is a very valuable skill that will teach actors to think quickly on their feet to deliver a usually funny performance. 

There are also online courses and certifications available. Some of the best acting certifications include:

  • Udemy Online Acting Courses: Acting doesn’t just have to be a dream! Take a self-paced online course from Udemy that will teach you the acting basics, from memorizing lines to taking stage instruction.
  • Acting Masterclass From Natalie Portman: To learn from a top professional, take the Masterclass from Natalie Portman. She talks about the skills that have led to her success and how you can use those skills for your own success.
  • Upskillist’s Free Acting Course: If you want to get started in acting, but aren’t sure where to start, the acting and theater course is a great beginner intro.
  • Acting Certificate From UCLA: Aspiring actors can learn a lot from taking a course, and UCLA Extension’s acting certificate teaches you everything you need to know for acting on TV and on stage.
  • StageMilk Drama School: Known for its 8-week flagship program, StageMilk is well known throughout the drama world. If you’re looking to excel in acting, having this certificate and knowledge under your belt is a huge help.

2. Continue your formal education

As you begin your acting classes, you may want to look into furthering your education as well. You can earn a bachelor’s degree in film, acting, drama, theater production, or stage production. All of these are great options for those looking to participate in student films, commercials, and other media projects. Colleges that have some of the best performing arts degrees include The Juilliard School, NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Carnegie Mellon University, Yale University, and Northwestern University. 

3. Join a theater nearby

Joining your local theater will provide you with invaluable experience as you start your acting career. Most local theaters will hire small local actors to participate in plays, musicals, and other live performances. This opportunity allows professionals to build their confidence while practicing the basics in front of a live audience. Not only will they master the techniques taught in their classes, but they will also build relationships with fellow actors and become familiar with other aspects of production, including costume design, lighting, and script creation. 

Building a professional network is essential for an actor’s success. Meeting and working with other actors may lead you to find mentors or an agent along the way. 

4. Learn more about the acting industry

Once you feel confident with your acting skills, you will want to do your research about the acting industry. There are many different acting positions out there, and you will want to make sure you find the best fit for you. The best way to prepare to become an actor is to know the different resources and positions available to you. 

The general stages of an acting career:

  • The Training Actor – This is where you begin your training as an actor
  • The Emerging Actor – This is where you start gaining relevant experience to the roles you want
  • The Hustling Actor – This is where you begin looking for an agent and start auditioning for different roles
  • The Working Actor – This is where you land your first real job as an actor
  • The Celebrity Actor – This is when you begin to gain traction and are offered several job offers

5. Gain relevant experience

Most companies are looking for individuals that have previous acting experience, so it is important to start looking for small roles that can boost your resume.  

As you are beginning your career, it is important to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way. While the roles may start off small, any experience will be valuable for future big auditions. Becoming a successful actor requires you to be proactive, so anything that pops up could be an awesome opportunity for you to grow. 

Aspiring actors should look up and attend any local auditions and casting calls they can. This will help actors become more comfortable with auditioning and they may even land their first gig!

Things to do that will help build your resume:

  • Become an extra
  • Act in student films
  • Audition for local commercial
  • Perform at your local theater
  • Create an online presence 

6. Obtain a professional headshot

Most directors ask for your resume and a headshot before starting auditions. Physical appearance is important to the acting industry where a character’s image and personality make a storyline come to life. Directors will look over an actor’s headshot to decide whether or not an applicant has the right “look” for the role.  This also helps directors recommend you for other potential characters in the future. 

If you are friends with a professional photographer, they should be able to provide you with a quality headshot at a modest price. Otherwise, you should look up different photography studios nearby to get a professional headshot done for your future auditions. 

7. Develop your demo reel

Once you get some experience on screen, it is important to create a demo reel to highlight your acting career. A demo reel is a collection of short clips of an actor’s best performances to showcase their ability to act in different settings. Once you create a demo reel, you will need to send them to potential agents and casting calls to help be signed on by a talent agency and be considered for different parts.  

How to create a demo reel:

  • Pick four to five clips of your best on-screen performances. Each of these clips should be around 20 seconds long with the entire demo reel ranging from two to three minutes long. 
  • It is important to begin your reel with your personal information, including your name, contact information, headshot, and a website if you have one.
  • You should start with your highest-quality performance to reel potential employers in.
  • Make sure your footage is high-quality and that it highlights your performance and not another actor’s. 

8. Get signed by an agent

Most actors need extra support from a talent agent to help get their name out there. It may be useful to begin with a smaller talent agency since they will likely get more attention and have less competition when new opportunities arise. Once you get signed by an agent, actors should have an easier time finding auditions and getting booked by various directors.    

Career path

As you gain experience as an actor, you can pursue different acting positions at theaters, theme parks, and production studios. Your acting career will involve many hours getting ready, rehearsing lines, working with others, and becoming a natural entertainer. As you expand your role, there will be other opportunities for you to take at work. 

Below is a list of alternative positions that are natural career paths:

  • Acting Agent
  • Professional Writer
  • Stage Technician
  • Drama Teacher
  • Choreographer 
  • Content Creator
  • Radio Presenter
  • Comedian
  • Director
  • Acting Coach
  • Makeup Artist
  • Voice-over Actor 
  • Producer
  • Model
  • Singer
  • Dancer

Tips for becoming an actor

If you are planning to become an actor, there are a few things you can do to get ahead of the game. Here are some tips:

  • When you are beginning your acting career, research different acting opportunities within your local community. Performing at local venues and theaters will help boost your resume. 
  • Network with people in the acting industry early on in your career. Building a professional network will help you learn about various audition opportunities as well as find mentors that have more acting experience than you. 
  • Join associations that provide a pool of resources and representatives that are ready to support you:
  • While acting classes and workshops are essential for mastering the craft, it is important to maintain your skills by staying on top of voice exercises, script analysis, and monologue practice. 
  • Many actors begin their careers by performing live in front of an audience, which requires different techniques than on-camera acting. Make sure to practice in front of the camera to better understand your character’s projection on screen. 
  • The acting industry comes with a lot of rejection, so it is important to remain confident in your abilities as you handle criticism about your performances. 
  • It is important to learn how to market youself. Gaining a social media presence on popular platforms allows actors to highlight their acting skills and performances. 

Actor FAQs