Ambitious people are always striving for success. Whether you’re trying to be a lawyer, entrepreneur, dancer or a plumber — if you’re ambitious enough, you won’t live a fulfilling life until your thirst for success has been satisfied. Acting is no different, and the question of how to be a successful actor has bothered more than one thespian.
There’s good news, and then there’s bad news.
The good news is that there IS such a formula on how to be a successful actor. The bad news, however, is that this formula is not easy to crack. But if you stick with it, follow the rules, play the game, and give it all you’ve got, you might just figure it out.
And just for the record, let’s acknowledge that part of this article is sarcastic and just play along.
Top Secret Formula of How to Be a Successful Actor
Here’s the formula: (P + HW + T) × L = S
What is this, you ask? This is your equation of success. This is your formula towards succeeding in this business. It’s Perseverance, it’s Hard Work, it’s Talent; then all of that multiplied by Luck, which then equals Success.
Now let’s talk it out and break down the formula so that you have a better understanding of how to increase your odds in this [sometimes] terrible business.
This will be the foundation of your success formula.
Like we talked about it in the acting handbook, perseverance must be an innate quality of every actor entering show business. Without it, chances are small that you will ever get to where you want to be — a working actor.
Here’s the truth: some of you, aspiring actors, will plateau in this business in the first six months; for others, it might take a couple of years before you hit the wall. There’s no doubt that it will happen to EVERYBODY. Be ready; you must be prepared for it.
Here are the more common signs of plateau (i.e. bad thoughts):
- Not a single audition in months
- You don’t even know what a callback is
- Can’t get an agent after a year of looking
- Nobody’s responding to your online submissions anymore
- You’re starting to believe that you can’t make it as an actor
- You keep getting bad feedback from people
You’re not alone in this; happens to the best of us. We’ve all been there, and all stressed about it. Nonetheless, you must realize that this really is a competitive field, and there will always be more actors than there are jobs. Naturally, we all face that feeling of awareness of being stuck. Stuck, and not moving forward for months, and sometimes even years.
DO NOT QUIT, continue pushing through regardless. Trust me, I know how tempting it sometimes is to just leave it all and get a well-paying job with a stable paycheck. This is your inner fear talking. You need to break through this wall and persevere. Call it whatever you want: perseverance, tenacity, persistence… you just have to do it!
Two time Emmy-winning late actor Kathryn Joosten is an example of such persistence. The woman in her 50s struggled for years working at three survival jobs, supporting two kids, while also pursuing acting before she started getting even the smallest parts. She did it for years until somebody noticed her.
A phrase that has since turned into a cliche is still relevant: this is a marathon, not a sprint.
2. Hard Work
This has been mentioned many times (perhaps even too many), but it’s an important part of the success formula, and some of you still don’t understand how important it is.
Going to auditions during the day, then attending daily classes (ongoing, improv, commercial, comedy, etc.) in the evenings, and then doing a night shift at work until 4AM just to get up early next morning and repeat it all — that’s a normal actor’s life. Then you also have the weekend when you go to film for a whole day, and after that you still need to find time to learn the lines for upcoming auditions, read some good books on acting and do all the non-acting related chores.
This is the sacrifice actors have to make. That is what hard work is.
It doesn’t really matter whether you’re supporting yourself and attending ongoing acting classes, or decided to pursue a degree in one of the top drama schools. You’re going to be very busy regardless, and it will last for years. Deal with it now, and quickly.
Always, always, always:
- Be on time to your shoots, classes and auditions
- Practice your scenes outside of acting classes
- Give everything you’ve got, follow directions
- Learn everything, try everything, and educate yourself
Be professional and show everybody around you that you can do this. Demonstrate that you’re in this business for a long run, and you’re destined to succeed as an actor.
Nobody likes pompous divas that want to just show up, get paid and become famous. If you’re one of those people, it’s likely you will never get to where you want to be. You must change your attitude towards this business, otherwise, before you even realize, it will swallow you whole for an early brunch.
It’s not about you until you make it.
“The most talented people are always the nicest.” – James Caan
Ooh yes, the controversial topic of talent. One of the two things in this success formula where there’s little that you can do.
You can’t really say “Be talented!” to somebody, can you? Sounds ridiculous. But I am saying this: you must be talented.
The secret about this formula of how to be a successful actor is that all four components must be present. And even though it’s no Einstein theory, this is how mathematics work. To get S for Success, you need P, HW, L and Talent.
Regardless of how good looking you are or how many connections you have, they will only work until it all comes down to your talent. That’s why I constantly repeat myself: actors must always stay in class. Drama school trained or not, ongoing acting training while you’re trying to establish yourself will only benefit you, greatly.
Look at your talent like a block of clay. It’s a foundation, but nothing to look at until a master does something with it. Get that block of clay (raw talent of yours) and let the sculptor (your acting teacher) shape it into something worth showing to the audience.
Additionally, I will also let you have this quote from Sir Michael Caine:
“I’m a skilled professional actor. Whether or not I’ve any talent is beside the point.” – Michael Caine
Does that leave you in limbo? Good.
Finally, the last part of our success formula, Luck is also a must have. But can you actually have it?
Unfortunately, you cannot.
Some people are just lucky, while others aren’t. Your friend who just started his first acting class might get cast in a supporting role opposite Ewan McGregor, while you, with years of experience, are still doing small indie films and shady plays. The reason for your friend’s success might be any of the factors mentioned above, but it can also be just good ol’ luck.
In theory, what you have to do is take your perseverance, hard work, molded talent, and multiply them all by luck. However, I must be honest with you: it’s very rare for all four of these components to come together, mostly because luck is not around enough.
But when they do — or rather, when lady luck does come to spend some time with you and you’ve actually been preparing for it by working hard, staying persistent, and developing your talent — that’s when the formula is COMPLETE.
That is when you achieve your success. Whether it’s a breakthrough supporting role, or a lead in a play on West End or Broadway, doesn’t matter. You’ve put the pieces together, waited for the right moment, and when it finally came, you were ready. You’ve hit the jackpot.
Nevertheless, actors need to understand that luck, even though it’s the most powerful of all four, doesn’t work on its own either. Luck will get you so far when you don’t have the other three. In other words, the secret to being a successful actor is knowing that the right moment WILL come — you just have to be prepared for it.
If you miss it, who’s to say when the right moment will come back again? So make sure you don’t. Get your secret formula of how to be a successful actor in order, and keep it in good shape. Wait.
One thing I can tell you for sure is that luck is not an illusion, it’s not just a theory. It does exist. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it. So will you.
Sometimes luck is pain, and sometimes — it’s a blessing.
Always be ready for it.