Making it in Hollywood: the dream of so many young, aspiring actors for nearly one hundred years. Millions have tried and few have succeeded, but those who have are the names that echo as synonyms for actors in the annals of history. Bogart, Baccall, Hepburn, Streep, Hoffman, Washington, Pacino right on through to Gosling, Blanchett and Davis. So how can you follow in their footsteps? Is it as easy as turning up and handing out your headshot on the Sunset strip, waiting to be discovered? Getting a job in a bar and cracking out Shakespeare monologues to every Tarantino wannabe? Sadly not, my friends. What it takes is work, skill, talent, drive, determination and a healthy dose of luck. Let me walk you through the steps required to become an actor in Hollywood.
We get thousands of emails a week from aspiring actors who want to make it in Hollywood asking us “how do I get to be a famous actor?” The first and most important thing you can do is train. You cannot just turn up on set and be De Niro. It isn’t going to happen. Becoming an actor takes work: just like personal fitness, or learning to cook, or open heart surgery, the more training you do the better you will get and the more consistent you will be. Ideally, look to go to drama school and spend three years of your life working on your craft 9-5, Monday to Friday.
Yes, some actors have made it without going to drama school, but for every Ryan Gosling and Jodie Comer you can mention, I can hit you right back with Ewan McGregor, Joseph Fiennes, Daniel Craig, Michael Fassbender, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Laura Linney, Jessica Chastain, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Forest Whitaker, Dustin Hoffman, Alison Brie, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Jackman, Jai Courtney, Toni Collette, Rose Byrne—the list goes on. All of those famous Hollywood actors went to a three-year, highly reputable drama school. If you want to make it in Hollywood, your best chance is to go to a great drama school. We have lists of:
- Best UK Drama Schools
- Best US Drama Schools
- Best Australian Drama Schools
- How to nail your drama school audition
And, of course, thousands (if not millions) of people are applying to those schools every year so to get in. How are you going to stand out from the crowd? Training. Practice. Working your backside off to achieve your goals. Every single overnight success comes off the back of years of hard work. The good news is that you are on the right track by being here, on StageMilk. This year alone we have had members of our Scene Club get into LAMDA, WAAPA, NIDA and Central School of Speech and Drama. Our Scene Club offers heaps of resources on getting into drama school, personal coaching from professional actors and personalised monthly feedback on your work. If you’re serious about becoming an actor in Hollywood, it’s a great place to start. Click here for more information.
Now: just because you go to a great school, doesn’t mean you will be assured of being a successful Hollywood actor. Nothing in this life is certain, but by gosh I can guarantee it will put you in the best position to be successful. Not only because of the skills you learn there and legitimately how much better it makes you as an actor but also because of the contacts and access you get to high level people in the industry because you went to that college. Let me elaborate:
Get an Agent (and You Better Get a Good One)
It cannot be overstated just how important having a good agent is for an actor. And what do we mean by a good agent? Reputable, great connections, personable and a born-and-bred fighter out to make sure their clients get the best opportunities possible. You cannot get in the audition rooms you want to be in without a great agent. Here is how the acting world works: a production house has a script—let’s say a feature film. Now they need A-Listers in the lead roles, so they offer those straight to Tom Hardy and Alicia Vikander. For the other roles, they have specific types of people they need; they go to casting directors who use the actors that best fit the roles and have the experience required to deliver at that level. Those actors, more often than not, are on the books of the biggest and most reputable agencies.
Those agencies are where you need to get into if you want to maximize your chances of being a successful Hollywood actor: you are going to need a successful Hollywood agent to match! Here is a list to get you started. We have written at length about how to get an agent, why are agents important, Is it hard to get an agent? and how to upgrade your agent on these links. Check them out for more information.
One of the best ways to get a great agent is to go to a great drama school in the States. Agents from the big agencies, and casting directors from the big studios, quite often come to see the end of course showcase performances, or will at least watch the demo reels that get sent out at the course’s completion. There is no better way to put your work in front of the key industry people than that at this time.
Build a Body of Work
Right, so if you have got training behind you and a great team of agents (and maybe even a manager), it is time to start building your credits. You need a body of work to put you in the best position to be up for major roles in major projects. Unless you are an internationally famous model or WWE star, you’re going to need a few credits under your belt before you will be offered leading roles in feature films or Netflix shows. This also counts for foreign actors looking to make the move across to LA.
You need credits to your name, and a team in place, before you go. If you are sitting there telling yourself that you’re just going to move to LA and everything will work out: I am here to tell you that it won’t. You might as well say you’re going to go and drive Formula One in Monaco because you have your drivers licence. You need training, you need a support team, you need to start thinking like Lewis Hamilton and not like the dude in the Spiderman suit on Sunset.
Back to building a body of work. The first thing is to nail those auditions when your agent sends them your way. Kill it in small TV parts as a 50 word role or a guest star. Try and build those guest star roles into supportings into leads. All the time you need to keep hustling: meeting people, doing great work, taking meetings with everyone who will see you, listening to the advice of your manager and agent and, most importantly, keep training! Acting is a lifelong pursuit: it is mercurial and you don’t ever stop learning or honing your skills. You need to keep match fit so that when your big break comes along, you are ready for it. Bear in mind that waiting for this opportunity to arrive could take literally years … or it could take days. Whenever it comes up, you have to be ready.
That Big Break
All of this work has been leading to this point. You have done a bunch of small TV and film parts, maybe got yourself a supporting role on a procedural drama and your agent has sent through the audition that you know could take you to that next level. It might be a film, it might be a network pilot, it might be a supporting role on an established show: whatever it is, it has all the makings of something big and successful. This is the audition that all of your training, all of your networking and all of your sleepless nights and effort has led to. The best thing to do is to do the work.
We have a massively comprehensive article about the process of auditioning here. There are so many factors out of your control as an actor, but the audition room is one place where you can own your truth and present your take on the character as authentically, powerfully and vulnerably as possible. You will go through multiple rounds of auditions; after a few rounds, it might get to being on a green screen with other cast members, or chemistry or action tests. A whole range of ways to check that you are the right candidate for this gig. If you book it, this could set you off to success as a Hollywood actor!
Or it might not. If not, you keep grinding, keep working and keep getting better until the next chance comes along and you are well and truly ready to take it.
Rinse and Repeat
Once you have done all of that, you do it again and again, over and over until you get to start skipping some steps. Instead of you having to go and audition, people start coming to you with roles they want you to play. Instead of having to hustle and network, people are looking to hustle and network with you! Once you have a good role in a major production or two, you can keep working, keep getting better and hopefully use your new power and influence to help those around you or those in need.
The idea of the overnight success—of being ‘discovered’—is a pervasive idea that is the enemy of the actor. The actor is a worker bee: an unstoppable force of creativity, hell bent on bringing the imagination of the writer into existence. We are here to tell stories and tell them so convincingly that the audience has no idea that there were ever words on a page. This is a craft. It is a skill. It is an art and, just like Rome, it is not built in a day.
When we are talking about making it in Hollywood, we are talking about being successful in the Major Leagues, the NFL, Formula One or The Premier League. The only way you make it at that level is if you are the best of the best of the best. You have to work harder, train longer and want it more than anyone else. You need support from the best and brightest in the industry and, most importantly, you need to believe in yourself. As the inevitable bumps in the road put obstacles in your way, you must be able to rise to overcome them. Millions of people have tried before you, and millions will try after you. The only thing that can separate you from them is who you are, how hard you work and how much you want that success.
There you have it, folks: a comprehensive, step-by-step guide on how to be an actor in Hollywood. A step-by-step guide on how to make it! Get trained, get representation, get out there and make it happen, friends! If you want to start your journey and you need some help, click the big link below and sign up for the StageMilk Scene Club. We have all the resources and support you need to take your first steps towards your dream role. Good luck!