Is It Hard To Become A Professional Actor?

Many people grow up wanting to become actors but it’s often considered impossible. But how hard is it to actually become an actor?

Becoming a professional actor can be incredibly hard, actors have to deal with a lot of rejection. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. If an actor is hardworking, dedicated to learning and persistent enough; it is definitely possible to become a professional actor.

But there’s a lot more to it than just a yes or a no. In this article, I’ll explain why it can be hard, and how you can improve your chances of becoming a professional actor.

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Why Is It Hard To Become A Professional Actor?

A study from 2019 found that only 2% of actors actually made a living from acting. This means that at any given time, more than 98% of actors are unemployed. Meaning only 1 in 50 actors are actually able to make a living from acting.

There are many barriers to entry to becoming a professional actor. Although an actor doesn’t have to go to drama school it can definitely be a massive help to their career if they do, and considering the fact that it can be so hard to get into a drama school, this is the first of many barriers of entry.

Even when an actor does eventually get into a drama school, this doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. Many actors graduate and feel like they’re done, that the work will come rolling in. But this point in their career is only the start of their journey.

Without a reputable agent, getting into the room with a big director is next to impossible. And even once an actor does have a good talent agent, they still have to give a good audition. It can be very normal for an actor to receive hundreds of no’s before hearing a yes.

This process is the reality of being an actor. Facing constant rejection until you get an audition for the job that is perfect for you. Many actors give up during this stage, and it can definitely be the hardest part of the job, as there’s nothing you can really do about it.

How Can An Actor Improve Their Chances For Success?

Actress in black

If you’re like me, you won’t like the idea that you can’t really do much about rejection, you’ll want to know how to take control of your career. Although we can’t do anything about rejection, there are some things we can do in order to get more auditions in the first place and to improve our chances of hearing a “yes” after these auditions.

1. Come To Terms With Rejection

Rejection is the number one reason actors either give up or don’t try in the first place. No one is able to cope with rejection naturally. We’re only human, and feeling unworthy is part of that. But what we can do, is understand why we get rejected in the first place, in order to teach ourselves to deal with it better. If we learn to deal with rejection, we won’t be so easily persuaded to give up.

So why do actors get rejected so often? If an actor gets rejected, it’s usually because they’re simply not right for the role. There’s often a hundred actors auditioning for the same role, so this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better actors than you. It just means the role wasn’t right for you.

Why would we want to take a role that isn’t right for us anyway? If a casting director has asked you to audition, it’s because they’re interested, they know you can act, they just want to know if you fit this role.

When you realise that auditioning isn’t about your ability, but about the casting director finding the right person. You can be more relaxed in your audition. And relaxation is the key to a good performance.

2. Focus On Improvement

Rather than focusing on rejection, an actor should focus on improvement and betterment. Even if you’ve already been to drama school, taking workshops and acting classes can be a massive help. Drama school doesn’t teach you everything there is to know about acting. It gives you a world-class foundation, but if you don’t develop on top of this foundation, then that’s all you’ll have. 

If an actor doesn’t work for an extended period of time, just like any other craft, they can get rusty. Staying on top of your skills such as self-taping, auditioning and script analysis can be the difference between landing a job and being completely unprepared.

If you don’t practice things like your script analysis, audition technique and self-taping, you could land an audition next week and be completely unprepared. Constant practice is the difference between landing the job and not landing the job.

3. Create Your Own Work

During long phases of unemployment, an actor may feel like they’re sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. This isn’t usually the best idea. Taking time to rest is definitely important, but if that’s all you’re doing, the phone will never ring, especially if you don’t have an agent.

Why should actors create their own work? Creating your own work is the best way an actor can take control of their career. Rather than waiting around to get material for your showreel from jobs that you may never get. Creating your own work allows you to flex your creative muscles and show industry professionals what you can do before they hire you.

Once you do this, you can send this work to agents to show you’re worth being on their books, you can send it to casting directors to show examples of your work. You can leverage what you have, to get bigger and better jobs as your career goes along. Jobs that will be able to pay the bills.

4. Change Your Mindset

It can be so easy to focus on landing the job. It’s hard because as actors we’re notorious for having to work side jobs to make ends meet. We see actors who make millions doing the things we want to do, and we focus on that. “I need this job, to pay the bills, I’ll be sorted for life.”

But that isn’t a productive way to think. That way can be very physically and mentally draining. Your mindset is possibly the most important aspect of your overall success. Andy Nyman said in his book The Golden Rules of Acting, “Be happy, you’ll work more.” 

I think this is the perfect statement as if you’re constantly thinking about the rejection you’ve received. You’ll go into the audition room with the mindset that you need this job to pay your bills. And although this may be true, and for most of us, it is. The casting director will be able to see through this, and your audition will suffer because of it.

“Know what your job is, about 18 years ago I realised that I was going into auditions trying to get a job. And that wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing. An actor is supposed to create a compelling, interesting character that serves the text, you present it in your audition and then you walk away. Everything else is out of your control, so don’t even think of it. There’s power & confidence in that. Once I adapted that philosophy, I never looked back. And I’ve never been busier in my life.”

Bryan Cranston

5. Find A Balance

Sometimes I find that I’m so caught up with the work that I’m doing, that I forget about other aspects of life. It’s hard. You want to succeed so badly, you gotta put the work in, you gotta grind! Personally, I love it, that’s why I do it. I can’t get enough.

But burnout is real. And just because you enjoy something doesn’t mean you won’t burn out. This is something I’m working on personally too. I find myself going through phases of 25 hour days, 8 day work weeks. And then into weeks of doing nothing because I’ve burned out.

This isn’t productive. In the long run, it’s much better to find a balance that you can keep up for a lifetime. It sounds much easier than it is, trust me. But once you do this, you’ll be more fulfilled despite how much you succeed.

Don’t tie your happiness to your success. Surround yourself with people you love, and people that love you. Tie your happiness to your life, whether you land a job or not. Trust me. Be happy, you’ll work more.

Reilly Featherstone

Reilly Featherstone

Reilly Featherstone is an actor & musician based in Wales, United Kingdom, who works actively on both stage and screen. Most recently working on Rage by award winning writer Simon Stephens, Closure, and Man For The Job. Reilly studied a Bachelor of Arts in Acting at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (2017 – 2020). Since graduating Reilly signed with a talent agent, Jackson Foster, and is now focusing on developing a full-time career in the arts.
Reilly Featherstone

Reilly Featherstone

Reilly Featherstone is an actor & musician based in Wales, United Kingdom, who works actively on both stage and screen. Most recently working on Rage by award winning writer Simon Stephens, Closure, and Man For The Job. Reilly studied a Bachelor of Arts in Acting at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (2017 – 2020). Since graduating Reilly signed with a talent agent, Jackson Foster, and is now focusing on developing a full-time career in the arts.

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