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  • Writer's pictureMillie Liao

Four Things You Need to Become a Professional Actor

One of the top questions I've gotten from subscribers is "what do you need to become an actor?"


This question is one that I myself didn't really know when I first decided that I wanted to be one. But over the years, I've come to learn some of the necessary, as well as the not-so-necessary things that people say actors need. So here are four things that from my personal experience, are the MOST important skills/items needed to begin professionally acting:


1) The ability to quickly analyze a script, and do it well.

The name of the game in acting is understanding the central message you’re trying to convey. Looking back now, when I just started out I often made the mistake of not doing research while breaking down a script. If you’re given the time to do so, make sure to search up any words or concepts you’re unfamiliar with, as well as write down for yourself what your character’s objective (what they want) is so that when you’re acting, you don’t get lost in the words. Usually, you’ll have to make up a backstory for yourself based on the context clues in the script, as rarely will you get the entire movie/TV Show/play script on your first audition. Your best bet is to go with what feels the most natural in terms of characterization in the audition scene, and then building your persona based off of that.

For example, if the audition scene is a funny one and your character has just done something wrong but doesn’t want to admit to it, so is coming up with silly excuses about it, you can probably infer that this will be a lighthearted piece overall and can play into having the Disney-channel-style overly dramatic, worried, almost-obviously lying character more. But if the lines are very deep and deal with serious issues that must be handled with caution, you can assume that the rest of the piece will likely be a similar tone of seriousness, and you’re going to have to change the tone of your performance to fit that tone.


The script is your best friend; it is your guide to how to perform anything. So rather than straying away from it and trying your hardest to just create a fun character you think the directors will love, continue to read it and look for clues pointing you in the way that the character is “meant” to be played, as in the characterization that directors will be looking for. A good director knows what they’re looking for, so you want to make sure you can identify and then prepare to give them exactly that - and you can only do that through looking at the script that they’ve given you.


2) A willingness to constantly get out of your comfort zone.


Something that actors will hear a lot from casting is “we don’t always choose the best actor, we choose the actor who fits the character best.” In general, I would agree that if one doesn’t fit a character, they’re likely not going to be cast even if they give a great performance. I’ve seen this happen to my fellow classmates in our school productions, and I like to believe that it’s happened to me before as well- but I wanted to warn you all that this type of idea can easily become a trap, especially if you’re just starting out.

There are so many complex identities and personality traits that define us and make us who we are, so it’s very rare that we’ll find a character who is actually exact same as us in real life, or what casting calls “the perfect fit” for us. It’s easy to start believing that you just “don’t fit” any of the roles you read, because they don’t reflect who you are. I myself became a victim of this type of thinking for a long time, because I often got roles that for one reason to another simply didn’t reflect who I was, and I would immediately lose all hope of being casted. But instead of letting the idea of there being a “perfect fit character” restrict us, we have to do our best to take advantage of it.


An actor’s personality traits should be malleable; while we can definitely keep our core, central identity that makes us unique, we must also have a huge capacity for empathy, and be able to see ourselves in any role, even one’s that aren’t necessarily a “perfect fit” for us.


That’s why pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone, whether that means portraying a role entirely different from who we are, or even going for a job that might require something out of your normal wheelhouse, is so important in this business. People who are willing to try literally anything are the ones who continuously get the jobs that others are too afraid to take, and end up getting to play those roles that everyone wants to play.


For example, while I enjoy recreationally practicing martial arts, I am in no way a martial arts master. However, I received an audition where I had to perform a short section of a martial arts dance that was WAY out of my level. But I spent a painful weekend (hours of sword practice left me sore for a good two weeks after) practicing before submitting, and got to advance to the second round!! Although I didn’t end up booking the role, I’m proud to say that I gave it my best, despite it being out of my own comfort zone.


3) A good home set-up for self tapes.


This is ABSOLUTELY essential if you want to go for professional jobs!!! I cannot stress enough the importance of a good set up for self tapes at your house, because in person auditions are still decreasing exponentially even now, as we’re transitioning out of COVID-19. They’re probably never going to come back. That being said, self tapes are the future of auditioning, and if you want to appear professional, and like you know your stuff to casting directors, the first step of that is making sure that no outside factors will take away from your actual performance. If you have a distracting background, or your camera quality is really bad, or there’s a lot of background noise, immediately, you’d be taken out of the running for a role, even if your performance was amazing and showstopping. And that just wouldn’t be fair to you and all of the time you put into your audition. So don’t sell yourself short, and let outside factors affect your chances at booking a role.


Invest in getting a good backdrop, like a green screen, or a blue screen, and make sure that you have a tripod or some thing to hold your phone. I personally don’t believe that you require a professional camera, because phone cameras have become extremely advanced, and cameras are just really expensive. Then set all of that up somewhere in your house that will become your designated filming space, and if you can, keep it there so that you can always quickly set up the camera and just do an audition if there’s a quick turnaround deadline.


When I first filmed my auditions, sometimes I’d do them at school, or film them selfie mode (I know, embarrassing) and I can totally see why I didn’t book any of those jobs. If you put yourself in the shoes of a casting director, you’ll be able to see that it makes a world if difference if someone is performing in a well-lit area with a back door and good camera and audio quality. Even if your performance was really good, they would have no way of knowing if your camera or audio quality is bad.


This is my home set up - I have a ring light, green backdrop and tripod!

4) NOT representation!


When I first moved to LA, I believed that the steps to booking jobs were as follows:

  1. Get an agent

  2. Go out for as many auditions as possible

  3. Get famous!

Obviously, none of those are true, except for the second one. I don’t think it’s necessary to get an agent in order to start acting professionally. I spent a grueling two months over my first summer, trying to find good representation, and it was really difficult and not worth the time and headache that it caused. Furthermore, there are many agencies who aren’t trustworthy, for example, some might ask you to pay upfront, which you should never do (agents should only get money when you book a job), some might have contracts that force you to stay with them for some period of time (my first agency had this requirement, and I was stuck with them for a year because of it), and many just won’t send you out for any jobs at all, but still take a percentage of what you earn from jobs that you find yourself. Therefore, I would recommend to first self submit, using websites like actors access, LA casting, etc. Most of these have premium pages were actors can self submit, and although they cost money, it’s a smarter way to start booking jobs without needing to find representation first. This way, after working a while, you can learn more about what type of work you’d like to pursue, and also hopefully meet people who can recommend you to good agencies. So don’t think that you need to find an agent in order to become an actor.


I hope that this advice helps anyone who is working towards starting their own acting journey, and I’d like to remind you that there’s no pressure at all to pursue acting professionally! You can enjoy acting by being a part of community productions, or doing unpaid work just for fun. Those who want to pursue acting professionally should look at this more as a job then as a form of creative expression, because it truly does take work, dedication, and perseverance if you want to begin earning money from acting.


Wishing you all the best of luck, and, as always, I write this with love,


Millie



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