Here at StageMilk, we’ve got stacks of information for you about how to build your career as an actor. But we thought, “Why don’t we go the other way? Why don’t we cater to those who are looking to actively sabotage their acting career?”
So we did just that. Check out this list of some pretty sure-fire ways to not have a career as an actor.
Content warning: The use of sarcasm may be present in this article.
#1 Be a Jerk!
What better way to cancel your career right from the get go. Being an actor requires you to work with a lot of other people! Being difficult to work with, being a bully, or acting as though you and your role are more important than everyone else all fit in this ‘jerk’ category. “But what about such-and-such famous Oscar-winning actor who doesn’t speak to anyone on set and when they do everyone is required to call them ‘sir’!” I hear you ask. Sure. There are plenty of actors who have made it big and have gained themselves a reputation for having an inflated ego. But surely we can agree that a good direction to aim for is the one where we have a successful career and we are kind to people along the way?’
#2 Show Up Late!
This is another cracker of a tactic if you want to get in everyone’s bad books straight away. Time is actually money in this industry. Even if your call time to arrive on set is hours before you’re due to start shooting, you arrive on time, if not before. The director and producers will have set a very specific arrival time for you for good reason. Perhaps there are complicated costume and make up elements to take care of. Perhaps there have been some last minute changes the director needs to run through with you before the shoot. Who knows. Don’t be late. “But what about such and such famous Oscar-winning actor who is so ‘method’ that he’ll rock up on set three hours late and leave early and everyone needs to work around them?” I hear you ask. Sure, but that’s the last time you’re allowed to argue that point. There are plenty of myths and fables of famous actors working in their own time zone and forcing people to wait. They have obviously reached a point in their career where they have the money/reputation/resources/management to be able to instigate such chaos. If you’re in the early stages of your career, imitating this behaviour in an attempt to seem important and ‘mysterious’ is a killer way to not be invited back to the party!
#3 Don’t Do the Work!
Mathew McConaughey tells a story of the time in his career where he had just started to gain some momentum but he felt like he had lost his ‘edge’. He recalled a time before his acting training where he would rock up on set without knowing his lines and just wing it, improvising and allowing for spontaneity. Feeling the loss of his edge, he decided to retry this approach for his next role. He arrived on set, feeling nervous excitement and alive. He had no idea what the scene was or what he had to say. He was just going to “listen and respond, man”. He gets called onto set and the script supervisor hands him his sides, (on-set printed script) to have a last minute check before they role cameras. “Oh why not, I’ll have a check just in case.” Mathew thought to himself. As he turned to the second page of the script he saw a huge monologue written with his character’s name attached. Not only that, the monologue was written in Spanish—a language he had only learnt for a year in High School. Whoops.
Do the work, people! You have a job to do. Everyone else on set arrives knowing what they need to do and where they need to be, and they are counting on you to do the same. You’d be amazed how many actors will arrive on the first day of shooting being unsure of their lines. Learning your lines is the bare minimum of the work being asked from you! Go deep with the work and with the role, and inspire others on set to lift their game, too.
#4 Stop Learning!
Beware—Beware the feeling of knowing it all! (I went for a spooky Dracula voice there—I hope you heard it.) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: beginner’s mindset. The more you can cultivate an attitude that is open to learning and new ideas, the better. Fixing your method to one approach or getting to the stage where you feel you know better than others is a risky place to be, and it could just take the wind out of the sails of your career.
Learning environments like acting classes or independent projects are wonderful and important to keep tapped into. They trigger inspiration in your work. They also allow you to meet other like-minded people, which may lead to more opportunities. Always be learning. It keeps you interested, which makes you interesting.
#5 Wait For the Phone to Ring!
Sitting at home by your phone thinking, “don’t they know I’m sitting here waiting for them to ask me to audition?” Is a great way to ensure absolutely nothing happens. Your career is just that—it’s yours. It’s your responsibility, no-one else’s. It’s your job to either pick up the phone and make that call, or it’s your job to busy yourself with learning, activity or communication to increase your chances of being seen for the role. This point closely related to our next …
#6 Don’t Generate Your Own Work!
So that phone isn’t ringing. They’re not asking you to audition for that role your dream role of the cow-girl who saves the day, or the astronaut lost in space. Fine. I get it, I’ve been there, and that is hard. But rather than sit and complain, ask yourself if there’s anything else you can do about it. If the role or character type is one you’ve been dying to play for years, how can you create an opportunity that is within your control? Write yourself into that role, create some killer showreel content pitching yourself as that type of character so the casting director knows to keep you in mind for next time.
#7 Blame Everyone Else!
Take responsibility for your own career. Notice whether you turn to blame someone else for you lack of success in an audition: your agent, the casting agent, the reader in the audition room, the other actor who wouldn’t stop talking to you in the waiting room, or even the Uber driver on the way there. No amount of blaming is going to provide you with any clarity for the way forward, it’s only going to make you jealous and resentful. On that note …
#8 Be Jealous and Resentful!
The pursuit of an acting career is rife with comparison and competition. I have definitely been victim of the Green-Eyed Monster from time to time, and it has never brought me anything but pain. This career pursuit is hard. It’s hard for everyone, not just you. And if you can work towards finding genuine happiness for others in their successes, you’ll cultivate a peacefulness within yourself. Jealousy really does mock the meat it feeds on, (I’m referencing Othello here by the way—great play. Check it out.) Jealousy hurts you and the people around you. There’s nothing worse than finally booking that role and you tell one of your best friends and they aren’t happy for you. It leaves a scar. Be happy for your friends. Sing their praises from the rooftops!
#9 Don’t Practice!
This goes hand in hand with the ‘learning’ paragraph above, but more specifically relates to honing the skills you already have. If you haven’t been on camera for 3 months before shooting your upcoming self tape, it’s going to feel pretty daunting and unfamiliar. If you haven’t practised your General American accent for 3 months before this audition, how will you fully embrace the words you have to say? Practice practice practice. It’s essential for keeping you engaged, motivated, fit and ready for the role. One of the best quotes I’ve ever read on this subject is, “be ready for where preparation meets opportunity.” Our careers allow us a lot of time in between work and auditions, which can be painful. But the next opportunity will arise—don’t let the time slip by without using it to get yourself ready.
#10 Don’t Build Your Profile!
There are so many factors in this career pursuit which are unpredictable and uncontrollable. No matter how hard you work towards an audition, there are factors which may inhibit your success which you could never predict or influence. That being said, there are plenty of things you can control, such as managing your profile. Are your headshots and showreel up to date and effective? Do you have a clear and accurate bio? Make it as clear, simple and inviting for casting agents to use your profile, and it will increase your chances of being seen for the role.
#11 Don’t Market Yourself!
This goes hand in hand with number 10. What presence do you want to have in the industry? How are you getting your name and face around in a way which is sustainable and energising for you? Some use social media for this endeavour, others just make sure they see every theatre show in town. There’s only what is right and wrong for you, but at the end of the day an invisible actor is difficult to hire. Get out there, meet people, make connections and explore your curiosity.
#12 Stop Watching Things!
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we have the privilege of watching movies and being able to call it practice. Just like people in other professions would keep updated with the latest technology or trends in their industry, we need to consume as much acting as possible to keep our passion and potential alive. Watching the great films and the great actors from the last 50 years will always be useful for us. However, don’t forget to include what’s new and what’s grabbing people’s attention today. Who’s that actor that everyone is talking about right now? What are they doing with their performance? Why is it gaining so much attention? What can you learn from it?
#13 Stop Watching the World!
Maybe the WIFI isn’t working. Maybe your laptop is out of batteries and there are no movies or streaming platforms on hand right now—go and get out into the world! All the stories we engage with are inspired by the world and people around us. Don’t stop engaging with it. There’s great value in sitting in a public space and watching the world go by. Let your imagination run free; what stories emerge from the people you see around you? What can you tell about people’s lives by the way they move or behave? Now, I’m not asking you to be creepy about this—in fact I’m actively asking you to not be creepy about this—but this is still important. Acting always comes back to a performance of what it means to be human, and the more we can learn about that from the world around us the better.
Now, I’m sure we could keep on adding to this list til the cows come home, but that might get disheartening. A lot of the things in this list can be covered and resolved with a positive value system and a conscious effort to take the reins of your career. What’s most important at the end of the day is that you’re actively engaged with your career. Very little will come from sitting back and waiting. This is a pursuit which takes passion and courage, so get out into the world with that in your mind and you will be on the path to success.