Become a Movie Actress or Actor: Career Roadmap

Oct 20, 2021

Learn how to become a movie actress or actor. Research the education and career requirements, training information, and experience required for starting an acting career.

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Actor Career Info

Degree Level None; bachelor's increasingly common
Degree Field Theater, drama, acting
Experience Varies; large budget films or shows may require prior acting experience
Key Skills Reading, speaking, memorization, and creative skills; persistence, confidence, and ability to take direction; aptitude to research characters to portray a role; physical stamina
Salary $17.54 per hour (2018 median for all actors)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET OnLine

Actors and actresses play the roles of various characters in movies, videos, or television shows. They also act on stage in plays. Their job is to interpret a role through voice, movement, and behavior to portray a specific persona and tell a story to the audience. Work in this field is rarely full-time, and the competition for jobs is intense. Professionals may sometimes need to work in distasteful conditions or for long hours, with travel often being involved. Another creative outlook for actors and actresses is to teach acting to those who aspire to the profession.

Actors and actresses must have:

  • Memorization and creative skills
  • Speaking and communication skills
  • Persistence
  • Physical stamina
  • Confidence
  • Ability to take direction

In 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that actors in general in the United States earned a median pay of $17.54 per hour.

Get Training

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that a high school diploma is sufficient education to work as an actor or actress. However, most actors and actresses must undergo theater arts training to develop skills and practice on the stage. Professionals can enroll in private acting courses or coaching, but bachelor's degree programs are becoming more common, A Bachelor of Fine Arts in theater, drama, or acting includes coursework in subjects like movement, voice, acting theories, and cultural identities in performance. A program may also provide instruction in different types of acting, such as comedic, Shakespearian, and dramatic performances.

Most programs offer students the ability to star in plays and performances during their studies. Gaining the chance to act before a live audience can prepare students to audition before directors in a professional manner. Acting schools may also bring alumni or guest actors to speak with current students. Attending these discussions can provide students with insight into the path to becoming a famous actor. Theater students might also have the chance to network with other entertainment professionals, like producers, directors, and film crew members.

Attend Auditions

Actors and actresses must audition for the vast majority of their roles. The more auditions an individual attends, the more likely it is that he or she will secure a role. Seeking out auditions both during and after their training can help students get cast in an acting role.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many actors must continually audition without earning a part. Although it may seem discouraging, actors who allow themselves to try and fail have the best chances of ultimately landing a part. Even when an actor does have a successful audition, the part may not provide full-time work. Acting jobs can be short, sometimes lasting only a day or a few months. Because acting jobs can be few and far between, many actors and actresses work other jobs to support themselves. Working as a drama coach or acting teacher can allow actors to earn a living while pursuing their acting careers.

Join an Acting Organization

Once hired for a steady acting job, many professionals choose to join acting unions or organizations, such as the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). Joining one of these organizations provides actors with opportunities to collectively bargain for more competitive wages, network with other actors, create an online resume, and attend workshops. For many union productions, directors require that all hired actors be SAG members. To join SAG, actors must provide proof of employment in the field and pay both initiation and due fees.

Enter Contests

Advancing as an actor or actress can be the result of starring in a hit TV show or movie or winning a major award. However, the dilemma for this profession is that getting a role in a production that garners mass appeal can be just the luck of the draw or sheer persistence. One way these professionals can take a proactive approach to start building a name for themselves is by entering an acting contest. A common type of contest is for voice acting. By entering and winning such contests, actors and actresses have the opportunity to create buzz in the industry, which could open the door for more prominent roles.

To quickly recap, there is no one sure-fire path to becoming a movie actor or actress. However, completing training in the craft, attending auditions, joining acting organizations, and putting yourself out there for contests can all be helpful in finding a foothold in this career.

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