Should I Become an Actor? | How to choose a career in acting

Should I Become an Actor?

Written by on | Acting Tips

Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you are staring down an important and exciting crossroads in your life. Perhaps you’re thinking about following a lifelong dream? Maybe you’re returning to acting after a long time away from it? You could even be an actor already—tearing up weekend film shoots and the occasional am-dram role—but want to step up to acting full time?

You should become an actor if you have a genuine drive and passion for acting, but aren’t too afraid of factors such as uncertainty and rejection that go hand-in-hand with the actor’s life. While you may set yourself particular goals as an actor, it’s important that you are still happy pursuing acting if your goals are never achieved—or shift entirely over the course of your career. If you are resilient, confident and can adapt to change, then acting is absolutely a career you should pursue.

“Should I become an actor?” is a big question for anybody asking it; we’re not going to pretend for an instant that we can give you a completely straightforward answer. What we can do, however, is talk through some of the most popular aspirations (and gravest concerns) that would-be actors tend to have. Hopefully, this will help you find some direction at that crossroads … and get you moving in the right direction.

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Training an an Actor

If you want to become an actor, the first thing you need to consider is training. Here, at StageMilk, we stress the importance of some kind of formal training. We’re not telling you to drop thousands on a three-year degree, or spend all of your savings on every masterclass that will take your money. But formal training is what separates “actors” from “people who act”: it will allow you to approach your craft in a safe, sustainable way. You’ll learn the history of drama and different performance styles. Most importantly, you’ll learn the shared language of creatives such as actors, writers and directors: this allows you to work well with others.

Acting is a skill. Like any skill, it can be learned and improved by anybody willing to invest the time and effort. Consider, as well, the fact that you’ll need to keep honing and practicing your skills: too many actors graduate from a one-year course and think “This is it! I’ve arrived!” Your skills need constant retooling and building upon; this can be an occasional class, a session with a coach once a month or even starting a scene club with other actors. 

The Life of an Actor

The life of an actor? Wonderful! Also tough. But rewarding! At times, pretty thankless. Yet fulfilling! And perplexing. Worth it? Well…

Let’s start with the negative. An actor’s life is challenging. There is no guarantee of success or recognition, and the field itself is extremely competitive—sometimes you’ll be vying for work opposite your dearest, oldest friends. Perhaps the toughest aspect of acting is the constant rejection you’ll face: you may put your best work into an audition or self-tape, only to hear back that you weren’t “quite right”. The non-actors in your life may be sympathetic, but they’ll never truly get what you’re going through. Acting is so often seen as a social extravagance—a fancy, a treat, certainly something a government shouldn’t spend a penny on. And despite developing your craft, constantly hustling in the industry and working two jobs just to stay afloat, you’ll likely be seen as a freeloader to the ignorant in your circles of family and friends.

Now for the positive. An actor’s life is wonderful. You pursue your greatest passion every day, and any phone call could change your life in the most incredible ways. You’ll work a thousand different jobs, meet a thousands different people. Every experience—good and bad—will fuel your craft. As an ’empathy machine’, you’ll have a knack for connecting with people—especially fellow actors, who’ll become your second family. You’ll create art, you’ll stick in people’s minds. You will actually have the opportunity to reach people and make a difference: change minds, enrich lives! All that negative stuff? Yeah, it’s still there. But you’re strong enough to take it all in stride and say “What else you got?!” Your love of acting comes first. And this life, no matter how unexpected and perilous, is sure as hell worth it.

No actor’s life is completely one or the other. It’s up to you to determine if the good outweighs the bad—especially when your circumstances can change so rapidly. Again, we’re not here to sway you either way. Although it’s probably clear where we land on all of this…

Finding Acting Work

Acting is a career that rewards patience and resilience, as well as the hustle of chasing opportunities. If you’d consider yourself a go-getter, you’re entering the right kind of industry! While it’s always a gamble as to whether or not you’ll find that perfect role, there are many things you can do to increase your chances actually working as a (paid) actor. You’ll need to find an agent, develop a showreel that exhibits your work; a lot of the creative industry is also built around actors taking unpaid work for experience and networking (although when you should work for free is another discussion entirely). The modern actor also has a number of opportunities to market themselves online, through social media platforms and casting networks. Be prepared to pursue any and all of these in the name of getting your name out there. 

A lot of people have a dangerous misconception about acting as something you chip away at until you’re “discovered”. We all know the story: you’re broke, hungry, thinking of giving the whole racket up when a producer/director notices you in a cafe/grocery store! Before you know, it you’re doing a screen test as the Next Big Thing In Town… The truth is, the movie stars that seemingly pop up in twenty great films overnight have often been primed and groomed by the industry long before you’d ever heard of them. Discovery does happen—where do you think myths like this get started?—but it’s nothing to rely on. It’s certainly nothing to build a career on.

Making Money as an Actor

Unless you’re yet to meet an actor walking about in the real world, we’re sure this point won’t be too shocking a revelation. Making money as an actor is tough; if you’re seeking wealth and financial stability … keep on looking. That said, some gigs can pay well: some actors also find themselves performing jobs like events, presenting or voice-overs that supplement the income they receive from ‘legitimate’ acting engagements.

It’s hard to put an exact figure on income for actors. Most statistical data from countries such as the United States, England and Australia put the median actor’s wage at around $40,000/p.a.—and the hourly wage sitting somewhere between $35 – $48. This kind of data is often skewed, as some actors will book the occasional high-paying gig and many more earning less than the average are nonetheless living comfortable lives by way of a second income stream.

Yes, it is possible to make money as an actor. Some, of course, make millions in the field. But if love of money is driving you to the set or stage, remember that more than 90% of actors in any market are out of work—at any given time. For actors who love the life, and aren’t afraid to make ends meet with other jobs, this is usually a low priority.

Is It Hard to Become a Famous Actor?

We’re not going to lie to you: the chances of you becoming a famous actor are fairly slim—especially if you are entering the industry at an older age. But, as famed screenwriter William Goldman once wrote about Hollywood: “Nobody knows anything.” Who’s to say it won’t be you who breaks through?

Fame is a commodity in the creative industry.  Movie/theatre stars attracts audiences who buy the tickets and pay for the whole merry-go-round to keep on spinning. For this reason, factories like Broadway and Hollywood spend considerable amounts of time and money developing fame—the actual concept of it—to appeal to their customers. Celebrities don’t just happen, they’re carefully developed, packaged and marketed—just like those stars who are “discovered” and crop up on cinema screens overnight. We make this point not to be cynical, but to point out that the fame game is often rigged before you ever step up to it. There are larger forces at work that you’re best to be aware of.

Fame is a strong motivator for many an acting hopeful … if we’re honest, it probably drives more of us than we’d like to admit. There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to become famous, or doing everything you can to promote yourself in the industry. That’s called hustle, and we’re all for that! But fame is one of those goals we’d ask you to consider never reaching. Is acting still something you want to pursue? Be honest with yourself on this one, because you’ll save yourself a lifetime of disappointment that really isn’t your fault in the first place.

Do I Need Talent to Become an Actor?

Good question. Talent, like fame, has been highly commodified by the creative industry. The talent of an actor is often seen as an important “get” when booking and working with them—something that sets them apart from the rest. But when we try to define exactly what talent is, we discover that it’s one of the great intangibles of acting—as well as the wider creative arts. It’s a controversial subject, one that is sure to elicit as many opinions as people you ask. 

If we take the meaning as “natural predisposition for a skill”, then yes: talent can go a long way in helping you become an actor. Some aspects of your craft will come easily to you. Some will seem harder, while your peers have no trouble at all grasping and mastering the very same thing. At times you’ll feel admiration, at times you’ll feel jealousy. Both are valid emotions you’ll encounter again and again in your acting life.

The important thing to remember about talent is it’s nothing without hard work. Often, actors who know themselves to be “talented” (whatever that means) will sit back and wait for opportunity to knock. That’s when the actors who put in the effort usually swoop in and book the gig. Talent is something to think about, absolutely. But don’t lose any sleep on it. If it really bothers you, it’s likely a matter of confidence more than whether or not you were born a ‘God-created actor’. And confidence you can fix. Isn’t that a little bit nice?

For the Love of Acting

What if you, just, love acting? What if your passion for performance and character and breaking down a scene get you up every morning? We say go for it. Your love will be tested—wax and wane over the years and peaks and valleys that every actor encounters. But, ultimately, love will get you through the worst of it more intact than anybody seeking out fortune and fame.

If you really love acting, the only significant things to think about are resilience and sustainability. Move forward if you’re ready to weather the negative aspects of the actor’s life, and doing so won’t seriously affect  your health and well-being.

Define The Term “Actor”

The actor’s life is varied and unexpected. While all actors have stood at the same crossroads you may well find yourself at right now, every path forward for them has been completely different. If you want to become an actor, think about those differences; be ready to embrace and celebrate them. 

Now, more than ever, actors are able to redefine the term “actor” to suit the lives they lead. Are you still an actor if you pay your bills doing commercials? Yes! How’s about if you’re teaching, or waiting tables? Of course you are! You may even look at your situation, right here and now, and realise that you’re already the kind of actor you want to be. Nobody gets to define what being an actor is, meaning that the job/career/life is whatever you decide it will be.

So: should you become an actor? Sorry, we still can’t give you a definite answer on this. But if you consider all of these options with total honesty, we’re confident you’ll make the right decision. If acting’s not the life for you: bravo on having the courage to admit that! 

And if it is… then let us be the first to offer you the warmest welcome.


About the Author

Alexander Lee-Rekers

Alexander Lee-Rekers is a Sydney-based writer, director and educator. He graduated from NIDA in 2017 with a Masters in Writing for Performance, and his career across theatre and television has seen him tackling projects as diverse as musical theatre, Shakespeare and Disney. He is the co-founder of theatre company Ratcatch (The Van De Maar Papers, The Linden Solution) and co-director of Bondi Kids Drama, a boutique drama school offering classes to young people in the Eastern Suburbs. Alexander is drawn to themes of family, ambition, failure and legacy: how human nature can flit with ease between compassion and cruelty. He also likes Celtic fiddle, mac & cheese and cats.

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