You’d be surprised how often I hear this statement: I want to be a professional actor, but I’ve never done any acting before.Shocking, isn’t it? Can you imagine someone saying, “I want to be a professional football player, I’ve seen a few games on TV?” It boggles the mind, yet some people honestly believe all they need to do to be a professional actor is “want it.”
In this week’s diatribe I’m going to talk about a few questions you should ask yourself if you think you want to be a professional actor, even if you have acted before…
Have you ever acted before?
I’ll start out with the obvious one. Just because it looks like fun on Entrouage it doesn’t mean you’ll like doing it, if you manage to succeed. Acting involves LONG periods of unemployment and shooting a film/TV show is more waiting around talking with Teamsters than it is actual acting. If you haven’t, do a play or a student film. Then multiply the amount of effort you did to get that play/film by a thousand and figure you’ll only get to do that once every few months, if you’re incredibly lucky. Still interested? Read on.
Are you any good?
I can write an entire entry on how to tell if you’re a good actor. In fact, I think that will be my next entry. Look for it next week. But know this, if you’re not an INCREDIDBLY good actor you won’t get work. I know, you think that Lindsay Lohan sucks as an actor and you can do better. Maybe not Lindsay Lohan, but you thought of some actor who you’re “better than.” I’ll discuss this in the next entry, but trust me when I say two things: a) there are thousands (if not millions) of people who disagree with your assessment and b) even if they do suck you can’t count on lightning striking. The only thing that wins out in the long run in the professional world is skill. If you’re not good eventually people will catch on, no matter how charming or hot you are.
Do you only want to be famous?
Your first reaction was, “no.” Almost everyone who says they want to be an actor says, “I just want to work steadily, I don’t care if anyone ever recognizes me. I only want to make a living doing this.” I’m willing to bet that most of them are lying.
Heck, I’d be lying if I said that I never wanted anyone to know my work. I’d be pretty upset to know that I slaved away, working steadily in the entertainment industry and no one knew what I had done. Is that my only or primary motivation? No, it’s not. And that’s what’s important.
Becoming famous is very easy: kill a whole bunch of people. It works!
Ok, so you don’t want to kill anyone (wuss). You can become famous by: starting a cult, inventing something amazing, writing a really good book, being a musician or being a really good athlete. Why chose acting? There are easier ways to be famous. Heck, if you just want to be “recognized” here’s a strategy: Move to a smallish town. Become a real estate broker or a car salesman. Name your firm/store after yourself and appear on all your own local TV commercials. You won’t be able to go out in public without someone knowing who you are. You’ll probably make a decent living too. Done and done.
I’m sure I’ll discuss this trap more in the future. But you should know for sure that you actually want to act and don’t just want people to know you’re an actor.
Do you want to be rich?
Let’s all share a laugh at this one. Most members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) make no money (or a few bucks) acting in a given year. I’ve been lucky to be in the top few percent for a few years now but that doesn’t mean squat. I’ve had years where I was in the top 10% of SAG earners and still didn’t make enough money to pay rent for three months, much less buy food. There are a million easier ways to get rich.
Are you self-motivated?
Here’s the funny thing about acting: For almost all of your career no one besides you will care if you ever work. It’s up to you to get your butt out of bed every morning and be productive. It’s really easy to say you’re doing something. It’s slightly less easy to submit yourself online religiously. It’s very hard to make sure you’re constantly meeting people who can help advance your career and making sure all your materials are top notch. If you are the type who needs a boss over your shoulder telling you to “work” or you’ll be playing on eBay all day, you might want to pass on being an actor.
Do you want to do anything else?
This one’s a bit of a cliche. Every actor is told, “If there’s anything else you can do and still be happy, do it.” But be honest with yourself. If you really enjoy cooking, go cook. Sure you might not be the next Mario Batali, but you can make a pretty good living being a chef. If you like math, go be an accountant. No one ever became a famous accountant (unless they worked at Enron) but it’s a good living. Only be an actor if you literally can not ever picture yourself doing anything else. Don’t say, “I’m going to try acting for a couple years.” Do yourself a favor and don’t even start. Only be an actor if that’s what you’re dedicated to doing for the rest of your life. Of course you can change your mind later on, but don’t plan on it.
Acting is a really hard way to make a living. Possibly the hardest in terms of people succeeding vs. people trying. Don’t do it. Seriously, don’t do it. Save yourself and your parents the stress, go do something where you know that you’ll get another pay check on the regular. Big name actors still have to deal with the stress that they could easily not get another job for two years. Can you deal with the fact that you might work today but may not work again for a long time?
Now, if you can listen to that every day and still want to do it, you’re on the right track. But this is just the beginning.